I was feeling a bit forlorn after I completed Mike Carey‘s Felix Castor series until Harry Dresden tapped me on the shoulder and invited me into the world created for him by author Jim Butcher. As I read my way through the entire series, 14 books to date with more on the way, I felt I’d found a perfect combination of gumshoe and wielder of magic. Everything I enjoy most in fantasy is in this series. Harry is a wise-ass, witty guy. And smart, sometimes too smart for his own good.
Grave Peril (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Harry is a powerful wizard. He takes on challenges that should kill him, sometimes almost do and arguably have done so at least once , yet he is ever on guard to protect his city and the whole human world against the forces of darkness. A man with great power, he also packs a gun because magic is great stuff, but sometimes, there’s nothing quite like bullet to get the job done.
He’s witty, funny, sentimental, and foolhardy, prone to give the benefit of a doubt to the wrong people and end up paying heavily for being nice. He’s loyal to a fault and hates following rules. He’ll protect those he loves at the cost of his own life and soul. If your back’s to the wall, Harry’s the guy you want at your side.
Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard. He’s listed in the Yellow Pages. Look him up. He doesn’t do kids’ parties.
For nearly a year, as I read my way through the earlier books in the series, I was entirely engrossed in Harry Dresden’s world. Eventually, much to my chagrin, I realized I’d reached the end of the already-published books. When I finished Ghost Story and Changes, I knew I’d reached the series’ turning point. I moped for a while, but I had to trust the author’s ability to bridge the changes in story and characters with his usual skill. When Cold Days was released, Jim Butcher had indeed moved the series to a new level. Harry was back, better than ever with power to spare. It isn’t the “old Harry.” It’s a wiser, more temperate Harry.
Harry has seen the other side. He no longer acts as if he is invulnerable. He knows he can win the day yet lose his life … and life is more precious to him than before. Holding the title of Winter Knight, Champion of the Winter Fae (Mab’s realm), he has great power for good or evil. He will be a knight like no other before him. Which is good because a war is shaping up. The lines are forming. Harry holds a unique position as the fulcrum of forces in this great battle to destroy or preserve the world as we know it.
To say this is a wonderful series doesn’t quite cover it. There are many series in the science fiction and fantasy genres. Some are so lightweight they float away and you can’t remember anything about them at all. Some are pretty good, others even better. A few are great. This fits nicely into the “great” category.
But why? you ask.
Fantasy series and stories are not known for complex, multi-dimensional characters . Heroic, powerful and brave no doubt, but when you read a lot of books in this genre, you usually know what’s going to happen long before it does. Harry and his crew are unpredictable. They grow, they change, they develop. They form relationships. The mourn their losses, celebrate their victories. They go through hard times and if they survive, are changed. They are magic-wielding wizards or some other magical being, but emotionally they are like people you might know, if you include in your circle people who can cast spells to blow up a city block or reanimate a Tyrannosaurus Rex. None of my friends can do that — as far as I know — but they probably wouldn’t tell me if they could. The world of magic is secretive. Sometimes, if I’m feeling whimsical, I imagine Harry and a few of his pals settling in Uxbridge. Their secrets wouldn’t stay hidden for five minutes.
I read most of the series as audiobooks, but some in print too and a few of them in both formats. I own the last four or five in hard cover because there is something yummy about a fresh, new hardcover. I don’t read the hard covers: I just savor them. I line them up on my shelves in pristine splendor, then I read them on my Kindle. The entire series is available in paperback, if that’s your preference.
Following is the full series to date in order. Although you do not have to read the first few books in order, if you have a choice, it is easier to follow that way. As you progress in the series, you really can’t read the later volumes out-of-order if you want them to make sense. Harry grows and changes a great deal from the first book on. He’s barely a kid when it starts, but he is all grown up by the time he arrives at Cold Days.
Although the series is mostly fun, there is a serious undercurrent. Butcher has put a good deal of thought into the nature of good and evil, the choices we make and price we pay for these choices. Life in the real world is never black and white, nor is it in Harry’s world. It is in the gray areas that Harry operates; rarely are his choices purely good or evil. His life is complicated and the complexities make the stories more interesting. This is one of the very rare series where I don’t always know what’s going to happen before I read it.
Jim Butcher is a fine writer. The stories are witty and charming. It isn’t all darkness and violence. Dialogue is snappy and intelligent. There are no dummies on Harry’s team.
Book 1: The Dresden Files – Storm Front
Book 2: The Dresden Files – Fool Moon
Book 3: The Dresden Files – Grave Peril
Book 4: The Dresden Files – Summer Knight
Book 5: The Dresden Files – Death Masks
Book 6: The Dresden Files – Blood Rites
Book 7: The Dresden Files – Dead Beat
Book 8: The Dresden Files – Proven Guilty
Book 9: The Dresden Files – White Night
Book 10: The Dresden Files – Small Favor
Book 11: The Dresden Files – Turn Coat
Book 12: The Dresden Files – Changes
Book 13: The Dresden Files – Ghost Story
Side Jobs: Stories From The Dresden Files
Book 14: The Dresden Files – Cold Days
If you are a fan or a writer, the video that follows is a comprehensive interview with Jim Butcher during which he answers many questions about what’s going on in the Dresden universe and what is likely to come in the future. The interview took place shortly the release of Cold Days in November 2012. Unlike other interviews, this one is well recorded and you can hear the questions and Jim’s answers. It runs a bit more than 45 minutes It’s a great interview and well worth your time.
The insights are not only into Harry Dresden‘s world, but into the world of the author. For me, as a writer, I’m always fascinated by how authors do what they do, how they figure out which characters are going to be prominent in this book (or the next). How they inspire themselves to keep producing day after day and in the case of Jim Butcher, producing high quality work fast.
No two authors work the same way. As many authors as I’ve listened to, corresponded with, read about, each is unique. What inspires one would drive another crazy. You’ll learn a lot of interesting stuff in this interview. Jim Butcher is witty and articulate and offers genuine insight into his work.
This interview does not answer the burning question “Are Harry and Molly going to get it on?” Sorry. You’ll have to wait for the answer with the rest of us. However, if you watch the video, you will learn a lot about Harry, how he got to be the way he is, and where he and his friends are going. If you are a writer, the detailed explanations of Jim Butcher’s writing process are priceless.