Sunday, September 17, 2006

Butcher, Baker . . . Magic-Maker

I have early plans for today, Sunday, so this will be a quick post.

Like most writers, I've always been a voracious reader. The bookshelves in my house are so heavy with volumes that I worry the subfloor of my pier-and-beam home will one day give way under the weight.

As my energies became more and more focussed on writing, my reading tastes changed. My time is far more precious these days, and I tend to read shorter, non-fiction articles instead of lengthy novels. I still read fiction, but now confine myself to my favorite authors' new releases. I'm less likely to experiment with an unknown-to-me writer.

I say all this to explain that it sometimes takes me years to discover an author that others have been raving about for a long time. Such was the case with Jim Butcher, whose first novel was published in 2000.

I had actually purchased a Butcher novel three or four years ago, but never got around to reading it. I became interested in Butcher again when I started to think about writing an urban fantasy. I already had a plot line in mind when I began, but wanted more grounding in the urban fantasy sub-genre. I was familiar with female fantasy writers like Laurell K. Hamilton and Kim Harrison, but hadn't read any male fantasy writers since reading Dune and Lord of the Rings years ago.

After compiling a list of urban fantasy writers, I started looking for books by authors like Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint and Jim Butcher. During one afternoon recently, I bought Jim Butcher's entire paperback collection. I'm now about to start my fourth Butcher novel.

For those of you who aren't familiar with urban fantasy, it is a novel that takes the fantasy tradition of magic and places it into a familiar urban setting. The contrast between the urban streets and the fantasy premise is what defines the sub-genre. LKH uses St. Louis; Kim Harrison, Cincinnati; and Jim Butcher, Chicago.

Butcher's protagonist is a wizard named Harry Dresden--hence, the "Dresden Files" subtitle on his books. Dresden is a professional wizard who lives in the basement of a boarding house in Chicago. He has a thirty-pound cat named Mister and a talking skull named Bob (Actually Bob is a spirit that inhabits the skull in Dresden's lab much the way a hermit crab moves into an unoccupied shell).

In each book of the series, Butcher confronts creatures out of fantasy. In Storm Front, it's a wizard killing people with magic; in Fool Moon, it's werewolves; in Grave Peril, it's ghosts.

The books are non-stop action played out on the bad streets of Chicago with lots of great imagery. I'm not going to tell you what Butcher does to Sue, the famous Tyrannosaurus Rex of the Field Museum.

If you enjoy fantasy, you've probably already discovered Butcher. If you don't usually read fantasy, he's a good place to start. His books are imaginative, funny and great reads.

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