Thursday, July 15, 2010

Audio Book Review: Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

Posted by Simcha 2:43 PM, under | 5 comments

In my continuous quest to understand the wide popularity of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books, I decided to listen to the second book in the series, Fool Moon. In my review of Storm Front I had mentioned my several unsuccessful attempts to get through this book and how I finally decided to give the audio book a try, which I found surprisingly enjoyable. But even with my enjoyment of the Storm Front audio book, I still didn’t see what it is about these books that has captured such a large audience of readers. So I was hoping that perhaps listening to Fool Moon would help shed some light on this great mystery of mine.

Business for Harry Dresden has slowed down to a crawl since the events of the last book and it’s been weeks since the local police, Dresden’s main source for work, have thrown a case his way. But just as Harry is wondering how he is going to pay for his next meal, he gets approached by Murphey who reluctantly admits that his help is needed in solving a series of murders. Each of the murders have taken place on the night of a full moon and each of the mutilated corpses found on the scene have been surrounded by bloody paw prints. Despite Murphey’s lingering anger at Harry she realizes that he may be the only one able to solve this case and help catch the murderer before he strikes again.

Fool Moon starts off slowly with a series of events that rather closely mirrors the beginning of the previous book. An angry encounter with Murphey, a confrontation with Marcone, disparaging behavior from the local cops and some humorous interactions with the skull, Bob, all stuff we already experienced in Storm Front. The pace does pick up about halfway through the book at which point I found myself getting caught up in the story, but my enjoyment was frequently interrupted by certain aggravating aspects of the storytelling.

I think what irritated me the most were Murphey’s frequent angry attacks against Dresden, which came across as irrational and unprofessional, as well as Dresden’s constant self-recrimination, which I quickly got tired of. I found myself wondering why these issues are just coming up now between Murphey and Dresden if the two of them have been working together for years.

I was also annoyed by Dresden’s need to repeatedly rehash the current situation, unnecessarily reminding us of the fact that it’s up to him to protect Murphey and why. Nor did I appreciate Dresden’s long-winded reflections on magic or good and evil just when things were getting heated up. And rather than sounding philosophical I thought these monologues just sounded cheesy; like he was trying too hard to come across as deep and sensitive.

My magic. That was at the heart of me. It was a manifestation of what I believed, what I lived. It came from my desire to see to it that someone stood between the darkness and the people it would devour. It came from my love of a good steak, from the way I would sometimes cry at a good movie or a moving symphony. From my life. From the hope that I could make things better for someone else, if not always for me.

There's more magic in a baby's first giggle than in any firestorm a wizard can conjure up, and don't let anyone tell you any different."

I admit that Fool Moon was a step up from Storm Front, in terms of the story being more interesting and exciting, but I’m still not seeing what it is about these books that are drawing so many readers. The writing is not particularly impressive and the only character that I found remotely compelling is the crime lord, Marcone. I’m not sure if I could have gotten through the book without the help of James Marster’s dulcet tones and I'm not particularly tempted to pick up the next book in the series. So as far as I can see, the mystery of Harry Dresden's appeal still remains a mystery.


I wonder if these books just work for some people and not others. I love them. I am looking forward to finding the time to delve into Butcher's fantasy series too.

WonderBunny: Well that's what baffles me. Everyone else seems to love these books and I can't understand what the appeal is. While the idea of a modern wizards is creative and interesting the stories themselves are not that great, particularly compared to some of the other wonderful books that have been written in recent years. I'm often told that the it's in book four that the series really improves but do people really slog on through three mediocre books to get to "the good one"?

I enjoyed this series from book one. I found Jim Butcher to be a wonderful writer and I liked Harry. He isn't perfect but he is constantly trying to do the right thing. I also think one of the things is that for the most part these are light and funny. I also didn't find these to be slow but it really could just be me. I think some books work for some and some don't.

I don't know if I would consider this a a recently writen book either or compare it to more recent fiction (last two years or so). Storm Front was first published in 2000, Fool Moon in 2001. The author has had ten years to develop and create better plots and characters so I would say that the books get better as you go. If you're not hating them, keep reading (at least a few more) and either you'll love Harry or you won't. There is no point in continuing to read books you dislike or hate. As another note about the ten years... in a way, Butcher has also had ten years to develop a "cult" following.

Sometimes we go into reading books like this series expecting to be blown away and the Dresden books don't really do that from the first book. For me it was that I enjoy it and so I picked up the next book. I liked that so I kept reading and now after having read everything but the two most recent, I love them. For me it was that I loved them as I read more and understood the characters better.

WonderBunny: Perhaps I'll just have to accept that this is one of those series that the rest of the world loves, and I don't. I'm tempted though to try to make it to the fourth book to see if THAT one is really as great as everyone makes it out to be. Though I can say that I am definitely a James Marster fan now, even though I never watched any Buffy. But that voice..mmm...

Escapism. Escapism. Escapism.

That's what captures peoples attention. If you're reading these stories with an eye toward 3rd person omniscient storytelling, you're reading them the wrong way.

In the Dresden Files you're getting the story that the arrogant, belligerent, chauvinistic, yet likable -- but not entirely trustworthy Harry Dresden is telling you. Butcher tells these stories as first person and quite possibly as an unreliable narrator -- depending on your world view.

Does Dresden know more than he's letting on? Yes, quite often. He even periodically leaves the reader in the dark. Why? Because as a reader it's more fun trying to guess what will happen next as opposed to actually knowing it.

Is Butchers style for everyone? Clearly it's not. However, I found these stories more enjoyable than James Pattersons Alex Cross series. For me Cross is always right and is always angry. That's really no fun to read. Pattersons peek into the criminals minds however are what kept me reading. By contrast Harry Dresden is reasonably happy, if a little strapped for cash, and often has a lot to learn before he knows how to properly deal with the situation he'll soon face. He even forgets basics that he drills into the readers heads, up until the most dramatically (in)appropriate time. Again, this makes it fun to read.

When you look beyond the surface, some of the "cheesiness" of Butchers storytelling actually serves a legitimate purpose for later parts of the story.

The way i see it the annoying lecherous skull serves two main purposes beyond annoying and amusing the reader:
1) He gives Butcher the opportunity to educate the reader on how the spell or potion is intended to work, versus the complications, therefore a better understanding, and ultimately a more self-consistent story when Butcher describes the spell or potions effect.

2) It reinforces the notion that while Harry is a tremendously powerful wizard, even he has limits to his knowledge and power. This makes Dresden easier to relate to, for the average schmoe.

Ultimately, would it be nice if he could weave the stories and explain magic more like King did in The Eyes of the Dragon. Perhaps, but then that would be someone more like Stephen King telling the story, as opposed to Jim Butcher. These are Jim Butchers stories told by the character of Harry Dresden, the arrogant, belligerent, and chauvinistic wizard who does good because he has a responsibility to do so. Kind of like the old detective stories where the cop does good because it's his responsibility, end of story, no more need to question the motives than that. . .

In other words... It's all about fun escapism which you don't need to think too hard about. So relax and enjoy the ride. . . And if you don't enjoy the ride, stop getting on trying to figure out why others do -- you won't.

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