Finding fantastic novels that grip you so much that you don’t ever want to put them down can be difficult. Once you’ve found such a novel, discovering that the author has written it as a stand alone can be downright heartbreaking. So it is always a relief to find a novel that is well written and the start of a long series, because you know that you have hours and hours of enjoyment coming. Well written, long running series come in two different variations: fantastic self contained narratives, where all of the installments involve the same set of characters, but each story is largely independent of the others, or complex narratives that weave together to create a larger storyline that grips from start to finish.
Of course when you find a long running series, there is always the risk that the standard will decline as you go along. This is why The Edge are picking out the series that we think are worth dedicating to.
Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files is a great example of the later group – a series of novels which includes well written and diverse characters, and an increasingly complex plot. The books focus on the life and work of private detective/wizard Harry Dresden, who lives in Chicago. He uses magic and his wits to solve the cases given to him by his clients, and he also consults for Chicago PD’s Special Investigations unit. The series is 15 books long so far, with a compilation of short stories also published, and further books to follow.
The first book, entitled Storm Front, sees Harry investigating two separate events: the disappearance of a man, and the murder of a couple whose hearts have literally exploded out of their chests. Using various magical apparatus, as well as good old fashioned detective work, Harry finds himself thrown into mob drug wars, vampire brothels and battles with frog demons.
So why embark on a series this long? Ultimately The Dresden Files is both well written, and well plotted. You don’t have to suffer awful word usage for a compelling storyline here! Butcher adds to the complexity of the plot slowly, allowing the reader to take in the developments as the novels progress.The first five or so books center around narratives which could exist independently of one another, in that, while the characters are the same, and are influenced by the storyline, the antagonists are largely unconnected to each other. However as the novels go on, the reader begins to see a broader narrative developing, and that these antagonists are part of a wider web. The way that Butcher reveals this is masterful. He never over loads the reader with information, but lays it carefully out for you to absorb naturally.
The characterisation is another strength of The Dresden Files. Harry is a compelling protagonist, who is neither helpless, nor the over powerful saviour writers often features as their hero. Harry is formidable in his own right, and is resourceful, but he is also out-matched by his enemies. His snarky mental comments and interactions with other characters are a joy to read, because they are so smart. Butcher also writes women well. In the first novel alone the female characters, from the beautiful young reporter who sticks her nose in where is doesn’t belong, to the badass cop who investigates supernatural occurrences, are fleshed out, made into more than what could easily be stereotypes. Butcher doesn’t take the easy route with his female characters, he expands them. For example, he creates a woman who is the wife to a Holy Knight, and who appears to be a stay at home mother, and adds depth to her – she is the one who makes her husbands mail and armour. She is not reprimanded for being a wife and mother, but is instead shown as strong in her way.
All this makes The Dresden Files well worth picking up. Re-reading these novels is as rewarding as the first time, and with 15 novels to tackle it makes for the perfect summer reading.
Storm Front by Jim Butcher was published in 2000.