Recommending The Dresden Files…With Reservations

Book cover for Storm Front by Jim ButcherI’m a fan of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer ” like small children are fans of candy. I credit Buffy with getting me hooked on the Horror-Fantasy genre. As for many Buffy devotees, my favorite character in the series is Spike, played by the handsome James Marsters. When I learned that Marsters was involved with Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, a series that revolves around a modern day wizard in Chicago, I jumped on these books like Harry Potter jumps to conclusions before he has all the facts.

Marsters is the reader for most of the audiobook versions of  The Dresden Files, and he is the perfect narrator to play Harry Dresden, a private eye solving all manner of supernatural crimes and battling a variety of fantastical creatures. Marsters’ voice is gruff, sarcastic and appropriately self-deprecating to allow for humor without humiliation. Harry is down-to-earth and a well-rounded character.

Newcomers to this series should be aware of one major pitfall, however, which I personally find very distracting: its women. It seems that most of the women are sexualized, vapid or motherly. The only woman that comes close to being strong and independent is Murphy, but she is described as a tiny cheerleader. This successfully undermines the reader’s ability to take her seriously. This wouldn’t bother me so much if there weren’t also tons of male characters that are tough, complex and miles more capable of handling situations than the women. In the three books that I read, only a third of the characters are women, and of those women, nearly half of them are highly sexualized.

Complaints about female characters aside, Jim Butcher is a master of plot. He obeys the writing rule that states when you drive your character up a tree, throw stones at him. The reader actually doesn’t know what will happen next or how Dresden will get out of the current jam, but when he does, the method is not only surprising but also delightfully well thought out. Butcher is a talented writer, and if you’re looking for a fantasy adventure noir-inspired novel, then the Dresden Files are for you! Start with the first in the series, “Storm Front.”

About Charlene

Actress, unicorn and psychology student on a crusade to read the classics!
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3 Responses to Recommending The Dresden Files…With Reservations

  1. Cap'n says:

    Yeah, I don’t know.

    This series was recommended to me several times, so I finally read the first book and struggled to finish it. I think it’s funny that you noted the weird female character problem, too. It really stuck out for me.

    These sort of reminded me of the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald from the 70s. Except those are old enough that the social awkwardness can be imagined to be a product of the times, true or not.

    I’d recommend the Mike Carey books (beginning with “The Devil You Know” ) over this series.

  2. Kris says:

    I too am a fan of Harry Dresden and would like to recommend The Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne. While witches and vampires appear in that series, most of the action deals with the gods of various religions and mythologies.

  3. Uriah says:

    I’ll start off saying I am a fan of the Dresden series and interestingly enough, one of those rare people who find no pleasure in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Jim Butcher is a good writer, and his vision for Harry Dresden is a solid one that has gone through some changes in the 14 books (& 1 collection of short stories). Some that I’ve agreed with (love Turncoat), and others that needed work (why did you make Changes read like Harry’s Greatest Hits?).

    That said, I disagree with this reviewer’s statement regarding his female characters in this series. Early on, I can see the basis for the comment. Storm Front, like many early efforts is kind of weak, story-wise, and only really solidly fleshes out Harry as a character. Fool Moon & Grave Peril, the next two books, do more with Harry, and slightly expand on the supporting cast, but still retain the Raymond Chandler/Dashiell Hammett noir style detective stories. In that style of story, the female characters tend to be broads, dames, & gals, rather than strong, fully fleshed out figures who do their share of taking heads and figuring out things before Harry can pull his head out and know what to do. Butcher has some good details in the early books, but keeps the emphasis on Harry, making the strong female characters less visible. However, if your read more deeply, you might find that in the Dresden Files, while Harry is a wizard and knows stuff, he’s got some solid supporting cast of the other gender. And they save his bacon as often as not.

    Karin Murphy, while being a petite woman, is still a hard-nosed professional in the same style as Olivia Dunham from Fringe. While the physical description is accurate, she’s got a black belt, knows guns & swords, and is quite capable of holding her own as a mundane interacting with things that Man Is Not Meant To Know.

    Susan Rodriguez, as a love interest, does her digging for the Chicago Arcane as a reporter, and manages, in that lovely way of the members of the 5th estate, to wander into some places where Harry can’t go and as things turn out later on, makes some things happen that couldn’t have found a way to happen in a thousand years.

    Finally, there is Harry’s apprentice. While the wizard’s apprentice is a teenaged girl for most of the time in the series, she’s got plenty of power, and has gone some places where Harry won’t go. Oh…does she ever go places Harry won’t go.

    Early novels in the series are very noir detective, which as a genre, are not particularly kind to female characters. The later novels move more towards modern urban fantasy, and while they don’t involve torrid affairs between the supernatural and mortals, I’d say they treat women as well as they can be treated by a male writer, if not better, as they have as much or more power than the protagonist.

    Read the series. Make your own judgement. Make two. It’s good stuff.

    Editor’s Note: this comment has been modified to meet our posting guidelines.