This is the first of a series of books called The Dresden Files, about Harry Dresden, a professional wizard in modern day Chicago who has a business helping people with magic-related issues, and who also consults for the police.
I found this book to be great fun. The protagonist, Harry Dresden, is a world-weary, private eye type, and the influence of noir style fiction such as Chandler or Hammett is obvious. Harry has the obligatory dark past, is more powerful than is immediately apparent, and in classic noir style is something of a sucker for attractive women. This has caused some to label the author as sexist, and personally I don’t find this. The character himself can be sexist, but he usually learns not to underestimate the women in his life quite quickly. His power and previous history is the basis for an ongoing moral struggle inside Harry. He knows ways for resolving his problems, but they involve dark magic and he does not want to go that way (not to mention being under threat from other white wizards if he does.) I find that kind of moral dilemma, that resisting temptation, to be interesting in fiction. It’s certainly something to which most readers can relate.
There are quite a few female characters in this story. Murphy is the main police officer with whom Harry deals, and is portrayed as intelligent and capable. I would suggest she is a little stereotyped in some respects (the female police officer who is as tough and nails but can be nice underneath etc.) Other women include a reporter and sort-of girlfriend, a vampire, a prostitute, and an abused spouse. Male characters include a mob boss, his henchmen, another police officer, a disembodied spirit, and two other wizards. The supporting cast are mostly not well fleshed out, probably my main gripe with the novel, and end up being two dimensional as a result. Weirdly the supporting character who I felt was the best written was Bob, the disembodied spirit who is trapped in a skull! I also found the prostitute character interesting, and of all the female characters probably the one who was least identified by stereotyped characteristics.
There is a lot of action and a fair amount of gore. Dresden’s fights with demons, and his final confrontation with an evil wizard, are very well written and keep you guessing. The proof of a well-written action sequence is whether the reader can picture what is happening, and I found no difficulty in doing this. The plot moves quickly, taking Dresden on a journey that feels something like driving downhill in a car with no brakes, and the reader feels like he or she is inside that car along with Dresden, wondering how he can possibly avoid hitting the bottom and dying.
In conclusion, I would in no way call this a great novel. The flaws that I have mentioned preclude that. It was enjoyable, exciting, and fun to read, and I would recommend this to any fantasy fan.