My Dresden Files Addiction: It All Begins with Storm Front

Cover of Storm FrontI am a Dresden Files addict. I am, frankly, more than a little in love with Harry Dresden. Recently I re-read Storm Front, the first book in Jim Butcher‘s series. I love this series so much that I have actually read all of the books, but this was for a new book club that I’m in, and I was very happy to refresh myself on how Harry’s exploits began, because I truly feel that this series is urban fantasy at its best.

Harry Dresden is a wizard for hire in Chicago. Far from being superhuman due to magical prowess, he is a wonderful “everyman” character, who suffers from many of the same flaws as typical mortals. Often, things don’t work out quite right for him, he gets beat up a lot, and many times finds himself in at best uncomfortable and at worst life threatening situations. In this first book, he goes up against a rogue necromancer who is killing people and who eventually gets around to threatening Harry’s life. To complicate matters, Harry routinely works with the police force, especially the cop Murphy, who has little time for the complexities of how the wizard world interacts with the human world. And to complicate matters further, on this particular case Marcone, the local crime king, has specifically asked Harry not to investigate. Somehow, throughout it all, Harry manages to save the day, navigating as best he can between all of the different priorities and life threatening situations, making hard decisions, fighting off giant scorpions and toad-like demons, while always keeping what is right at the forefront of his mind.

One of the reasons that I fell in love with this character was because of his constant struggle to do the right thing. He is often accused of using his powers for nefarious means (especially by the Warden Morgan from the White Council of wizards), but in reality he always makes decisions based on the needs of others, even if the cost for himself may end up being high. Butcher does an excellent job of keeping the pressure on just enough to keep the story going, while allowing the reader to get to know Harry and understand him. He doesn’t use his magic for personal gain, and for all of his strengths there are weaknesses that balance him out. For example, his powers interfere with things that run on electricity, so no fancy car or computer for Harry. Instead, he drives a beat up old VW and does a lot of his detective work the old fashioned way, with just a little help from some locator spells. He is also not the best at relationships. Often this is a problem that is caused by him having to weigh out what information he can share, such as with Murphy or his potential girlfriend, Susan. We see everything through Harry’s eyes, though, so we can understand his struggle and cheer him on, because we can see that he’s essentially a good guy. One of the best.

The setting for these books is good, too. Using the fairly familiar backdrop of Chicago gives us a way to envision Harry’s world. However, there is also an alternate realm, the Nevernever, that houses all manner of fae creatures. Harry is able to open a doorway into this world, if needed, but as with all interactions of the fae kind, it is dangerous and tricky. Throughout the series, Butcher develops this part of the storyline more deeply, and there is a really nice balance between the “real” and the fantastic. Possibly the best that I have seen done in urban fantasy.

Character development throughout the series is good, too. History is created between different individuals – mortal and fae – and often this comes back in both helpful and detrimental fashion. The relationship between Harry and Murphy is an interesting exploration of partnership. And, there are some fun characters in the books, too, such as Bob, the incorporeal being who sometimes advises and assists Harry, lives in a skull, continually wisecracks, and loves to indulge in steamy romantic novels.

If you haven’t checked out this series yet, I highly recommend it, but must caution you – you may become addicted! Now is a great time to start, since there are 15 books in the series so far with the most recent, Skin Games, having just been released.

Lisey’s Choice is What Makes Lisey’s Story

SPOILER ALERT – If you haven’t yet read this novel, and you don’t want to know how it ends or what “Lisey’s choice” means, then you will want to skip this post.

Cover of Lisey's StoryI’ve been on a Stephen King kick this summer, and after I re-read The Talisman I went on to re-read Lisey’s Story. This book had been on my mind for a while. Maybe it had to do with the character who is dealing with the end of her marriage, due to the death of her husband, and struggling to figure out how to move on to the next part of her life. This was a theme that has similarities to some of the life changes I have faced in the past few years, as well as those of some of my friends. Or, it could have been the magical aspect of being able to remove yourself to another world simply by thinking hard enough about it. An escape into something that is at least different, if not necessarily better or safer. Or, it could have had something to do with the idea of magical objects, like an honorary shovel or an afghan (“african”) that had been lovingly crocheted by a family member. Maybe it was just the memory of Scott’s office, up on the second floor of that old barn, so echoingly empty even as it was full of books and incunabula, and Lisey’s slow response to sorting and catagorizing — to just facing the deciding of what to do with everything that was left after he had gone.

I think maybe it was a little bit of all of these things that drew me back to this book. These were all the things that I remembered about it when I picked it up to read it again. What was interesting, though, were the things that I had forgotten about it. I had almost forgotten that pool in Boo’ya Moon, the pool where everyone goes to heal, but also the pool where story crafters go to fish out their ideas. The images of those people stuck staring at that pool struck me deeply this time, and I could feel their paralysis and unwillingness to move either forward or back. I could feel the danger and how easy it would be to eventually just curl up there on those rocks beside the pool, to pull that thin shroud over yourself, and to stare into that pool until … well, until forever.

Cover art showing Boo'ya Moon

I had also forgotten about Scott and Paul, and Paul’s transformation, and the variations of violence that shaped that character long before Lisey ever met him. Madness and abuse run throughout this book, and it’s always by someone who is supposed to love you, either your parent, or sibling, or the biggest fan of your deceased husband’s books. The depth that this strikes internally is actually staggering when you think about it. Have you ever wanted someone you loved to forgive you so badly that you would have cut into yourself, made a blood offering, moved world’s? Once again, King has delved into something that is frightening because even if we haven’t quite been out quite that far, we’ve seen the distant border of that land and it’s something we would rather not think about too carefully. Nothing inspires more pain and madness than love.

So, Lisey’s choice, then, in this book has to do with how she is going to defend herself. Physically she has to defend herself from the King of the Incunks, but she also has to figure out how she is going to defend herself psychologically and emotionally from the memories of a love so strong that it literally moved her to another place. She spends much of the book fighting against those memories, thinking that to remember them will make her crazy like her sister Manda. But, I think that another level of this fight is that recognizing the reality of what was, what really happened, is her first step into moving through it and onward, and moving onward means that it is really and truly over. The King of the Incunks forces her hand only to an extent – she could have killed him and buried him anywhere and no one would have ever been the wiser. Instead, she takes him to Boo’ya Moon, battles with him there, and lets the Long Boy have him. She chooses for him a fate worse than death. She punishes him for more than just physically harming her, or for emotionally scarring her. She punishes him for forcing her to face the end before she was truly ready.

After reading the book this time, I have an even greater respect for it. This time, the images that will stick with me are of Lisey sitting under the Sweetheart Tree and reading Scott’s final manuscript — her story — and finally learning the truth about the man she had loved for so many years. I will remember her finding that hypodermic needle by Paul’s grave, the loss of that bell from the pizza place, and the possible danger of eating fruit after dark. I will remember her rattling around in that house all alone and thinking about The Last Picture Show and Old Hank. Lisey alone. But most of all, I will remember her audaciousness, her decision to deal out to the King of the Incunks something far beyond what he thought she was capable of. Part of the real horror of this book, I think, is being so firmly in agreement with Lisey’s choice.