Book Review: Storm Front

Butcher, Jim
3 stars = Pretty Good

Storm Break follows Harry Dresden, the only wizard-for-hire in the country, as he investigates a grisly murder that could only be done by dark magic. Along the way, he'll have to juggle the case of an abandoned wife, the demands of his only friend in the force, the pressures of a sentient skull, and the condemnation of a council that wants to end him once and for all.
I didn't give this book three stars because it's a decent book. I gave this book three stars because it does some things really, really well and some things really, really badly. Throughout my reading, my internal rating jumped between one and four stars, so I stuck with three because it was mostly a good book and two stars should be reserved for boring books. And this definitely wasn't boring.
On the good side, I enjoyed the world building. It remains typical enough to the urban fantasy realm to seem cozy without being boring. Every magical creature has the exciting things we're used to, with some extra thrown in for fun, and lots of personality to make up for any stereotypical writing. The creatures and world building sell the danger of the world, making the stakes very high in the first book, something I appreciate. I like the main character, Harry Dresden, because he's a funny guy. I mean funny in that he cracks actually funny jokes, as well as funny as in he doesn't ever think things through and the outcome is always hilarious. I also like how the Harry has a "sad hidden backstory", but its not really hidden or sad because he talks about it so matter-of-factly that you forget how messed up it is in context. I loved the mystery of the novel, even if some twists threw me for a loop. The writing could also be surprisingly emotional for whats meant to be a cynical cop novel, in a way that really makes you sympathize with the twisted situation the protagonist is in, as well as the innocent people wrapped up in it. The ending was very satisfying and climactic and well bought, and really kept me invested until the end. Basically, its a very good urban fantasy novel with a fascinating protagonist and a thrilling story!
Now for the really, really bad stuff. Or just one really, really bad thing. In short: the author of this story has no idea how to write women. Or, he knows how to write women, and he just chooses to do it in the worst way possible. Every single woman in this book is one of three things: desperate for help from the dashing protagonist, incredibly attractive for no reason and really into the protagonist, or a token "strong independent woman" who devolves into one of the other two types within chapters. And I cannot stress how jarring this was. The author can write witty dialogue and fantastical creatures and heart wrenching emotion, but he can't write a single female character without sexualizing or demeaning her in some way. It's like walking through a local art gallery full of beautiful landscapes and self portraits, and then out of the blue there's a two-year-old's finger painting. I could go on for hours about how bad it was, and I really want to, but basically: about half of the women in this book are prostitutes, about half of the women die horribly and helplessly, most of them hit on Dresden and he always assumes its to seduce him for nefarious purposes, and not a single one of them has more than a shred of autonomy, character, or soul. All of that had to go into the main character, who is amazing alone, but whenever he's around woman he feels like a gross power fantasy that I can't sympathize with until about ten pages after he shares a conversation with a female character.
All in all, this book is a frustration. I want to enjoy the world building and fun characters and funny moments and good plot, but every so often a woman is introduced and I have to resist the urge to track the author down and throw the book at his face. If you can suffer through that, there is some great writing to be found! If you can't, I don't blame you.
Reviewer Grade: 12

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