Harry Dresden – In and Out of Togas


After I first published Murder In Absentia and started to receive fan feedback, one common comparison (which I’ve since adopted) was that Felix feels a bit like Harry Dresden in a Toga. That made me curious to learn more, and I’ve since started to read the books. This post is about my impressions of this comparison.

For the unaware, Harry Dresden is the protagonist of the Dresden File book (and TV) series, written by Jim Butcher. Set in modern day Chicago, Dresden is a wizard for hire. The only one in the phone-book. The series blends classic noir detectives with magic, and is one of the best example of the urban fantasy genre.

While I knew of the series, I never read or watched any of it before writing Murder In Absentia. Still, it was high praise, and enough to get me curious to start reading the novels. After reading the first three books (out of fifteen), I thought I’d make some comments about the comparison.

First, I admit, I am only at the beginning of the series. But that is enough for me to know that I enjoy Mr Butcher’s writing. The first two books are good and have a lot of promise, and the third is even better. By all accounts, the series keeps improving, and I am looking forward to reading the rest. I can only hope that my writing would improve as much with each book I write.

Now for comparison notes. I can certainly see some similarities. Both works strive for that noir feeling of those old-style detective mysteries. Both, of course, are urban fantasy and deal with magic. But where Dresden, by his own account, is a fully trained and rather powerful wizard, Felix has never completed his studies, and his charms are rather simple. He has to rely on his wits much more, especially when dealing with opponents much more powerful than he.

Speaking of magic, again there are some superficial similarities with the magic system, in that the will or the intent of the practitioner plays a big part in the incantations. However, I feel that – besides not being an original concept to either Butcher or me – the similarities end there. The workings of the magic in the Dresden Files, from circles to potions, are quite different to one’s in Felix’s world, where they are half-way to a supplication to the gods.

Going deeper, I also note some personality differences. Dresden has that old-world charm, true chivalry. Felix is a bastard and a cheat, and quite proud of it. Note for example the many scenes in which Felix uses lies to extract the truth, his obsession with expense accounts (and free meals in general), his attitudes to women (culturally appropriate for the Romanesque setting), and up to the final stand off, where he is the one to start the fight with some back-stabbing.

Would Felix and Dresden enjoy a drink together? Possibly, though I can’t imagine them becoming close friends. Would I and Mr Butcher enjoy a drink together? I would like to think so.

None of that changes the fact, though, that each of the novels and the worlds they portray – and I will flatter myself that my world-building is in the same class of Butcher’s – have a certain feel to them. Not identical, but I expect a large proportion of fans of one might enjoy the other. I’m glad that my own writing has also expanded my reading list in Harry Dresden’s direction.

Now back to my ever-growing to-read list, as I follow the adventures of Dresden, of Ruso, and of their many cynical, hard-boiled colleagues.


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