First read summer 2010, read again summer 2018. Approximately four stars.
Oh, Harry Dresden.
I still really enjoyed this, but the way I read is so different now from eight years ago, when I first read it—fresh off the heels of N.K. Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, Becky Chambers, Garth Nix, Rat Queens, Saga, and all the other incredibly diverse, creative SFF I’ve read in the past year, I think Harry Dresden might be a little . . . passé?
Here’s the thing: Jim Butcher doesn’t do a good enough job disguising himself. He absolutely adores Harry Dresden, but the book is written from the protagonist’s point of view, which means we’re supposed to believe that Harry describes himself with the admiration, even tenderness, of a geeky white male author who identifies hard with his character.
I was weary, battered, tired, hurt, and I had already pulled more magic out of the hat in one day than most wizards could in a week. I was pushing the edge already, in both mystic and physical terms. But that just didn’t matter to me. The pain in my leg didn’t make me weaker, didn’t discourage me, didn’t distract me as I walked. It was like a fire in my thoughts, my concentration, burning ever more brightly, more pure, refining my anger, my hate, into something steel-hard, steel-sharp. I could feel it burning, and reached for it eagerly, shoving the pain inside to fuel my incandescent anger.
__ was going to pay for what __’d done to all those people, to me and to my friends. Dammit all, I was not going out before I’d caught up to that __ and shown __ what a real wizard could do.
It didn’t take me long to walk to McAnally’s. I came through the door in a storm of long legs, rain, wind, flapping duster, and angry eyes.
That’s toward the end, but frankly, if I were reading this book for the first time right now, this—from the beginning of chapter two—is where I would have quit and gone to read The Fifth Season instead:
[She] spun on her heel to walk toward the hotel’s front doors.
I caught up and walked a little ahead of her.
She sped her pace. So did I. We raced one another toward the front door, with increasing speed, through the puddles left over from last night’s rain.
My legs were longer; I got there first. I opened the door for her and gallantly gestured for her to go in. It was an old contest of ours. Maybe my values are outdated, but I come from an old school of thought. I think that men ought to treat women like something other than just shorter, weaker men with breasts. Try and convict me if I’m a bad person for thinking so. I enjoy treating a woman like a lady, opening doors for her, paying for shared meals, giving flowers—all that sort of thing.
It irritates the hell out of Murphy, who had to fight and claw and play dirty with the hairiest men in Chicago to get as far as she has.
I do have to give the series credit: For being what it is and having been published in 2000, there’s a surprising lack of misogyny in it. I mean, obviously there’s some sexism. It’s mostly benevolent patriarchy, as indicated above. It’s vaguely gross every time a female character’s looks are described, which is often, and of course there is a shit-ton of sexual violence. But for how easily this series could have screamed “GamerGate” at every opportunity, it’s really not bad (in this book, at least).
I don’t think I’ll change the star rating; for my first reading, it would’ve been more like four and a half stars, and now I’d say three and a half. I can’t tell if I’m going to be able to make it through the whole series, though, which is what I wanted to do (I only read through book twelve the first time around). I just don’t know, with where I am and how I read now, if I’ll be able to read fifteen books by and starring a white man living out white male power fantasies.