This book is 352 pages. At least two pages should never have been included. Unfortunately, those two pages are the first two of the book.
The book begins with a first-person description of a mailman showing up at the main character’s door half an hour early. He “didn’t sound right” because his “footsteps fell more heavily, jauntily” than the normal mailman’s. This leads Harry Dresden, the protagonist of the series, to conclude it’s a “new guy.”
How in the world does he conclude this? He’s in his office, which we later find out shares a floor of a building with other offices. How could he possibly know some guy walking toward his office door was a mailman? The guy didn’t sound like the normal mailman. The guy didn’t show up when the normal mailman showed up.
There is no explanation provided for how Dresden could possibly know he was a mailman. Are we supposed to conclude nobody ever walks down the hall outside Dresden’s office? Does nobody ever come to his office unexpectedly? Shouldn’t Dresden have considered other possible explanations? Only eight pages later, Dresden has this thought:
Paranoid? Probably. But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that there isn’t an invisible demon about to eat your face.
I love that paragraph. It’s one of my favorite in the series. That makes the paragraph which starts the series even worse.
Moving on, why does the paragraph even exist? The paragraph shows Dresden can take small clues and reach conclusions. It’s just a ham-handed way of showing he has detective skills. Far from a minor gripe, this approach carries through for the remainder of the first two pages.
Dresden talks to the mailman who scoffs at the idea of Dresden being a wizard. Jokes are made at Dresden’s expense. This tells us three things: 1) Dresden openly advertises himself as a wizard. 2) People don’t believe him. 3) “Poor Dresden, he’s so mistreated.” It also shows Dresden is a smartass.
All of this is amateurish writing, but what takes things over the top is the next page. Page three begins without any break. There’s no gap to indicate a transition. Instead, immediately after the mailman leaves, we get:
My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. I’m a wizard. I work out of an office in midtown Chicago. As far as I know, I’m the only openly practicing professional wizard in the country. You can find me in the yellow pages, under “Wizards.” Believe it or not, I’m the only one there. My ad looks like this:
You’d be surprised how many people call me just to ask me if I’m serious. But then, if you’d seen the things I’d seen, if you knew half of what I knew, you’d wonder how anyone could *not* think I was serious.
These two paragraphs do the same thing as the first two pages. They do it better. They also sound stupid because they’re an introduction that randomly follows an introduction.
The book would be immensely improved if the first two pages were simply removed. The hook would be set in the first paragraph. The first non-protagonist character we’d meet would matter (the mailman has no role after those two pages). Themes of the book would develop as we get to know the main character and his world rather than having them shoved down our throat. Instead it feels like watching the beginning of Dark City.
As an aside, I can’t figure out what tense is being used when Dresden thinks “if you knew half of what I knew.” Why does Dresden think “what I knew”? The scene is done in the present tense. Why is there a sudden shift to the past tense? Same thing with “I’d seen.” Why isn’t that “I’ve seen”?