Storm Front by Jim Butcher
I've heard about this series enough at Pajiba to be interested in it, so when I noticed that they had the novels at the PX I decided to give it a shot. However, I only picked up the first book in the series because I'm getting ready to move and wasn't sure if I should really commit to the three book box set (while they had every novel in the series it seemed, they didn't have any copies of the second novel outside of the box set). After reading it, I wished I'd just picked up the set since I want to read the second one.
I picked up Storm Front because I wanted something quick and fun after reading meaningful books these past few weeks. It definitely worked for that. In fact, while I enjoy the Sookie Stackhouse novels for what they are, this novel seems a little bit more intelligent and less trashy (not that trashy isn't fun on occasion). I guess it's just not quite as cutesy as Sookie sometimes gets, and none of the characters were constantly telling me how innocent they were.
The main character Harry Dresden is a practicing wizard and the only one in the phonebook. He occasionally works as a consultant for the Chicago PD whenever there are magic-related crimes such as the one in this novel which involves a couple's hearts being ripped out of their chests. One of the victims works for the local mob boss, so naturally that adds some complication to the case while the woman is a hired escort from a service run by a vampire. In addition to all that, Harry also has to contend with the White Council, the ruling court of the wizard world, who have an interest in who may have used magic for such dark purposes, and did I mention that Harry already has a record and is on their bad side? Basically, there are a lot of different things going on but Butcher handles all these characters in a way that works very well. As Dresden follows up on clues, the reader becomes introduced to Dresden's world in a way that doesn't seem too busy or crowded. I'm not sure if he keeps this up for the next few novels as well, but sometimes the Stackhouse novels seemed like there were too many supernatural creatures being dropped into the novels just for the fun of it.
The description of magic in this novel occasionally reminded me of Star Wars and the Force. Harry draws on his emotions for power and anger helps with this as well - he doesn't give a whole speech about how anger leads to the dark side and in fact his anger helps him (actually, I guess that sounds more like a conversation between Buffy and Kendra). However, the novel focuses more on motivations - using magic for power and greed is more likely to lead to dark magic than tapping into one's justified emotions.
Harry was far from perfect (another nice change from Sookie who likes to say she isn't but really is - maybe it would be more fair to compare these novels to Lehane's Kenzie/Gennaro series) which also helped give the character some depth. He alludes to a backstory and gives a very bare skeleton of former occurrences, so I would be interested in finding out more in the novels to come. I guess the only thing that slightly annoyed me was when he talked about how he liked being old-fashioned and opening doors for women - feminism never said that there was anything wrong with being respectful to other humans or treating people to things as long as there is still the underlying idea and concept that the people see each other as equals. Anyway, I can occasionally be sensitive to comments about the evils of feminism even if it is only one sentence.