It’s remotely possible that someone reading this blog doesn’t know about Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels.
I just finished re-reading Turncoat, one of the middle books in the series, and it reminded me why everyone and their cousin needs to read this series.
No. I’m not being paid for this endorsement.
Jim Butcher is not the reigning master of genre fantasy. That would be Lois McMaster Bujold. Jim Butcher is merely a master craftsman. That’s less an indulgence in purple prose and more of a technical description. Jim Butcher is a craft-oriented technician of urban fantasy, and he has assembled an erector set of awesome for our enjoyment.
For readers, that means Mr. Butcher consistently produces dynamic, interesting characters who grow and develop over time, solid action, a clean and clear plot that gets resolved at the end of every novel. That is pretty standard fare for a well-educated craft-oriented writer, but Butcher has raised the stakes. His urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files, was originally plotted to be a twenty-installment episodic story capped by an apocalyptic trilogy. That’s right folks, though the late Robert Jordan thought that The Wheel of Time would only be three novels long at first plot, Butcher had a minimum twenty-three book outline. The fifteenth installment in the series Skin Game has recently come out after fan-tormenting delays this year, and it has been an excellent ride so far. The plotting, character notes, and heavy lifting that Mr. Butcher does in the homework department shines through as minor characters become movers and shakers, sub-plots grow to redefine the world, and the big bad threat that the series will address has been hidden in plain sight since book one, chapter freaking two.
The topic of this technical acumen? One Harry Dresden. It’s been called Spencer played by Merlin (though a new generation has grown up ignorant of Robert. B Parker’s detective masterpiece), Buffy the Vampire slayer guest starring Dr. Strange, True Blood minus the porn reinterpreted by Marvel Comics, and more. The story is set in the modern world where one member of the supernatural community, Dresden, operates as a poor private investigator in defiance of the conventions that divide the mortal and fantastic realms. Vampires, magic dogs, Jedi of the Cross (they’re called Knights of the Cross but let us not kid ourselves, they’re Christian Jedi done right), fairy lore straight out of the middle ages adorned with cell phones, four kinds of werewolves, three courts of vampires, and a more Geekdom references than you can shake a dilithium crystal at.
Oh yeah, and there is a beating heart to these stories, and I’m not talking about the ones that explode out of people’s chests in book one. Butcher understands redemption, suspicion, compassion, the battles of temptation, struggles to be a better man, grace, and faith better than most openly Christian writers I have ever read. The Catholic supporting cast aren’t child molesters, drug users, or flaming hypocrites. They’re good people worth cheering for. The sexual predator vampire is the most consistent back-up hero Harry has, and the reasons he keeps showing up, and his secret struggles to be something other than a monster could provide a graphic-novel version of a 12-step program, whatever your addiction might be. That isn’t even touching the Aikido-master cop-chic, the construction-worker sword god, a polka-channeling Jewish ME, and a semi-mortal magic dog who might be the smartest member of the cast. Oh, and nobody has the stones to try and summon Santa Claus.
In a world where urban fantasy has increasingly turned into a new venue for violent chick-porn, Butcher bucks the trend and provides a wholesome-hearted, tough-guy, blue-collar, magic-slinging hero who only gets snarkier the worse things get.
Pause for a moment and geek out about that. Really. It’s all right.
I am re-reading Butcher’s superlative series as a self-indulgence while I recuperate from NaNoWriMo and figure out what I’m going to do with the three novel series I’m currently writing, so I have turned to the best I know at what he does.
Turncoat (All of Butcher’s books are titled with a pair equal-length words that also pun on the main plot, because apparently Mr. Butcher had extra mental horsepower to spare after splashing awesome around with Akira Kurosawa buckets of red paint), throws Harry right into the middle of White Council politics, where he has to prove his greatest enemy is innocent of murder everyone thinks he committed, or one Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is likely to be next.
I would tell you more, but don’t take my word for it. The path to Turncoat and beyond starts with a humble little novel called Storm Front that Mr. Butcher wrote in college to prove his writing teacher wrong (by doing everything that she said just to prove how lifeless and formulaic this… bestselling… novel… whoops!). The opening two novels are solid, but not fantastic, but the first couple of seconds of a rollercoaster ride involve a lot of cranking.
We hit the top of the first hill about book three, and it’s been nothing but screaming ever since….
Check out a Dresden Files book by Jim Butcher today.