Welcome to my summer reading blogs on Jim Butcher's STORM FRONT.
I've been a Jim Butcher fan for years, and I was lucky enough to meet him and sit with him on several panels at a sf con several years back.
Butcher has created one of the most fascinating urban fantasy series and heroes in the industry, and I imagine many of us are more than a little smitten with Harry, the errant knight who does the right if not the smart thing in a world where good and evil collide, and the helpless need a champion.
I'll be talking about urban fantasy, the mystery within urban fantasy, STORM FRONT as a PI detective story, and STORM FRONT as a fantasy novel. I'll also be analyzing Harry and the other major characters.
SPOILER ALERT: I'm afraid there's no way to talk about "The Dresden Files" without spoilers from other novels. I’ll try to keep this minimal, but the comments section may prove to be a major spoiler zone. You have been warned.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF URBAN FANTASY:
In the late 1980s, a number of fantasy authors began to write about the various creatures and tropes of fantasy like elves, other supernatural beings, and magic in contemporary times in big cities rather than the past or in mythic places.
The Encyclopedia of Fantasy defined these urban fantasy novels as “texts where fantasy and the mundane world interact, intersect, and interweave throughout a tale which is significantly about a real city.”
Authors like Charles de Lint created stories where the real urban world and Fairy met. Other writers during this period include Emma Bull and Mercedes Lackey.
The heart of these stories are folkloric in tone with a sense of a fairy tale being retold in modern terms. The language of the novels is lyrical and poetic, and events from the main characters' point of view have a sense that something may or may not be happening.
This type of urban fantasy is now called traditional urban fantasy, and a current writer is Neil Gaiman.
In the late 1990s and beyond, a different type of urban fantasy began to appear. These novels had their basis, not from fairy tales, but from the horror and mystery genres. Other media influences included the TV show BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.
These contemporary urban fantasies were popularized by Laurell K. Hamilton with her Anita Blake novels. They have a strong protagonist who has some form of supernatural power.
The narrative is usually in first person, and the world has a strong sense of good and evil.
The real world is the gritty reality of the big city where the natural and the supernatural mix, often to disastrous results. The main character often has a probable sexual and crime-solving partner who is supernatural and a forbidden sexual partner either by society or by her/his own standards.
The main plot is a mystery which the main character must solve to prevent chaos, whether it be preventing bad supernaturals from harming humans or some form of disaster from occurring.
Usually, the main character is in law enforcement-- a police officer, a private detective, or a bounty hunter.
After the Anita Blake series became popular, authors from other genres entered the market. Romance authors, in particular, cross-pollinated the contemporary urban fantasy with the romance.
Instead of the mystery being the plot driver, the romance is the central plot driver. The mystery became the secondary plot. In a vast majority of these books, one of the romantic partners is supernatural, and the other is human or part human.
The most successful and influential authors include Christine Feehan and Sherrilyn Kenyon.
MYSTERY AND URBAN FANTASY
A mystery is the driving plot in the contemporary urban fantasy. By driving plot I mean the plot the main character follows to achieve his/her goal. The fantasy elements are the building blocks of the world and the characters.
Mysteries by themselves have many varieties including the cozy and the detective novel, the police procedural, the spy novel, and the thriller. For a detailed list of mystery types, I recommend
For every type of mystery plot, there are urban fantasy versions. Even the CSI forensics mystery is used by Laura Gilman in her HARD MAGIC series about wizards who use scientific magic to discover the culprits in magical crimes.
Jim Butcher in "The Dresden Files" uses the private detective mystery as his plot driver.