Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Fantasy Fiction Tuesday: Storm Front (2000)

Like every other genre of fiction, Fantasy possesses a number of smaller subgenres that focus on more specific ideas and have their own unique tropes. One of the more popular subgenres is Urban Fantasy. As the name implies, Urban Fantasy stories take place in a more contemporary setting with urban environments being a very common choice. While some "traditionalists" turn up their noises at this subgenre, I'm actually rather fond of it. I love the idea of seeing how the magical/supernatural world might interact with a seemingly mundane reality.

When choosing which novel to showcase here to represent the best of what Urban Fantasy has to offer, I have to go with one of my personal favorites: Storm Front. 

The first novel of Jim Butcher's incredibly popular The Dresden Files, Storm Front introduces us to the wizard/private investigator Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, who is currently down on his luck in the business department. However, that changes when the Chicago PD bring him in to consult on a gruesome double murder committed with black magic. Can Dresden solve this mystery before more people turn up dead, or will he end up being the next victim?

Storm Front, like the rest of the novels in The Dresden Files, blends magic with hard-boiled detective fiction beautifully. While I'm usually not a big fan of first-person narratives, Butcher utilizes it very well here, giving the reader the feeling they're reading a novelized version of a film noir that just so happened to have magic and monsters in it. Being a fan of detective stories and film noir, this is a major plus in my book.

The book also benefits from a cast of interesting characters. There's Harry Dresden, a wizard with a tragic past who has a good heart and a weak spot for pretty women, Bob, a wise-cracking air elemental who resides in a human skull, and Karrin Murphy, a police officer working for the Special Investigation division who knows how to kick ass and take names. Each character has their own unique quirks and you just want to learn more about them and see what happens to them.

Finally, Storm Front does a fantastic job at introducing us to this magical world that lurks within the shadows of our modern society. We learn about the White Council which governs the wizards of the world, how magic works, and the Nevernever, a magical realm separate from the normal world that contains almost everything from the different mythologies of the world in one form or another. Butcher has done an excellent job at crafting a world that's interesting to read about and you just want to uncover more of its secrets.

If I had to fault Storm Front on something, it would probably be the actual mystery the plot is built around. While its solid, its also incredibly easy to figure out who the bad guy is and what's actually going on within the first few chapters. However, I still enjoyed reading the book and I feel like Butcher does a better job in this department with the other books in the series.

If you want to check out Urban Fantasy and want to see what its all about, I highly recommend giving Storm Front and the rest of The Dresden Files a read. They're well-written, have interesting characters, and a pretty cool setting.