I’ve been reading the Dresden Files, and I want to get my thoughts down, because it’s always worthwhile to me try to turn vague moods about writing into precise expressions that I can generalize and learn from.
I was told by several people that the books “hit their stride” with number 4, Summer Knight. I respectfully disagree. The problems in the early books remain, in my opinion, all the way until #9, White Night. The problems? Dresden’s sexism is not cute, not endearing, not charming. It’s annoying, and at various points I simply disbelieved in Murphy’s character because of how she reacted to it. By #9, he’s toned this down enough to be tolerable. More significantly, in the early books I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching the author push the pieces around. I could hear him saying, “No, I have to find a way to ramp up the tension, even if it makes no sense.” Two people hear a phone call, but in order to increase the tension, they both conveniently forget about it. Pfui.
So, why did I keep reading? There is a moment toward the end of #2, Fool Moon, where, right at the high point of the action, Butcher is required to bring everything to a dead stop and spend a paragraph describing another character’s interior landscape. While the battle hangs in the balance. He not only gets away with it, but he makes me like it. That is some serious chops. That’s the shit. Someone who can do that is worth reading.
The other thing he has going all the way is that he does exactly what I’ve tried to do (and not always succeeded at): Each book is a fully self-contained story, and each one significantly advances the overall arc. There’s no filler. There’s no treading water. He leaves it all out on the field every time. That’s how you do that.
By the time we get to #9, things are smooth. I’m not thinking about what the author is doing any more, I’m just reading and enjoying and really, really pulling for Harry Dresden. And moreover, we’re starting to get serious: we’re in territory where there are no easy answers, where there are no good choices, so you have to pick the least bad and live with it. This means the books are gripping on more than just one level, and that when the book is over, you have something to chew on. I like that.
I’m currently reading #11.