Returning to the first book in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series is like returning to a favourite vacation spot—one of those cozy ones that are well-known and well-regarded but never very busy for reasons you can't quite figure out. The temperature is just right, the weather is just like you remembered, and you have all the time in the world … to watch Harry get his ass kicked.
Harry Dresden. Those are the only two words you need to know. He is one of the best protagonists I've ever encountered. A combination of private investigator, wizard, and thick-headed gallant man, Harry is often clever but always getting into some sort of trouble. He has a powerful instinct to do what's right, but it doesn't always fire at the most appropriate times. When in doubt Harry follows a simple set of steps: make a wisecrack, think on his feet, and duck (not always in that order).
I haven't read Storm Front in years, and reading it again was such a pleasure. And the series improves so much with subsequent books: as good as Storm Front is, it cannot match the quality that comes with a more developed, more mature Dresdenverse. In this book, we have Harry and the mystery; as the series develops, we get Harry, the mystery, and the world itself, with all of its various characters. Storm Front is the genesis of this powerful series, introducing us to Karrin Murphy, Johnnie Marcone, Morgan and the White Council, etc. But standing alone, just how good is this book?
Well, it was good enough to get me to order the rest of the series as it existed at the time.
Whether you're a fan of urban fantasy, of mystery, or of both, Storm Front is the perfect storm of magic and mystery. The way Butcher describes magic is captivating and representative of his overall ability at writing action scenes. He feeds us exposition at appropriate times, never breaking up the unity of the scene but always augmenting it with pertinent information. In this way, we learn about wizards, the magical world, and Harry's own past. Meanwhile, Harry becomes involved in a case that soon has very personal stakes for him.
Butcher packs in enough characters and plot twists that it almost feels like too much. For a small book, Storm Front is remarkably full. It works, however, because Harry Dresden is a great narrator. Butcher gives him a clear voice, and through him we experience the entire story. We feel his elation when things go right (not often enough) and the pain and frustration when everything goes pear-shaped (business as usual). Because of the quality of its narration and storytelling, Storm Front is more than a simple pulp mystery: it's a great ride.