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Books read in May 2009

May 3
Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera, Book 1) — see my earlier post. Very enjoyable epic fantasy. Instead of actively reading this book, I downloaded an audio version from audible.com. Kate Reading’s narration was very skillful; she provided a variety of distinct voices. My only quibble was that the main character, Tavi, sounded a bit too sullen.

The Fellowship of the Ring. Definitely not my first reading of the first part of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings cycle… Each time I read the series I appreciate a different aspect of his writing. Last time it was the poetic use of language (I listened to the audio version). This time I particularly noticed the description of the lands’ geography and land forms.

May 10
Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, Book 3). This paranormal installment of the Dresden files introduces the residual memories of dead humans (ghosts) and the Knights of the Cross. Butcher does a good job describing faith as a powerful force in the world.

May 19
Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, Book 4). I really enjoyed learning more about the White Council of wizards, but the world of faerie wasn’t my favorite.

May 25
Academ’s Fury (Codex Alera, Book 2). There’s a lot going on in this novel and it somewhat suffers as a “middle” book in the series. New enemies and seemingly forgotten threads from book one caused some bemusement, but a deeper look at the world’s political structure and intrigue fascinated.

May 26
Death Masks (The Dresden Files, Book 5). Strange collision of demons, the Shroud of Turin, and a war between wizards and vampires. The final pages definitely set up a looming confrontation in Dresden’s near future.

May 31
Blood Rites (The Dresden Files, Book 6). Readers learn more about Dresden’s past.

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Surprising urban fantasy: Dresden Files book 1

Frankly, I don’t care for urban fantasies. My preference is for a more fully realized imaginary world, but a friend at work kept mentioning how she was devouring The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, so I thought I give the first novel a try.

Storm Front (The Dresden Files, Book 1) introduces a slightly alternate Chicago where Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden has set up shop as a paranormal investigation consultant (no love potions). Most people don’t believe in the supernatural (wizards, vampires, werewolves, sorcery, etc), but Harry does get a few responses to his advertisement in the Yellow Pages. He also consults with Special Investigations of the Chicago Police Department. No one really takes him seriously, but he gets paid nonetheless. He is a real wizard with real powers; in fact, he’s one of the more powerful human magic users in the world.

The novel is an interesting mix of detective mystery, light horror, and urban fantasy. But what really ties it together is the humor. Harry is sarcastic, witty, and has a timely knack of understatement which gives him a lot of personality. The book is a fast read because of the humor but also due to the first person narrative.

There are enough pop culture and literary (genre) references that I was thoroughly entertained. For example, a new mailman points to Harry’s doorsign which reads “Harry Dresden. Wizard.” Incredulous, he asks,

“Spells and potions? Demons and incantations? Subtle and quick to anger?”

Harry responds, “Not so subtle”.

This is obviously a reference to The Fellowship of the Ring when Gildor the Elf advises Frodo Baggins:

Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger. (Book I, Chapter 3 “Three is Company”)

As with his more traditional fantasy novel Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera, Book 1), Jim Butcher is a master of only doling out small pieces of information from book-to-book. Only glimpses of Harry’s training and family, the nature of the White Council of Wizards, and the creatures of magic are given. While the reader wants to know more, somehow Butcher’s parceling of data seems right.

With the mixture of the mundane and the supernatural, it’s definitely a good start to a series.

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