Monday, May 18, 2009

The Dresden Files

The first set of books I've been reading on my Kindle is the Dresden Files series. I first learned of this series from the short-lived TV show, which it turns out is quite different in the execution, though the central premise and the overall feel are the same.

The books concern a wizard in modern-day Chicago, in a world where magic is real, but where most people don't believe in it. Harry Dresden is about the only one who is in the Yellow Pages, taking on cases like a private investigator from people who know what's really going on, or ones who don't believe in it but want to be sure.

The first book had a heavy influence from the potboiler detective genre. It's a difficult thing to reinvent a genre that's become passé because on the one hand you want to embrace its tropes and clichés, at least enough to honor them, or why bother? But on the other hand, those things have become outmoded, and probably for a reason. The first book errs too far in favor of those tropes; for instance, there are about six women in it, and every one of them is knock-down gorgeous and screams femme fatale, and it gets feeling repetitive. The author leans too heavily on those clichés as if he's not entirely sure of the validity of the unique elements he's bringing to the story yet.

The second book breaks away from that and spends more time exploring magic, and how it works, and what impact it has on the story. However, it also becomes very visceral and brutal, since that book focuses on werewolves, and at times one ends up wincing at some of the depictions.

By the third book, the author is getting settled into a groove and the story brings in just enough of the potboiler clichés to make the inspiration clear and to pay homage to it, but not enough to overburden it or take away too much from the gimmick of the series. Also by this time you start to see how the rules of magic, and the power balances of the various organizations and groups involved in it (the various courts of vampires, the White Council of wizards, the denizens of Faerie, etc.), work, and they're really interesting and well fleshed out. And soon after, we start to have stories that are less episodic, with bits from older books coming back and even with books ending without really resolving big parts of their conflicts.

Even when the series is overburdened with some elements in the first few books, it's gripping reading, and it gets better as it goes along. I'm on the sixth book now and it's still holding up just fine. These aren't deep books and I blow through them pretty fast but they're good fun, and a nice contrast to the pretty heavy books I was reading before this series. And given the stress levels in my life right now, light fiction is probably for the best anyway.

1 comment:

drscorpio said...

I enjoyed the books well enough. His world building is more interesting than his characters at times.

Very much looking forward to the new Dresden Files RPG