A few weeks ago io9 posted a list of series that put their characters through the wringer, and half of it is made up of series that are some of my all-time favorites. The other half sound like something I should check out at some point.
It seems especially appropriate to put The Dresden Files at the top of the list. I started reading it recently, and although I’m only three books in, Harry Dresden has gone through so much punishment that I shudder to think at what happens to him over the rest of the series.
The first book in the series, Storm Front, was decent but not great. It was entertaining enough that I wanted to keep reading, but nothing to write home about. It wasn’t until the third book, Grave Peril, that it felt like the series really hit its stride and started running on all cylinders.
The funny thing is that the quality of the books and/or my enjoyment of them seems almost to correlate directly with how thoroughly Harry Dresden gets the shit kicked out of him. Jim Butcher raises the stakes every time, and seems to enjoy throwing one horrible escalation after another at Dresden, usually just after he’s barely gotten back on his feet.
Although I absolutely enjoy series that occasionally punch you in the gut, there’s a flip-side to that darkness, too. The best series temper unrelenting punishment with an occasional moment of cathartic emotional release, usually of the romantic kind. Nine times out of ten, if they play that card right, it turns me into a blubbering mess. Butcher hasn’t quite pulled off this particular type of emotion yet; he’s great with mayhem and darkness, but romance doesn’t seem to be his strong suit. Awkward descriptions of sex scenes definitely do not work in his favor.
It doesn’t help matters that Harry Dresden is a self-admitted chauvinist, and the world of the books ends up being filtered through that lens. Women in the series are variously treacherous villains, one-dimensional crusaders for justice, or oversexed damsels in distress. I’m hoping that Butcher eventually works in a stronger female character, because I feel like the series can only have a real emotional moment if Dresden meets his match.
A friend of mine mentioned that she thought it was funny that I’m both extremely dark and very optimistic at the same time. I firmly believe in the power of love, but I also enjoy love stories that have incredibly tragic endings. At the time, I told her I wasn’t quite sure how to explain that, but after some consideration I don’t necessarily think they’re contradictory. I think I just love operatic storytelling, the kind with big emotions and dramatic twists.
I look forward to seeing what happens in the rest of the Dresden Files books. I’ve already heard one spoiler about the very ending of book twelve, but I have a feeling it’ll be a wild ride getting there, and I’m curious to see what Butcher is capable of as a storyteller.