Commuter Bookclub – Grave Peril (Jim Butcher)

I spend a lot of time in the car. For people like me there are a couple of things that keep us sane. Good books are one of them.

This week, let’s talk about The Dresden Files: Gravel Peril by Jim Butcher. A wizard in Chicago, you say? Tell me more…

Not your kids’ Wizard Harry

To start with, this is not a YA fantasy novel. If you like your Harry’s like this:

 

then be prepared for a Wizard Harry like this:

 

Via mika-blackfield at DeviantArt.
Via mika-blackfield at DeviantArt.

The Specs

It’s good to know what you’re getting into:

  • Release date: September 2001 (July 2005 for the audiobook).
  • Length: 4 train commutes, 6 driving commutes, or 11 hours and 59 minutes.
  • Narrator: James Marsters

But this isn’t the first book in the series!

I know this isn’t the first book in the Dresden Files (here’s the bibliography), but it’s the first book that I started listening to. And, as Jim Butcher says in the lead in, it’s also where the writing style moves on from being a noir/urban fantasy genre novel to something a little more epic.

You can always go back and listen to the first few books later, but you won’t miss much. From here on out, the story starts building and we get to see a lot more of the world that Harry lives in.

Larger themes starts to peak out showing that Harry and company occupy a much bigger world than just Chicago, and that Harry is (intentionally or not) sitting in the middle of it all.

It’s all in the voice…

Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel will recognize James Marsters’ name (though maybe not his voice…he uses his normal, American accent here instead of Spike‘s faux British one).

The Dresden Files are entirely written in the first person, where we get to live inside of Harry’s head for 14 straight novels. It can get cramped in there on occasion, but it’s Marsters’ presentation that really makes the books enjoyable and gives the character the amazingly snarky edge that I really love about this series.

There was one, ill-fated attempt to replace Marsters (caused by a “scheduling constraint”) for one of the later books. The backlash was enough that you can now find a re-recorded version with Marsters on Audible (of course I have both, don’t be silly). The voice acting here is top notch, and has more or less ruined me for most other fictional novels. Enjoy having Dresden in your earholes, he’s entertaining most of the time.

So, what about this urban fantasy stuff?

Wizards, talking skulls, vampires, and a Knight in Chicago. Enough said?

The thing like I about the genre is that it grounds the world just enough so the author doesn’t have to do a complete world building exercise (though Butcher does this pretty well too, if The Aeronaut’s Windlass is any evidence). The magic and fantasy elements end up feeling more like a flavor addition rather than the meat itself.

This also lets the author off the hook for most plot lines that can now be solved with a cell-phone call (magics and Wizards scramble technology, didn’t you know?). This lets us get into some time honored plots (racing against time to deliver some crucial piece of information), which, call me old fashioned if you will, I kind of like.

I’ll let you explore the world yourself and get to know Dresden and his compatriots. They’re (mostly) people I’d like to know.

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