Friday, July 25, 2008

Dresden Files

The DVDs that I talked about a few months ago suckered me into trying the novels. I finished reading the nine that are out in paperback a few months ago as well, but didn't get around to posting my comments until now. I understand why people like these novels. They're good escapist fiction, if a bit formulaic at times.

Before I go on about the novels, I want to say a couple more things about the DVDs. I mentioned that there was one hanging plot thread left at the end of the DVDs. I assumed that it was something that you could probably find out about by reading the books. You can't. The plot was one of the ways that the DVDs differ significantly from the books. The hanging thread still isn't much of a cliffhanger, but I felt I should clarify it.

Now, for the books themselves. I enjoyed reading them. I don't have so much free time that I would have read nine of them if I didn't. The dialog is witty. The action is well written. The plots are well planned and have enough twists and turns to keep my interest. If you are a fan of modern fantasy then you should probably read these books.

The major complaint I had, and it's one that I had with most of the books after reading the first couple, is that there is definitely a formula that the books follow that is ripe for parody. I think I can go into it without spoiling things, but if you are really against any spoilers whatsoever, then you may want to just stop reading now until you've had a chance to read the books for yourself.

The formula goes like this: Harry gets tired, Harry gets beat up, Harry can barely channel his magic, Harry somehow manages to come up with the biggest most powerful spell yet seen despite being tired, beat up and out of magic. Now, the author always has some sort of explanation for this, although sometimes the explanation is better than it is at other times, but every single book uses this formula. To me it started sticking out like a sore thumb around the third book and was something that kept me from enjoying the next few books as much as I should have.

Fortunately, the author starts introducing some more interesting metaplots shortly after I started getting tired of the formula. These kept me interested in spite of my beginning to roll my eyes every time Harry "ran out of magic" at the climax of the book, knowing full well that he'd pull out the biggest spell yet in the next few pages.

Mind you, the author seems at least partly aware of his formula, at least to the extent that he's gone to some pains to explain how Harry manages to recover from all the beatings he keeps taking (and some of the more serious injuries do linger from one book to the next). I'd still like to see him come up with an interesting story that didn't fit the standard formula quite so much.

That's my biggest gripe. Now for something that I have to really give him kudos for: the way he handles the bad guys. Generally there are three kinds of bad guys in most continuing series: the ones that get killed, the ones that turn into a recurring villain, and the ones that turn into the hero's ally. Most authors screw up the last kind. They fall into what I like to call "Eddings Syndrome" after David Eddings, who is the absolute worst offender at turning any villain that survives his or her initial appearance into a good guy. Even gods of evil end up cracking wise and serving good by the next trilogy in Eddings' work. Jim Butcher doesn't fall into this trap. There are several villains that have ended up being allies of Harry, but the author does a very good job of pointing out that they are still bad guys. They may sometimes be the lesser of two evils, but that doesn't make them good.

He does also have a couple of villains turn good, but he handles it well.

Further, his bad guys aren't all carbon copies of each other. Motivation, strategy, and tactics all differ from villain to villain. This is a great strength of the books. Unfortunately, this feeds back into my major gripe. Despite the differences in the villains, the hero often seems to go through the exact same process in facing them.

Overall, the series is a good read, and if I'm a bit critical of parts of it, it's only because I like the overall series. If I didn't like it, I wouldn't spend the time to analyze the bits that bothered me.


BlackDiamond said...

I had someone explain to me that Dresden is supernatural "Die Hard."

And you never did mention what the hanging plot hook was from the tv series...

Fulminata said...

I was trying hard not to give any spoilers, so here's fair warning: SPOILERS AHEAD!

Ok, I hope I get this right since it's been several months now since I saw the DVDs, but basically the character of Ancient Mai in the TV Show is portrayed quite a bit differently than in the books. For one thing, she's apparently Morgan's direct superior, for another they heavily hint near the end of the series that she's actually a dragon in disguise.

It's this latter bit that would likely have been developed more had the series continued, even if only for an episode or two. Otherwise most of the hanging threads were tied up.

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