Copyright 2011 – 2015 by Paula S. Jordan
Oh, how I love to disappear for a weekend into an interesting book with characters who catch my heart! Urban fantasy writer Jim Butcher’s people do that for me far better than most, and I’ve been thinking about how he does it.
I had never read Mr. Butcher’s work before a month or so ago, and I am taking his Dresden Files series in sequence; eagerly catching up with Wizard Harry Dresden and his tremendous challenges, both magical and human, in the even-meaner-than-you-thought streets of present-day Chicago. I’ve just finished the fourth one, Summer Knight, and it caught me even better than the first three.
Of course, urban fantasies have a serious edge in earning reader buy-in, set as they are in places and times like the ones we live in. If the baddies attack in the garden department of a WalMart Superstore as they did in SK I am right there in the fray!
But Butcher’s gift goes far deeper than that.
Harry may be the most accomplished wizard actively practicing his craft on the street, but he is no immortal, and he faces adversaries far more powerful than himself on a regular basis. One of the many joys of these books lies in the cleverness and often downright comedy of his magical cheats and inventions.
But it’s in his characters’ inner struggles that Butcher shines brightest. When Harry is conflicted—and he is always having to endanger the very innocents he is fighting to defend—you feel his conflict in your bones. When he’s afraid, Butcher lets you know in ways large and small just exactly why this contest is so much scarier to him than most. Also, Harry is thoroughly invested in his struggles against evil, and when things go desperately wrong, which they sometimes do, he carries vast loads of guilt.
That’s not to say that his world is all dark. Harry is a profoundly human and intelligent man, facing Butcher’s fiendishly imagined range of inhuman powers. But he faces them just as he does the same frustrations and ambiguities that life throws at us all: with that greatest of all human survival traits, a razor sharp sense of humor.
Still, when he’s confused or hurt or threatened, and especially when he’s thwarted in his efforts by skeptical officials of the mundane world or pigheaded members of his own, he may act out in ways that only deepen their animosity. But you, dear reader, have the inside track to his soul, and are never mislead.
So. A brief look at what Jim Butcher does to pull you into Harry’s life and mind. But as to how he does it so well? That’s his special gift: a clarity and depth of insight that are rare indeed.