Horror used to be a respectably selling fiction genre until the bottom fell out over a decade ago. A couple of writers, like Stephen King, still do OK, but a lot of horror scribes started to go a different route, and what might have been considered a horror book a few years ago is now often considered “urban fantasy”—in which the so-called monsters and killers of horror fiction live alongside sprites and faeries and humans in the real world. Urban fantasy novels tend to weave horror, romance, fantasy, and mystery into a gumbo of spicy provenance, but there’s so much of it flooding the shelves that the good stuff can get lost.
Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels, the 10th of which is Small Favor, are easily among the better books in the burgeoning genre. They follow a Chicago-based wizard named Harry Dresden who advertises in the phone book and whose consultations on weird police cases and his own twisted lineage propel him into adventures. Though Butcher has a few stylistic issues that can be speed bumps to reading (Harry, the narrator, chooses to keep reminding the reader how tough his conjurations are, and some of Butcher’s humor is of an acquired taste), his plots are thrilling and his vivid character work makes up for any lapses in writing. At this point Butcher has created literally dozens of characters who inhabit this world, and one of the pleasures of reading each book is to see who might turn up again.
Minor issues aside, these books are just plain fun, and they’re especially rewarding for those who carefully follow each new installment. Butcher spins epic-scale adventure on a very human level, and those newly hooked on Harry Dresden will lament the fact that there are only 10 novels with which to sate their jones.