Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

Storm Front, by Jim Butcher

I have still been reading. For a while, I was reading graphic novels; maybe I'll do mini-reviews of those, too. Books I've been reading slowly, like one every week or two. But not this one.

No, Storm Front took about four and a half months to finish.

I bought this novel at ConQuesT about ten years ago. Glen Cook was vending books there like he did every year back then, and I asked him for recommendations. He suggested this one. When I got it home, Lut took one look and said, "I've got a copy of that. It's not very good." I stuck it with all the other books and forgot about it, untouched, until this May. When I was going on a trip and looking for something to read on the plane. Lut plied me with a couple of other books when he saw I was resorting to Storm Front, but I cracked it open on the plane anyway.

It didn't irritate me enough to say "This is bad and I'm not finishing it." But it never made me care about anything that happened in it, either.I read a little on the flight out, a little on the flight back, and finally left it at work on the theory of "if I am desperate for something to read on break and have nothing else, I can read this."

It's book one of the Dresden Files, and lots of people love it. I am not entirely sure why I am so unimpressed by it. Part of it is employment of my least favorite trope. "make sure your main character is up against forces massively more powerful than him, against which he stands no chance, with no allies, so that everyone can be super-impressed by his ability to survive." This tactic is highly recommended in some parts of the writing world, where if your character isn't fighting a five-front war with both hands tied behind his back while being tortured, you're going to easy on him. But it takes really kick-ass story-telling skills to pull this off with me, and this book did not have them.

Another factor: it reads rather like an urban fantasy version of 40s noir. The protagonist is an "old-fashioned" guy who treats women like they're a different and incomprehensible species. The women in the book are all damsels in distress -- ALL OF THEM, including the supposedly tough cop character -- who are at best useless if not an active detraction from the protagonist as he rescues them from their various predicaments. Or they get killed, when he's not around to rescue them. There might have been a minor female character that didn't die or get rescued by Dresden, but I forget who if so. (Oh wait, I remember one of the antagonist females survived the book without Dresden's help.) I forget if there were any non-white characters. If there were, probably antagonists because (see trope 1), Dresden has no allies and has to do everything himself.

Anyway, I don't necessarily hate white male power fantasies with abundant helpless gorgeous women to rescue. When it's actual 40s noir I am generally willing to overlook it as a product of its culture. When it's from 2000, I am kind of hoping for a more nuanced view of the world, though. The characters just felt very flat and uninteresting to me. I didn't care about them, or what happened to them, and the over-the-top drama at the climax didn't grip me. I put the book down several times during it, picking it up a day or three later when I didn't have anything else to read.

But if these things do not grate on one, I can easily see enjoying the book. It has other stuff going for it: I like the way Butcher puts in descriptions of scenes and characters, so that you get a sense of what the world looks like to the author instead of conjuring everything up yourself. I was amused by how many characters, male and female, were described as attractive. The central mystery more-or-less works as a mystery, neither too transparent nor too contrived and obscure.

It gets a 5 of 10 for me, though, and was in the category of "barely worth finishing".
Tags: book review, books, reviews
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