GREAT READS: The Dresden Files

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There is nothing better than kicking back with a great book. One of the things that I set out to do when I created this website was to try to get people to read more by recommending great novels and comic books. I’ve been a big advocate for comic books because I feel like they’re an underappreciated medium. But I love a good novel, finding a new author or a great new series can be magic. There’ve been new books that had me just as excited as any new movie coming out. I would say that most of my personal downtime is spent reading. It’s my favorite way to relax and unwind. And just like comic books, movies, and TV shows, I love how a good book can transport me to another world. I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise to anybody who reads this blog that my favorite books tend to be fantasy and science-fiction. I have a great recommendation for you guys. This is one of my favorite book series and the new entry is always an absolute blast to read. I’m talking about Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files.

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(Harry and a whole bunch of the heroes and villains from The Dresden Files)

Now, if that name sounds familiar it’s possible you may be thinking of the abysmal Syfy channel TV adaptation of the book series from about 8 years ago. This show was a real piece of shit. I don’t know what the fuck they were thinking. They took one of the coolest, most fun urban fantasy stories and just turned it into a pile of diarrhea. So stay the fuck away from that television series! Though in a world where we get TV fantasy adaptation masterpieces like Game of Thrones, it would be really cool to see The Dresden Files made into an HBO TV series one day.

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(Our hero: Harry Dresden)

So what’s this damn series about? Like I said these books are a blast. It’s what is commonly known as “urban fantasy”. A story that takes place in a modern urban setting, but features supernatural or magical elements. Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings are just “fantasy”. Though this analogy doesn’t quite work, something like Buffy The Vampire Slayer or even better it’s spin off series Angel are closer to “urban fantasy”. But again that’s an imperfect analogy.

Anyway, The Dresden Files follows Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only Wizard listed in the phonebook. Seriously, he’s in the phonebook, he’s got an ad and everything (Harry’s WAY behind on the times when it comes to things like the Internet). Really though Harry is more like a private investigator of the supernatural. A P.I. for the unexplained. If you’ve got a ghost, monster, or a witch problem, Harry Dresden is the man to see. Sure, Harry will take a normal P.I. job, like taking pictures of a cheating spouse. The guy has to pay the bills after all. But his specialty is what goes bump in the night.

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Most of Harry’s jobs come from working as a consultant for the Special Investigations Department of the Chicago PD. Special Investigations is where cases get kicked down that aren’t exactly normal. If a body is found completely drained of blood, but not a drop of it is at the crime scene it get sent to SI. If a family says that their little girl’s been kidnapped, but it was a giant troll monster that took her, SI gets to handle that too. Basically Special Investigations is a career dead end for most cops sent their. It’s a punishment. It’s the place they send the cops that piss off the wrong person. After all it’s not like any any of these cases can really be solved. How the fuck do you write a police report about somebody who got mauled by a ghoul? So any cops that get kicked down to SI have their careers waste away or they just get drummed out of the police force altogether. That is until Lt. Karen Murphy came along. Murphy is Harry’s best friend and got made head of SI after a case of her’s went particularly bad. Instead of despairing, she tried to keep an open mind about the spooky stuff they had to investigate. She got the bright idea of hiring a consultant who may know a thing or two about the occult and the other weird shit that goes down in Chicago on a fairly regular basis. So, she hires Harry Dresden and lo and behold he’s not a complete whack job and they actually start solving some of these cases together. Murphy ends up becoming one of the only successful cops to run SI in the history of the department (with Harry’s help of course).

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(This picture of Murphy pretty much tells you everything you need to know. She’s a badass)

At least in the early books, as much as Harrys able to help Murphy out, there’s only so much he can tell her. There’s a vast supernatural world living just out the corner of our eye and sometimes it’s what you do know that can get you killed. In addition to the monsters, creatures, and other dimensional Lovecraftian horrors, there are a lot of other people who use magic. Anyone born with the ability to practice magic falls under the purview of The White Council. Basically, if you’re a Wizard, you’re a member of The White Council whether you want to be or not. They may technically be the good guys, but they’re more or less a huge group assholes. This isn’t Hogwarts. These guys are the most gifted and dangerous magic users on the planet. Some of them are centuries old and they don’t fuck around. There are laws of magic and The White Council enforces them. These are not the type of rules you want to end up breaking, because if you do it usually means your ass. The problem is that The White Council doesn’t exactly actively seek out young people who’ve been born with the ability to do magic. So if they have no training and unknowingly break one of these laws, some kids end up dead meat.

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(One of those White Council pricks about to get eaten by vampires)

Unfortunately for Harry something similar happened to him too, which brings me to Harry’s backstory. Harry’s father was a normal human stage magician and his mother was a gifted witch with a reputation for leaning towards the dark side of The Force. Unfortunately, both of Harry’s parents died mysteriously when he was young and he was taken in as an apprentice to a wizard named Justin DuMourn. Justin practiced black magic and over time he was trying to turn Harry into one of his evil foot soldiers. When he was a teenager Harry found out what Justin had planned for him (basically being Justin’s dark wizard, mind controlled slave). Justin tried to kill Harry when he tried to runaway and in the process of defending himself, Harry killed Justin using magic. Killing people with magic is a big fucking no, no to The White Council. Usually you’re pretty much fucked when you break that Law. The number one Law of Magic is do not kill humans with magic. The White Council has no problem with murdering someone literally any other way, just not magic. And feel free to kill anything that isn’t human with magic all the live long day. But considering the somewhat gray circumstances surrounding Harry’s situation and the fact that a very respected wizard stuck up for Harry, he was given a stay of execution. Which meant they let him live. But if Harry fucked up at all, if came anywhere near even bending one of The Laws of Magic, they’d cut his goddamn head off. Literally. So, Harry went off to live with the wizard who stuck his neck out for him, a good man named Ebenezer McCoy who’d become Harry’s life long mentor, and finished his training as a wizard. Years went by and eventually Harry set up shop in Chicago as a P.I.

