I have a question about a series of books. I just recently tried reading the series, The Dresden Files.
I've heard from so many people about what a great fantasy series it is. It's the go-to reference for almost any discussion about modern magic in narration. Although, I find Shadowrun to be much better for that, being a more comprehensible and game-able system, for obvious reasons ... but that has nothing to do with my question.
My question is, does the series get any better as it goes on?
I really wanted to like the series, after hearing so much about it, but I couldn't. I read the first book, and I made it about 4 or 5 chapters into the second book, before I had to put it down. I couldn't make myself go any further with it.
For starters, there was a very troubling element, right near the beginning of the first book, then repeated right near the beginning of the second book. The protagonist of the series — and obviously the author's voice — Harry Dresden, explains that he likes old fashioned things, like holding doors for women.
"I know it isn't very politically correct nowadays, but I ... ho ho ho ... feel that it's important to treat women well like that, because I am superior like that."
Obviously it isn't exactly written like that, but that's how his declaration comes across to me. It's gender-role-reinforcing, patriarchal bullshit, and it makes me dislike the protagonist and the author.
There's even a race, near the beginning of the first book, between the protagonist and the main female character, a tough-as-nails, martial-artist, female cop, who is in charge of the division of the Chicago PD that deals with supernatural crimes. They have a stupid little race to see who can get to a door first, to open it.
The main female character is also problematic. She has to prove herself to all of her male colleagues, so she's even tougher because of that. Pull out all of the traits of that stereotype, and they fit her perfectly.
All of that seems to be set up so that she — predictably — can be saved by the protagonist, when she gets in too far over her head with all of this supernatural stuff, in the later part of the first book.
The main character is also just utterly stupid. In the first book, the protagonist almost gets himself arrested — only averted because both he and the arresting officer are magically attacked during the arrest attempt — for the murders that he's called in to investigate, because he refuses to maintain even the most basic communication with the police investigator who is in charge of dealing with this sort of thing ... the woman who called him in as a special contractor.
In addition to that, Harry has a run-in with the head of the Chicago mafia, who wants him to stop investigating the murder. Harry even describes the mafia boss as reasonable, professional, honest, etc ... and then Harry immediately starts a dick-waving contest out of nowhere, rather than explaining to this reasonable mafia boss that there are deeper issues with the obviously magical murder ... instead of explaining why he can't just take the bribe and let things lie. It's the same clamp-up and-refuse-to-communicate act that almost gets him arrested, later in the book.
The bad guys are also similarly stupid. A thug who is involved with the murders (several take place before the end of the book) clubs Harry nearly unconscious, then cuts off a piece of Harry's hair for the magician he's working for to use as a focus to magically murder Harry, in the obviously magical (that's why Harry was first called in to assist in the investigation), incredibly distinctive M.O. of the previous murders. You're a thug who could kill Harry with one or two more solid whacks of the club, then dispose of the body, rather than killing him from afar, magically, leaving the body for the police to find. Everything that most of the characters do is done in the most idiotic manner possible.
There's a worrying thread of absolute un-self-awareness in both Harry and the author. There isn't a case of tell-don't-show, which is a sign of generally bad writing.
What there is is a case of tell-then-show-the-exact-opposite. So many times, Harry extols his virtues, then acts in a manner that demonstrates the falsity of the self-description.
I suspect that this compounds with the earlier bit about being old-fashioned and treating women properly. I suspect that we have a major nice guy complex going on here. We don't see enough of the development of the relationship between the narrator and the obvious romantic-interest in the first book, but if the established pattern holds, I'm going to have many problems with that plot thread as well.
The point of stupidity that made me put the second book down is also reflective of the protagonist's absolute refusal to engage in basic communication. There's a murder, of course, and Harry determines that it's a pack of werewolves.
The tough-as-nails police investigator lady picked Harry up from a diner/bar in which he had been eating, and they drove together to the murder scene. On the way back to the bar to pick up his car, Harry sees a car that he thinks is tailing them on the highway, which gets off with them and continues following them. The car then pulls into the parking lot of the diner/bar, drives by them slowly, then continues back out of the parking lot and drives off, and Harry brushes it off as his imagination ... nothing to worry about. Even at that point, never mind when he first suspected that they were being followed on the way back from a murder scene, he didn't think to mention it to the trained police investigator, that he was getting a weird vibe about this car which he thought was following them, in order to get confirmation.
