Sunday, May 8, 2011

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

I'm about ten years late reading this first novel of the Dresden Files. The Dresden Files is a paranormal detective story replete with Noir archetypes. Our hero, Harry Dresden, is a wizard for hire and private investigator.

After complaining about his hard luck with money, the first thing that happens is a bombshell dame walks through his door asking to find her missing husband. Just after this, he's called in as a consult on a case by another gorgeous woman (this time a cop) solving a grisly murder. Later, while enjoying a drink at a smoky bar run by a surly bartender, he's accosted by another gorgeous woman (this time a reporter) looking for a story, and perhaps a bit more. Later he interviews a vampire madame who is also gorgeous... at this point I'm sure you can guess the pattern.

There's a subtle sense of sexism through this book, Harry is an old fashioned sort of guy who opens doors for women, pulls chairs out for them to sit, and tries to protect them physically even when they are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves just because he's a man and that's what he thinks men should do. What's more, the beautiful women who surround him have a startling tendency to be badgered or coerced into a feeling of great vulnerability toward Harry. I can't tell if this is supposed to be an issue the author is trying to address, if it's a character flaw that Harry has, or if it's being held up as an example of how the genders 'should' behave.

This is one thing I can praise C. S. Friedman for. In Feast of Souls, gender and sexism is very clearly what the book is about. There's no question what the author intends, what the book says on the issue is very clear. This sexist tone, as all women cow to Harry's mighty manliness and accomplish little or nothing on their own except get into trouble, could all be an accident on the part of the writer. I may think C. S. Friedman used a sledgehammer for a surgical procedure, but at least it was definitely a part of the story there.

There's a severe anti-science bias in this book, but amazingly, I actually think it works really well for this story. This is a world where the supernatural is real, but exists in a way as to defy repetition or testing of certain phenomenon. While some backhanded insults still made me angry (Science hasn't cured all diseases yet? Go live before antibiotics and see how smug you are about Science's contributions to humanity), but considering the world, this is a detail that helps to establish the reaction muggles have to the supernatural and I don't mind it as much as I might have.

The book really works when it is crafting scenes which have a bizarre sense of humor to them. Like when Harry must fend off a woman (gorgeous, naturally) who just accidentally drank a love potion while standing inside a 3 foot diameter circle which protects them from a rampaging demon. Or when he's wrestling with some guy who stole a lock of his hair, and gets pulled away by some bystanders and he must explain why he was wrestling the guy without sounding like a crazy person.

It's an interesting concept that at times rises up to its potential, but too frequently indulges in the Noir setpieces expected of it; specifically the femme fatale. This keeps this book from being stellar, but I've heard the books get better after the second. I didn't hate this book, and was entertained by it, but it's relatively empty, and I don't really have much to say about it beyond speculation on the details. So far, it's Airport Fiction. I'll likely read the next few sequels, and if I find a better jumping-on point to this franchise in book 2 or 3, I'll be sure to mention it.

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