I started thinking about doing this multi-part series whenever I hit a brick wall in my own writing. Today, for example, I’ve only managed to get 500 words on before my brain decided it did not want to cooperate. Which is fine, really. I can bludgeon it back into shape later.
The trick in writing, however, is to not stop. So instead of falling down the YouTube rabbit hole (it’s amazing what you can find on YouTube when you start clicking random videos) I’m going to start this Recommended Series… series (?) off with some basic rules. Trilogies are out and not allowed. Not because I don’t like trilogies, but because I prefer to blow all my money on an ongoing series. Plus, trilogies sort of cheat, because you can have an Empire Strikes Back novel and wrap everything up in a neat bow the following novel, leaving the readers satisfied but wanting more. Okay, maybe I described my own desire for more Conqueror’s Trilogy (by Timothy Zahn) novels.
So the first series I’m going to talk today is The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.
Jim is one of the rare few authors I am a fan of who I haven’t ever gotten to meet. He’s also had some of the best opening lines of any book out there, and The Dresden Files is now at 15 novels (and 2 short story collections I believe) with the 16th, Peace Talks, due out this coming Summer 2020 (yay!!). This is a series, folks, and if you like entertaining quips, a wizard in Chicago who is way out of his depth, and a really odd set of companions, then The Dresden Files are for you.
Warning: there might be spoilers ahead.
The series kicks off with Storm Front. Our hero is a wizard named Harry Dresden. No, really. He is a real wizard in Chicago who has a yellow pages ad as a wizard, though he’s not the birthday party kind. Nobody believes in wizards, though, so it’s all good. At least, until a bunch of weird murders occurs and the Chicago PD has to ask him for help. Which happens quite a bit in the early novels, and it’s an interesting dynamic to watch him interact with the police as they begin to suspect him of the murders.
Storm Front is a little rough around the edges, as it’s clear the author is still finding his voice as the character (the entire series is written first person). It’s not as smooth and polished as the later novels in the series, but I feel this gives the book a charm and… I don’t know, innocence maybe? That is not found in the later books as Harry becomes more competent and the ante always seems higher.
The best part of the series is the fact that Harry isn’t overpowered. He’s not some wizard who hands every single opponent their butt when he fights them. More often than not, Harry has learned the trademarked response of “run away!”, which saves his life quite often. This is not to say Harry is a coward, though. Quite the opposite. When people he cares about are at danger, he will literally sacrifice everything to protect them, up to and possibly including his own life.
The amount of beatings Harry suffers through are immeasurable. Shot, beaten, clubbed, beaten some more, run over, beaten a few more times, slammed into a tree by a billy goat, hexed… and these are just the examples I can think of off the top of my head. Battered and bruised on a regular basis, it’s actually remarked upon a few times by other characters in the series when he isn’t sporting a black eye or broken nose. This is terrific self-awareness on the part of the author to remind the reader that while Harry is a terrific wizard, there are things in the world far more dangerous and consider Harry nothing more than a tall, skinny chew toy.
There are various secondary characters who have recurring roles throughout the series, and the reader gets to watch them age and mature as they struggle to overcome their own demons (or angels, in one particular case). It’s always nice to see them blossom into characters you wouldn’t mind reading their own book about. There is good out in the world, and bad, and then there’s Harry Dresden, Wizard For Hire. This juxtapositon keeps the series fresh and reminds us that while Harry tries to do good in the world, his methods aren’t always condones by the “good guys” and he runs afoul of just about everyone at one point or another because he has a very strong moral code.
BEST OPENING LINE OF THE SERIES: “The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.” Blood Rites, Book 6 of The Dresden Files, published 2004 by Roc
Overall: 8.5 out of 10 stars for the series. As I said, it starts off rough but as the series rolls on, the author gathers more steam and does a tremendous job with it. The last few books have taken the story to an entirely new level and raised the bar with what Harry is fighting against… and for.