Harry Dresden’s Magical Chicago

Storm Front: The Dresden Files, Book 1 | Jim ButcherI 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)
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.

Ghost Story: The Dresden Files, Book 13 | [Jim Butcher]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.

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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.

The  Dresden Files:

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

Changes: The Dresden Files, Book 12 | Jim ButcherIf 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.

Happily Reading Myself to Death

75-bedsideMedia-HP-1Half a dozen times during the past few months, I’ve seen the sun rise and heard the birds wake and sing the morning in.

I have sometimes gotten up very early to see the sunrise and take pictures. More typically, the reason is both more mundane and more reflective of who I am. It is the thing I do that is most “me.” I am awake into the early hours because I am in the grip of a good book and can’t put it down.

Cover of "Song of the Beast"

I’m addicted to books.

Although I go through phases where I read a lot of one genre, I move through many genres over the course of time. I have spent years reading history, indulging my enthusiasm for the middle ages and especially that weirdest of times,  the 14th century. Perhaps I am specifically fascinated by this period because it was a fulcrum of civilization, the emergence of central government, a free peasantry and what became the middle class. There was the Black Death, the schism when two popes reigned, one in Avignon, the other in Rome: a calamity for the Christian world. There was endless war, brigands roaming throughout the European countryside, burning, raping, despoiling.  Destroying what sad remnants of communities had  survived the other catastrophes of those years. Inflation rendered money worthless. Many regions were entirely depopulated leaving no one to tend fields and grow crops. Famine followed.

The 20th century, with all its horrors, could never top the 14th. I find that oddly comforting, though I can’t imagine why.

I read thrillers, mysteries, police procedurals and courtroom dramas. I read about lawyers, district attorneys, victims, criminals and prisons. Then, when I need to escape, I turn to science fiction and fantasy, immersing myself in other worlds, other realities that could never be, in futures that may yet be as I pursue magic and sorcery.

Cover of "To Say Nothing of the Dog"

In an ironic turn, I’m giving Jane Austen another chance. I hated her books in school, but felt that 40 years having passed, it might be time to try one more time and so I find myself in the middle of “Pride and Prejudice.” I will never be a Jane Austen fan, but I am recognizing much of the wit that eluded me when I was younger and although it isn’t my favorite fiction, I can see where it might be someone else’s.

It is indeed the ultimate drug for me. Take away everything else, but leave me books so that if I cannot fly away in body, I can escape in spirit.

I am, for the moment, between favorite authors. All of my favorite writers are in the process of creating their next books, though some are finished and publication dates are set … in the future … and waiting has never been something at which I excel. Now is my time to search for new writers, to try to discover a new world, a new voice, a new piece of time to explore.

I thought I’d make a short list for you of some of my favorite authors and a few of my favorite books. I encourage you to make suggestions for books I might like. I’m always looking for new authors and genres.

Barbara Tuchman is my favorite writer of history. Most of her books are wonderful, but my two favorites are A Distant Mirror and The Guns of August. I am also a very big fan of Doris Kearns Goodwin and cannot recommend her books too highly: they are wonderful. Her tome on Lincoln, Team of Rivals which became at least in part the basis of Spielberg’s Lincoln, or her equally brilliant work on Franklin Delano Roosevelt No Ordinary Time are masterpieces.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraha...

The entire Hollows series by Kim Harrison for the finest of the urban fantasy genre. Her most recent book, Ever After is the best yet … and they are all marvelous.

Don’t miss Kevin Hearne‘s Iron Druid series. Great in print, on Kindle and as an audiobook. And you can get an autographed copy. It’s a series that has been getting better with each new book and I’m expecting great things.

Jim Butcher‘s Harry Dresden series … a gumshoe who can throw a mean spell, but takes a loaded gun, just in case. His most recent book, Cold Days was better than ever and is taking the story in deliciously creepy directions.

Connie Willis‘ time travel books including The Doomsday Book, Blackout, All Clear, and To Say Nothing of the Dog are among the best books of this genre ever written. She has also written some of the most hilarious science fiction stories I’ve ever read including All Seated on the Ground, Bellwether, and a bunch of others.

Unlike most readers, I read her more serious ambitious books first and was surprised to discover she was best known for her lighter, humorous fiction. Both are wonderful and you can’t go wrong with any of them. I should mention that some of her older books are only available on Kindle and/or audio.

Dave Robicheaux Series

And, speaking of time travel, Stephen King‘s 11-22-63 is exceptional. It is not a horror story, but true science fiction. The prose is sometimes so beautiful that it brings tears to your eyes.

Recently, I discovered Carol Berg. I completed the final of her various series last night … and am now holding my breath in anticipation of her next book. If you want to start with one of her few books that isn’t part of a series, may I recommend Song of the Beast. Hint: I hope you like dragons!

I love just about everything written by James Lee Burke. If Faulkner had written detective stories, he’d be James Lee Burke. His Dave Robicheaux series is a long running favorite, but his other books are great too.

I’ve read all of John Grishoms books, almost all of Richard North Patterson‘s novels, and most of Nelson Demille.

The writing of Anne Golon wrote (and is still writing) an amazing series of historical novels about a fictional woman named Angelique. They take place during the time of Louis XIV. This series is has been one of the most significant influences on my life, not only literary, but personally.  Angelique lived the life she chose and never accepted defeat. She gave me an interest in history that I carry with me to this day, and she also inspired me to a personal courage I doubt I’d have otherwise found. The English language versions of the books are long out of print, but the recent ones — Anne Golon is well into her 80s — are available in French and a possibly other languages. You can get more information through the Friends of Angelique.

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I cannot close this without referencing two authors that have given me great joy, the incomparable Douglas Adams, and Jasper Fforde whose worlds I long to enter. I still mourn Douglas. He should have had many more years. Douglas, you died way too soon. Jasper Fford writes with a similar wonderful lunacy in a fantasy world where fiction is real and reality isn’t.

This doesn’t even begin to cover everything. It would take me days to begin to remember everything … and way more pages than anyone would have patience to read … but this is a tickle for you. Maybe you too are searching for something to fresh to read, a new world to discover. These are some of my favorite places … I’d love to hear about yours!

More snow on the way


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They are telling us we will have more snow over the weekend. Maybe just a few inches, maybe a bit more. We haven’t entirely shoveled out from the last one, though the warm weather today helped a lot. It’s still February, so there are plenty of snow days remaining.

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So, I don’t think of it as snow. I think of it as photo opportunities! That takes the sting out of it.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Kiss – Eternal Love

The Kiss

A pledge of eternal love surpassing all other loves.

Camera: Olympus PEN E-P3. Lens: 45mm f/1.8.

A Tale of Two Terriers

Watching all those handsome dogs on Westminster made it really obvious how badly our dogs needed grooming. Yesterday, off they went.

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They departed as mops and returned as terriers.

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Not groomed for the show ring, but for tidiness, they are incredibly cute. And so clean.

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Miss Bonnie has a properly Scots mien and Nan, a softer, sweeter Norwich countenance.

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Garry looks like he aways does while chatting with canines. Happy.

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A Poem for Lovers on Valentine’s Day

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How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)

By Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

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