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Storm Front
Jim Butcher
Roc Books, 322 pages

Lee Macleod
Storm Front
Jim Butcher
Jim Butcher lives in Oklahoma with his wife and son and a houseful of computers. Storm Front is his first novel.

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Excerpt: Storm Front

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

Magic and wizardry meet hardboiled detective fiction in this genre-blending debut novel from Jim Butcher.

Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is a wizard for hire (he's in the Yellow Pages, under "Wizards"). He doesn't have a lot of competition: in fact, he's the only openly practicing professional wizard in the country. At the turn of the millennium, popular awareness of the paranormal has skyrocketed (aided by events like the Unseelie Incursion of 1994, when the entire city of Milwaukee vanished for two hours), but most of those with paranormal skills still prefer to keep their abilities under wraps.

Business is slow. So when the police department, which occasionally calls Harry in to consult on cases that involve the paranormal, asks him to assist with a particularly gruesome double murder that may have been accomplished by magic, he can't afford to say no -- even though it's immediately obvious to him that black magic is involved, and that the mage responsible is very powerful indeed.

Right away, things start to go wrong. Harry manages to insult a ruthless mob boss who doesn't want Harry nosing around in his business. He makes a lifelong enemy of a vicious vampire madam who doesn't want her secrets pried into. And he gets in trouble with the White Council, a sort of wizards' supervisory board that has kept a close eye on him ever since he violated one of the basic rules of magic years before (in self-defense, but to the White Council, that's just a technicality). But all these life-threatening problems suddenly seem trivial when Harry realizes that his detective efforts have inadvertently revealed his identity to the black mage -- a man with a nasty penchant for ripping the hearts out of his enemies. Now Harry isn't fighting just to solve a case, but to save his life.

Storm Front's premise is pretty slim: a sorcerer-gumshoe in a world just like ours except that magic is real and vampires, trolls, faeries, and other paranormal beings exist side by side with humans, Buffy-style. But Butcher makes it work, through a combination of interesting characters, tight plotting, and fresh, breezy writing. This is definitely not deep reading, but it is a whole lot of fun. Harry is a good protagonist -- complex enough to hang a series on, with some believable conflict about what he does, but with a wry sense of humour and a self-deprecating first-person narrative voice that keep things from getting too serious. The story's paranormal aspects are nicely detailed, as are the descriptions of Harry's own powers and how he uses them. And Butcher delivers at the climax, with a big magical showdown that has all the appropriate fireworks and special effects.

It's an auspicious start to an engaging new series. I'll be looking forward to future installments!

Copyright © 2000 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.

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