While not my first review of 2016, Storm Front was my first read, and therefore gets a shoutout for kicking off my 2016 Goodreads shelf. (I take the Goodreads Reading Challenge very seriously, a fact which has led to more than one obsessive December trying to reach my goal.)
Charley has recommended the Dresden Files books to me in the past, and I’m partial to a magical crime here and there — probably why I like Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series so much, not to mention Skulduggery Pleasant.
I’ve always been big on urban fantasy, too, and I love books that manage to combine the real world with magic in a way that seems believable. So I put the first book, Storm Front, on my Christmas list, and when my aunt and uncle gave it to me, decided to give it a try.
(Also, I’ve decided to get into book photography, so don’t be surprised if you see a few of these around instead of my normal ‘slap the cover in the post and go’ technique.)
Storm Front had an engaging plot which was exciting, full of twists and turns, and very much within the boundaries of ‘magical crime’, since it featured murders committed with magic. It has a healthy dose of gore, though nothing too bad, especially for anyone who has watched a season or two of Hannibal. It’s well-written and most f the characters are engaging enough.
Objectively, it’s a good book, but subjectively, it disappointed me. I think it’s because I went into this book expecting something like Ben Aaronovitch’s work, and then they were less similar than I expected. It lacked the dry humour, sarcastic one-liners, and pop culture references that endeared the other series to me, and it was a lot heavier on the fantasy than on the urban.
Maybe that was partly because it was set in Chicago, a place that’s totally unfamiliar to me, but I didn’t feel at all able to engage with the setting. We also didn’t get much of a look under the hood of magic. How does it work? How do people become wizards in this world? Harry Dresden references that he studied this and mentions ‘going to school’, but we never see anything else to suggest a magical education system.
And while I know a lot of people find detailed descriptions of magic boring, I really like to know how the author envisages it working. That’s what I like about the Peter Grant series — we see how magic works, and we see how Peter learns it. It’s also something I really enjoyed in the Mistborn series, although there I did slightly feel Sanderson went overboard on his descriptions.
So I was disappointed that these fantastical elements were such a straightforward and accepted part of this world — I wanted to know more about how that came about.
Plus, while Harry Dresden himself has a lot of admirable qualities, I still never felt like I connected with him. It wasn’t that I disliked him, I just didn’t particularly like him. So although I wanted to know what had happened and see the mystery solved, it wasn’t because of any emotional connection to the characters involved.
I went into this book with high hopes and perhaps that’s what soured the reading experience for me — I was looking for something that wasn’t there. Had I been expecting more drama and less humour, I might have loved it, but I thought it was going to be something else, which is a bit of a shame.
It gets three stars from me, but I’m sure there are many people who would give it more, having not been misled by false impressions the way I was.
On the plus side, though, the book is a nice one to photograph, because of the high contrast cover/title. I’ve been playing around with it today instead of doing work and it was totally worth it.