When read: January 10, 2014
So I’m going back a ways to start off. I have hand-written notes about these, so I’m using them, possibly expanding a bit, we’ll see.
Synopsis: Harry Dresden is a wizard, and a private investigator. In one day, he gets a call from Detective Murphy from the local police to investigate a gruesome double murder in a hotel and a woman using a fake name to investigate the disappearance of her husband. Detective Murphy, given the gory details of the murder suspects magic is involved, and the woman reveals that her husband was dabbling in magic.
If you guessed the two are linked, you’d be correct. Dresden quickly finds himself trying to track down a wizard using extremely potent dark magic to kill people from great distances while simultaneously clearing his own name of the killings. He faces demons, vampires, WizPol enforcers, monstrous insects, and the mob, while tracking down and ultimately facing down the dark wizard giving him a bad name.
What I thought: I really liked the book. Starting to read at a time where I could barely pay attention (sitting between rounds of judging at a high school debate tournament) had been unwise, but I don’t really think the book suffered for it. The only time I ever felt like it dragged was the flashback to Dresden’s father, which after the fact seems there to do two things: 1) set up his connection to his mother which becomes important later, and 2) to be Dresden’s low point emotionally for the book. At the time, it didn’t seem overly out of place, but it really kind of felt forced, the despair, after the fact.
There are times I really liked Dresden and times - especially due to the tone of the first person - where I kind of groaned. The plot held itself together well. I like how two seemingly unrelated plots converged, even as I saw it coming a mile away. It was executed very well.
I disliked the epilogue for the most part. Again, mostly the tone and the general “tie up all lose ends” feel. Especially with Rodriguez. She disappears after the demon encounter, only mentioned in passing by Dresden, and then shows up in the epilogue as a visitor and future date for Dresden.
What I can learn: I’ve gone back looking through the scene breakdown of this book rather closely. One thing I’ve definitely taken away from this is scene structure. This is something I still struggle with, so it’s helpful for me to see and really pay attention to scene breakdowns. Unity of place, character, and conflict. Even if the conflict is multi-layered, moving several plot threads forward, it’s a single question, or possibly several questions competing for attention, itself the source of conflict. One person, many focuses, and not enough attention to them all.
I’ve also seen an epilogue I really dislike, and that’s also useful. I feel like the epilogue was a bit of an afterthought, and I dislike the feel of that, so when I’m wrapping up my own stories, I really want to be thinking about this.
I probably should revisit the first person narrative. There’s a short story I’d like to do from the first person perspective, but it’s one I tend to resist. I’m sure there’s more I can learn from this if I dig.
For my work-in-progress that is an urban fantasy (and still a nasty nasty mess right now), seeing how magic can fit into the urban world is also useful, as is the sense of how long travel takes within a large city (that isn’t the midwest unreasonable sprawl I’m used to).