Thursday, July 06, 2006


This “Dust Jackets” entry offers up the first of this month’s theme: orphaned books. The process of orphaning (is that even a word?) Storm Front by Jim Butcher took more than a year. Let’s rewind a few years to a rather quiet New Year’s Day. I was working at the 911 center, and I’d forgotten to bring a book to read. Desperate for something, I used one of my breaks to go to a bookstore and buy something. The book that caught my eye was Storm Front, a book I’d noticed more than once while working at Barnes & Noble years earlier. I already had a book I was reading, so I decided to keep Storm Front in my locker as my “backup book,” something to read should I ever get to work without anything else.

Before I get into how I orphaned this book, a little about the book itself. Jim Butcher’s urban fantasy about a wizard who sells his services in the style of a private detective (and not a very lucrative one at that) was able to piggyback on the success of Laurell K. Hamilton’s “Anita Blake” series… that in its early days employed a similar style. Both rely on first person, using the main character’s voice, which gives these books their “gumshoe detective” feel. Being a mystery lover and a fantasy fan, I naturally find this combination irresistible.

In the world of wizard Harry Dresden, magic has become a much more commonplace thing, even though skeptics aplenty remain. The police call on Harry for one very grotesque murder scene, a murder with two victims and little doubt that the murder weapon was black magic. Harry’s already got problems of his own, though. Among his problems is being under something of a mystical house arrest with a sword wielding “parole officer.” He’s also been hired to find a missing husband. On top of that, Harry and technology don’t get along well… as in machines just don’t work right when he’s around, which is why he tends to prefer stairs to elevators. As you can see, Butcher is giving readers one very well-developed, alternate reality.

Now, as to how this book got orphaned... As I said, I kept a copy of Storm Front in my locker as a backup for those days I should end up at work without whatever my “current” read happened to be. Problem is, I don’t often forget to bring to work whatever I’m currently reading … and if I do forget, then I usually use the time to write. Even though I made some decent headway into Storm Front, I never really committed myself to it. I enjoyed Harry’s voice. The world sometimes goes a bit over the top, giving the book a comic undertone. Perhaps the weakest element was Harry’s investigative skills, which lack greatly. Yes, that’s probably realistic considering it explains his impoverished lifestyle, but it also drags down the pace of the mystery a bit.

The oddest compliment I can offer this book is that I never felt lost. Even though I went long stretches, sometimes months, without reading anything in this book, I could always jump back into it in the exact place I’d left off and not feel as if I’d forgotten anything important or that I needed to start over.

So with all these compliments, why didn’t I ever finish it? After sitting in my locker for more than a year, I finally brought it home. I decided I’d finally finish it at some point. Only, that never happened. My list of books to read never gets any shorter, and somehow I couldn’t bring myself to ever put this one ahead of all the rest. Somehow, it never broke out of its place as a “backup book.” My wife and I later trimmed down our library considerably, and Storm Front just didn’t make the cut… or rather, it was cut from our library. One day, I do hope to go back and give this book another go, but I can’t say when that will be.

Other Books by Jim Butcher:

Later this summer, I plan to try out another challenger to Laurell K. Hamilton’s throne over the realm of urban fantasy. Kim Harrison is speaking at this year’s James River Writers Conference, which the Lair’s long-term readers know my wife and I are helping organize. I’m curious to see if perhaps my burnout with Hamilton’s series (which I once loved) has something to do with my inability to get into Storm Front. If I can’t get into Harrison’s book and find no other faults with it, then I’ll have my answer.


Sandra Ruttan said...

You know what? I know I have no say re: cover design, and could end up hating my own, but I don't like the Storm Front cover.

Proven Guilty and Furies of Calderon are much better, IMO.

DesLily said...

keeping with Sandra's look at the covers.. of the ones you have on this post the only cover that would make me read the back is Furies of Calderon.. the others are too busy looking to catch my eye.

Bill, the Wildcat said...

I'd say my tastes run along the same lines as Sandra's on this one. Oddly enough, the cover to FURIES OF CALDERON kind of turns me off. The colors just look to pastel for me.

The thing I don't like about STORM FRONT & FOOL MOON's covers is how generic they are... just city shots really. The city shot is also kind of a ripoff of the original covers to Laurell K. Hamilton's books, which did much the same with images of St. Louis. My other gripe about those covers is the title design looks too "hi-tech" for a fantasy novel.

Sandra Ruttan said...

In mystery, you get lots of generic covers, but there's a lesson there. Going too busy, or with soft colors is a very bad idea - you'll stand out in a bad way.