Urban fantasy

I have really enjoyed such urban fantasy as I have read, although that has primarily consisted of some Young Adult stuff (Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series) and the many fine examples put out by the inimitable Charles de Lint, writing about the inhabitants, human and otherwise, of the mythical city of Newford in Canada. (My favorites are Memory and Dream, and Trader.) Until I became a teen librarian, de Lint’s books were my entire experience, and I still like them best out of the bunch, because they are much more about regular people, much less about the typical paranormals (vampires and werewolves) that appear in YA fiction, and also include a lot of Native American lore in their fantastical critters and back stories.

Last year I decided to explore a few more examples, so I read the first book in each of two series by the prolific Seanan McGuire: Rosemary and Rue, the first in her October Daye series; and Discount Armageddon, Incryptid #1. I sought out these books as a direct result of having discovered her Wayward Children series, about which I have previously written, which were such beautifully crafted, spare little gems that I just had to see what else was out there by this author.

I was taken aback when I read Rosemary and Rue, because the person who meticulously constructed the novellas in the Wayward Children series to be understated, magical, and lyrical was here so…explainy. She stated something, then stated the obvious about that something, and then restated it one more time in case you missed it. The story was interminable and exhausting. I felt beaten over the head by description, explanation, and back story and, on top of that, the egocentric voice of the protagonist simply overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe it.

I then decided (bravely, I thought!) to try out the first book of the Incryptid series, and there I found blessed relief. Discount Armageddon, while being nothing like the serious literary fantasy of the Wayward Children series, was delightful, amusing, and original. The creation of the cryptids (“any creature whose existence has not been proven by science”); of the heroine who moonlights as a waitress by night to pay the bills while splitting the rest of her time between cryptozoologist and competitive ballroom dancer; and of the back story of the Covenant of St George were so original. The ability to switch gears between different types of storytelling and do them both so well completely exonerated her from the hot mess that is her October Skye series. (Sorry, fans of that. I don’t understand you.) It reminded me of my favorite of the urban fantasies in YA fiction, Lish McBride’s incomparable Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, and its sequel, Necromancing the Stone.

This is all an extremely long lead-in to get to the news that I have discovered another urban fantasy series to enjoy: The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher, starring urban wizard Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. These may be old hat to many readers, but despite hearing about them over the years, I never tried one out until, frustrated by my inability to get any of the e-books I wanted from the library, I looked at my Goodreads “I want to read” list, noticed Jim Butcher’s name, and checked out book #1, Storm Front.

This book is a quick and pulpy read, in that Butcher models his story on noir fiction but with a lot of humor included, and set, of course, in a paranormal subset of the real world. Private Eye slash Wizard Harry has swagger, characterized primarily by his smart mouth and his black leather “duster” (coat) and magical staff. He is caught between a rock and a hard place by his need to make a living but also not contravene any of the rules and laws of the White Council against using black magic. He acts as a consultant for the Chicago police department but also takes on private cases, and sometimes these lead to conflicts, in this particular volume drawing Harry to the unwelcome attention of the Chicago mob.

I have to admit that clichés abound in this first book—particularly the depiction of all women present in the story—but I am assured by loyal fans on Goodreads that the series gets nothing but better as it goes along. Having enjoyed this one sufficiently to want to broach number two in the series, I’m giving those clichés the benefit of the doubt and plan to continue to seek out the adventures of Harry Dresden, just as soon as I finish the other two e-books I checked out of the library at the same time, since those have deadlines attached. So you can expect to hear more about Harry in future posts, and probably about Verity Price of McGuire’s Incryptid series as well.

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