With the advent of SciFi channel’s “The Dresden Files,” I thought I’d get familiar with Jim Butcher’s books. I always wanted to read some of his work, since the Harry Dresden series had always looked intriguing to me. However, I was faced with a series of eight books (or nine, depending upon when White Night is available), and I had limited time. So I cheated. To get a flavor of the series and the characters, I bought the first book and the most recent book and read them both. They were breezy fun reads and of course, I read them in order.
The only other male detective of the supernatural I’ve read has been Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy. There’s no way to compare the characters, being in such different time periods and environments. While the proper Englishman Darcy thinks his way through the puzzle in an obvious paranormal parallel to Holmes, Chicago-based Dresden has to figure things out on his feet while his puzzles beat him up. Literally. There was enough action to keep me glued to the story and the initial events/cases of each book tied up nicely in the end. I recommend them both, although I wouldn’t use Storm Front to judge the entire series.
Why? Because characters and relationships mature, becoming richer and more complicated as a series progresses. An author matures, also. The voice Jim Butcher uses as Harry in the first book isn’t as developed as what you find in Proven Guilty. Interestingly, I could picture the actor in SciFi’s series when reading Storm Front, but in Proven Guilty, the character Harry Dresden becomes too multi-faceted to be represented by the simplistic T.V. character. I enjoyed Proven Guilty much more as a result, and Jim Butcher was masterful in making sure that the reader understood the historical tidbits necessary for the story, and no more. Harry, and Jim, have grown up by book eight.
I’m spending time lately analyzing how characters have to grow through a series, yet remain familiar for readers. By book eight, Jim Butcher’s Harry has many more contacts and magical/cursed widgets and conflicts under his belt, but his inherent abilities seem to be growing through natural hard work (via research, experience, etc). This is similar to the way Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan is growing, but different from the way Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake advances. I stopped reading Hamilton’s series somewhere around book ten (Narcissus in Chains?); this was a heroine that needed to be retired, in my opinion. By that time, Blake’s inherent abilities had grown to master-necromancer-super-vampire-controller-alpha-werewolf-alpha-werejaguar-super-succubus (or incubus?) — I’m running out of breath. Perhaps I was embarrassed by a heroine with so many inherent powers being reduced to wanting to shag anything that moved, or perhaps it just wasn’t believable to me any more. I know some will say that speculative fiction, by its nature, can’t be believable. However, they’re wrong. All good speculative fiction has to be believable and that’s why it’s so hard to write. Speculative elements are built by the author carefully by dealing out precursor “rules,” so to speak. One suspends belief and allows supernatural elements, for instance, only because the author weaves assumptions and historical examples and consistency into their world. Moreover, the characters, their motivations, their behavior,and their inter-relationships must relate to the reader. It boils back down to the human condition, doesn’t it?
Of course, my current obsession with series is self-serving. I have high hopes for my Crew Tempo, which I just sent to Jennifer (who, BTW, is Jim Butcher’s agent also). Science fiction can tend toward series, perhaps less than fantasy and mysteries, and editors might want to know if I’ve got a follow-on novel constructed. If so, when will it be available? Gaaagh. My mind is throwing around enough ideas for several follow-on novels; I just have to get organized. Enough about reading — back to writing.