Sunday, January 13, 2008

Jim Butcher

Storm Front
by Jim Butcher
Recommended Age: 14+

Here is Book One of the Dresden Files, a series of fairly clean (though somewhat violent) adult novels that blur the line between sci-fi/fantasy and mystery. Now also a TV series on the Sci Fi channel, the Dresden Files are the adventures of a wizard named Harry...Harry Dresden, that is. He lives in Chicago and scrapes a meagre living as a private investigator with a paranormal twist. “Lost items found...Consulting. Advice...No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment,” says his business card. Most of his business comes from consulting with the Chicago Police Department’s “Special Investigations” unit and its pretty, but hard-bitten, lead detective, Karrin Murphy.

In this first Dresden File mystery, Harry has two tough cases on his hands. One comes from a paying client who is worried about her husband, a self-taught wizard who may be a danger to himself or others. The other case involves a series of grisly murders that are baffling the Chicago Police – murders so clearly magic-related that Harry himself is the obvious suspect. It’s bad enough with the police thinking so, but the White Council also suspects Harry. And with a suspended death sentence hanging over his head, any evidence that Harry has committed a magical crime will lead to swift and irreversible justice.

Storm Front is a thrilling beginning to another series full of magic, mystery, and suspense. It has an intriguing concept of magic, a troubled but compelling hero, complex layers of danger and conflict, and a lot of juicy extras, from pizza-loving fairies to a beautiful vampire madam. It has giant rampaging scorpions, evil wizards and their forbidden minions, a drug-related gang war, a smart-mouthed talking skull, and a hot date that totally goes to hell.

Yes, there is some occult content in this story, such as the summoning of spirits. You’ll have to choose for yourself whether this is done, or can be done, in an acceptable way. Why not read the first book in the series before you decide?

Fool Moon
by Jim Butcher
Recommended Age: 16+

Book Two of the Dresden Files continues the creepy, funny, and increasingly sexy adventures of Chicago’s only wizard private detective, Harry Dresden. When dead bodies start turning up, seemingly mauled by a wolf-like creature, Dresden digs into werewolf lore. But even after figuring out what kinds of werewolves exist, the clues don’t add up. Soon Dresden is confronted by various kinds of werewolves and lycanthropes, ranging from a gang of shape-changing young do-gooders, to a bad-doing gang of bloodthirsty lunatics, all the way to deadly monsters touched by another world. By the time he has worked out who is really behind the murders, Dresden himself becomes a suspect, and he and his friends are lured into a trap from which there may be no escape.

The series that started with Storm Front continues to thrill and amuse by merging hardboiled-detective fiction set in a very real and recognizable present-day Chicago, with a magical fantasy world of wizards, vampires, faeries, and werewolves. City cops, FBI agents, and mobsters rub shoulders with otherworldly creatures, from a wise-cracking skull to a man who becomes an unstoppable killing machine when the full moon rises. And, would you believe, worse.

Concerned parents, please note that I am issuing both an “adult content” and an “occult content” advisory for this book. The mature material isn’t clinically detailed, but Dresden’s spell-casting may be more of a problem because it involves summoning (sometimes fairies, sometimes demons) and conversations with a spirit imprisoned in a skull. I enjoyed the book, but it may not be for everyone, so I leave it to your judgment.

Grave Peril
by Jim Butcher
Recommended Age: 12+

Book Three of the Dresden Files is even more spooky, witty, and action-packed than its predecessors, Storm Front and Fool Moon. This book finds Chicago’s finest (i.e., only) hardboiled wizard detective chasing an outbreak of increasingly violent ghosts. Even with the help of an upright, heroic, devoutly Catholic knight armed with a sword that can hew spiritual flesh, Dresden is outmatched. Someone, or something, is stirring up the spirit world, and they’re going after people Dresden cares about, inflicting horrible spiritual suffering on them.

It is a type of evil magic Dresden has never encountered before, and it makes him wonder: could it be the work of a rogue sorcerer he helped capture and put away? Could it be connected with the faerie godmother who has been after him ever since Dresden’s mother made a bargain with her long ago? Could it have something to do with a local vampire madam’s elevation to the Red Court? Accompanied by his yellow-journalist girlfriend and his knight-in-shining-armor buddy, Dresden attends a party full of beings that want his blood in a very personal way...and ends up in even more trouble than he expected!

Parents be advised: this book contains both “adult” and “occult” content. The violence is more graphic than the sexual content, but both are there, along with exorcisms, summonings, dealings with faeries, and encounters with demonic forces. Dresden is trying to protect the people of Chicago from these things, but his methods are not always pristine. He is, after all, a “hardboiled wizard,” so you may often question his choices and ethics. You see this especially in this book because of the contrast between how Harry and his friend Michael operate; nevertheless, they somehow work together for the same ends. So, exercise your own judgment about whether or when to share this series with your kids. But first, give the book a spin and see if you enjoy it yourself!

Summer Knight
by Jim Butcher
Recommended Age: 12+

By this fourth book of the Dresden Files, Chicago-based wizard/detective Harry Dresden has faced rogue sorcerers, vampires, werewolves, and restless ghosts, and he has survived. But he has not come away unhurt. The woman he loves has been bitten by a vampire, and is hiding somewhere — hiding from him — while he tries to find a cure for her. And his actions in the previous book, Grave Peril, have triggered a war between the Red Court of the vampires and the White Council of wizards. Between his obsessive search for a cure for Susan and frequent attempts on his life, Dresden hasn’t gotten out much lately. His business is failing, he is about to be evicted from his office and his apartment, he looks and smells like death warmed over, and he’s in lots and lots of pain.

And then things start to get bad.

The first sign that all is not right with the world is a rain of frogs. Then a ghoul – don’t expect me to describe it; you’ll just have to find out for yourself – tries to assassinate Dresden. Then the Queen of the Winter Faeries shows up with an offer he can’t refuse (literally) and hires him to investigate a murder which the human cops think was an accident, while everyone in the Faerie world thinks the Winter Queen did it.

Then the White Council of wizards comes to town and debates throwing Dresden to the vampires, to stave off another brewing war. By an eyelash’s breadth, Dresden wins a second chance, a trial for his life: solve the Winter Queen’s problem or die. And THEN, who of all people should show up but Dresden’s first girlfriend, presumed dead, last seen trying to kill him, now working for the Summer Court, and asking for Dresden’s help! And THEN a group of half-faerie, half-human weirdos hires Dresden to find their missing friend, whose disappearance may be connected with all this. And by this point, he needs money too badly to refuse.

For a resourceful wizard detective, this may not seem like much to ask. But Dresden soon realizes he is in way over his head, dealing with forces much larger than himself. And all he has on his side is an emotionally scarred cop, a gang of do-gooder youths who can shape-change into wolves, and a mysterious edge – so mysterious, even he doesn’t know what it is – but whatever it is, someone wants him dead because of it.

More than ever before, Harry Dresden is at the center of a huge, complex mystery full of unusual characters with competing interests, dangers on all sides, and just enough “adult” and “occult” content to advise concerned parents about it. There are pizza-loving pixies, ogres, trolls, a vicious unicorn, a centaur, a werewolf junior justice league, and other creatures, many of them quite alarming. There are also sociopaths, traitors, scary faeries, a huge and bloody battle, a meeting full of political danger, and terrifying scenes of destruction at a Wal-Mart Supercenter. It may be worth trying the book just to imagine scenes of magical mayhem in such a mundane place; but I’ll guess that if you come for the Wal-Mart scene, you’ll be hooked for the whole exciting, funny, scary ride.

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