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One of the best things about this series is the mythology and rich world building. Each book builds on the ones before, so each novel opens up Dresden’s world a little more. This universe has everything from vampires and werewolves to fallen angels, Lovecraft’s Outsiders, dark elves, gods, and a million other cool monsters and creatures. And Butcher has created some of his own badass things that go bump in the night. Butcher always has a unique take on classic monsters and myths. Most of the supernatural creatures have sort of organization or government. A lot of the things Harry comes up against aren’t just lone monsters, they’re often part of different factions or “Courts”.

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(Don’t worry. Harry’s totally got this)

For example there are different kinds of vampires in this universe: Red, White, and Black. The White Court consists of the sexy, Ann Rice, Twilight archetype and feed off sexual life force. The Reds look human, but are really giant Bat-like monsters, their true form comes out when they’re feeding or fighting. Finally, The Black Court Vampires who are kind of like the classic Bram Stoker vampire, they’re by far the most physically powerful and look like the desiccated corpse version of the person they used to be. One of the many fun little details that Butcher adds to his stories, is that The Black Court vampires are nearly extinct largely due to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The White Council of wizards makes their business to protect mankind from supernatural threats and they were the ones that made sure that novel went into wide circulation because it’s pretty much a manual on how to kill a Black Court Vampire. It’s stuff like that, these cool new takes on classic monsters that make Butcher’s world feel really unique and cool.

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(Harry trying to kill a Red Court Vampire)

The best part of these books is that they’ve got one hell of a hero. Harry is crazy, stupid, and ballsy enough to pick fights with these nightmares if they start trouble in his territory, Chicago. Harry subscribers to the views of the great philosopher and writer Stan Lee, who wrote “with great power comes great responsibility”. All of this almost gets Harry killed dozens of times in each book, but Harry’s a stubborn son of a bitch. Most wizard just try keep their head down and use their abilities for money or really whatever they want (especially because wizards have natural life spans of hundreds of years). Harry also has tendency to be a wise ass, which always end up getting him into more trouble. Harry also has an excellent cast of supporting characters, like Murphy and Ebenezer. Harry’s friends and enemies are just as fun and interesting as he is. Even though this is a fantasy novel, the characters feel real and story can be both extremely funny and surprisingly moving.

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(From left to right: Harry’s sometimes reluctant ally and Chicago’s kingpin of crime “Gentleman”  John Marcone, Harry, Harry’s apprentice Molly, and Harry’s faithful supernatural dog Mouse)

With each book the threats become more deadly and the mythology keeps building. There is an overarching story and mystery that’s planted as early as the first book. Each book functions as a story about one of Harry’s cases, but also continues the larger narrative and continuity. Their have been 16 “case file” books so far with around 5 or 6 more planned, before a trilogy of books that will apparently be a giant, fantasy, apocalyptic epic that will wrap up the story or “Saga” of Harry Dresden.

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(There’s a good reason Harry’s naked here, but I can’t remember why. Sometimes you don’t have time for that shit killing frog demons?)

Up until the most recent book, there would usually be a new Dresden novel every spring or summer. But it’s been a few years since the last book. Mainly because Butcher started a new book series in a completely different genre. The first book is called The Cinder Spires and it’s sort of a sci-fi, steampunk meets Master and Commander. It’s excellent and you should definitely check it out if you like the Dresden books. Butcher is pretty consistent with putting out content as we wait for the next Dresden book. There are usually at least three or four short stories every year that take place in the Dresden universe that are published in fantasy anthologies. Also, there are great continuing original graphic novels that are kind of like Dresden stories between stories.

So, you’ve got a very well written, addictive series with a phenomenal protagonist and a rich compelling universe. Obviously this type of thing isn’t for everyone, but if you’re into sci-fi and fantasy and enjoy things like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Game of Thrones, Supernatural, Harry Potter or superhero stories, you’ll probably really dig The Dresden Files. I hope you guys give it a shot because it’s one of my favorite series.

As always, thanks for reading!

– Paul

P.S. To be clear, this is a series of NOVELS, not comic books. All the art in this article is either from the graphic novel spin offs that I’ve mentioned above, or fan art I found online.

Here’ a full list of the books in order (not including graphic novels:

Dresden Files Novels

Storm Front (2000)
Fool Moon (2001)
Grave Peril (2001)
Summer Knight (2002)
Death Masks (2003)
Blood Rites (2004)
Dead Beat (2005)
Proven Guilty (2006)
White Night (2007)
Small Favor (2008)
Turn Coat (2009)
Changes (2010)
Ghost Story (2011)
Cold Days (2012)
Skin Game (2014)

Dresden Files Short Story Collections
Side Jobs (2010)
Working for Bigfoot (2015)

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