Immediately after getting out of the car, after promising the police investigator that he'll inform her when he discovers anything, so they can coordinate, Harry immediately declares to the reader that he doesn't have the time to prepare properly, and he can't involve the special supernatural investigation unit of the Chicago PD, because they wouldn't understand. He has to go charging off into the unknown by himself.
I couldn't take it any more. I returned the book to the library.
So, should I keep plowing through the horrible shit to get to the later books in the series, in the hope that they improve, or should I just give up?
Never read those books, frankly now I likely never will. I might not find the elements you described as enough to stop me from finishing had I started, but after reading your review I see no reason to start reading them in the first place.
To clarify I hated the Twilight series, however I did finish reading all of the books. That's one week of my life I wish I could get a refund on lol. Even if I don't particularly like a book I will endeavor to get through it and pass judgement after it is complete. As a result sometimes I wish people would give better book reviews, like the one you provided here so I waste less of my time.
I actively seek out books that challenge me, so I'm used to not always enjoying a book I am reading. It can be uncomfortable but I enjoy understanding new perspectives even if in the end I still think the author is wrong its worthwhile to gain a new level of understanding.
Books that I enjoy involving magic would be stuff like "Earthsea," there may be some stuff in there reflective of attitudes of people from the 1960's and 70's when the books were written but growing up I quite enjoyed that story. I don't read much recent literature. If it was written recently and I've read it, then it's likely a technical paper.
Heh, thanks. I tend to be fairly thorough, thanks to the OCD.
Fortunately, I had enough forewarning to know that I wouldn't even want to start the Twilight series. I had read several blog posts that warned me about the weird, creepy Mormon-idealism and the abusive relationship that's held up as the ideal.
Did you find the bit about Jacob crushing on Bella because she was going to give birth to his soulmate to be as disturbing as it sounded in those reviews? I've wondered how bad it actually reads, since I've only gotten a summation.
Hell, I remember something about the werewolves (who are all male, right?) bonding with their 3 and 4 year-old soulmates, then influencing the girl's maturation process to turn her into the perfect wife. I mean, Christ, that's creepy even beyond the part about them crushing on a 3 or 4 year-old girl, which I hadn't thought was achievable, prior to hearing about that detail.
It's damned hard to make me put down a book, too. Just recently, I read a book called Apocalypse Cow. Despite the amazingly cheesy title, it was actually a rather interesting concept about a zombie-livestock catastrophe, introduced through a government program to develop a bio-weapon that would destroy a country's food production. Never mind the ethical issues with using such a weapon; the reckless R&D isn't entirely unbelievable.
Sadly, the actual execution of the storytelling is the sort of shit that I expected from the title. I could tell in which act each of the characters was going to die (those who died), within a page or two of the character's introduction. It was so formulaic as to be pathetic, even for a parody of a genre, and the characters were paper-thin, taken to such extremes of behavior that they didn't even register as real people. Also, the main protagonist's proclivities kind of creeped me out.
Still, I plowed through it to the end, to watch the train wreck as the cars kept piling up into the mass of twisted metal that was the preceding cars.
But yeah, the Dresden Files lost me because there were many very dodgy story elements in the first book, which made me not like it. Upon discovering the intensification of those elements in the second book, I was put off of it completely.
I encountered a similar issue with the Wheel of Time series. The first book in the series was interesting, if a bit slow-moving. The second book had about half of the content of the first, in a similar number of pages. The third book had far less content than the second, and the fourth book — a 1,000 page monstrosity — really started to jog in place.
I consulted with some of my friends, and they informed me that the plot stagnation didn't really kick in until the fifth book in the series and continued for the next few books. I just gave up.
Yea.... that werewolf thing was as creepy as it sounds. The author tries to make it sound less creepy by having it explained away in the book, and predictably fails. Some ideas are just creepy no matter how you may try to justify them.