When it comes to urban fantasy novels, there are few names bigger than Harry Dresden. Jim Butcher's wizarding private eye ticks a lot of boxes—there's something for everyone.
From the high-stakes action of battling mythical monsters to the angsty romance subplots, it's no surprise why The Dresden Files remains one of the most popular fantasy book series today.
Yet, as good as the series is, it can be incredibly uneven. The first few books get off to a painfully slow start, while some of the later books feel incomplete or half-hearted. But when it's firing on all cylinders, The Dresden Files sits up there among the most fun modern fantasy stories.
Here are our picks for the best books in The Dresden Files series. Minor spoilers ahead when we explain why each book is so great!
5. Dead Beat
Partway through the series, Jim Butcher decided to lean into what writers call "The Rule of Cool," and that became the overarching philosophy for a good stretch of The Dresden Files.
Dead Beat is the most obvious example of this, with Harry taking on an evil necromancer—is there any other kind?—with the help of his usual allies plus a very confused and frightened medical examiner.
Things escalate, as they usually do for Dresden, to the point where he's riding down the streets of Chicago on the back of a zombified T-rex to save the world from a corrupted faerie lord.
While other books in the series have more plot and more intrigue, Dead Beat is easily one of the most fun novels in the series.
4. Cold Days
At one point, Harry Dresden comes down with a bad case of being dead. A fortunate mixture of faerie magic and plot armor allows him to get better, but it all comes with a cost.
Dresden officially becomes the Winter Knight—a title he has resisted for years—and must serve Mab, the Winter Queen of the Sidhe.
Cold Days was a turning point for the series, expanding on the lore while also putting pieces into place to start tackling the series's eventual end game. By the end of Cold Days, Harry's place in the world and his relationship with his long-suffering student Molly are completely changed.
While the conclusion to The Dresden Files is still a long way off, this book is the one that ushered in the beginning of the end and it's the one that started the process of tying all the dangling plot threads together.
3. Summer Knight
The first three books in The Dresden Files are a bit of a slog. It isn't until book four, Summer Knight, that Harry starts to find his place in the world. When the balance between Winter and Summer courts is thrown out of balance by a murder, Harry Dresden is the only one who can take on the case.
Summer Knight is a solid murder mystery, with lots of twists and turns and exciting set pieces. It also stands out as the first book in the series where Jim Butcher's ability to write action comes into its own.
Ending with an epic battle in an ethereal version of Chicago, Summer Knight brought major changes to the series—for the better—and it's the first Dresden Files book that's unequivocally good.
2. Skin Game
There are few plot skeletons better than a well-executed heist. In keeping with the ever-growing sense of escalation in the series, Skin Game sees Harry Dresden given a simple task: to help an old enemy break into a vault.
Of course, it isn't just any vault. Harry is roped into helping Nicodemus—one of his greatest enemies—steal something from Hades himself.
Skin Game breaks the usual formula of The Dresden Files and offers up an incredible heist story that's complete with multiple layers of betrayal, a long-awaited kiss, and the return of fan-favorite Michael Carpenter.
The ending, which features a divine lightsaber duel, is one of the most touching and tense moments of the entire series.
1. Small Favor
Throughout his adventures, Harry Dresden often prefers to go it alone. He's a wizard, after all, and he can perform impossible acts that are beyond human understanding. But in Small Favor, he learns an important truth: it's okay to ask for help.
This simple message is what guides him through the twisting world of the fae. Even if his friends are wounded in the process, that's still better than him going into danger all alone.
The final chapters of Small Favor present one of the most jaw-dropping events in the series, and it sends a stark message to readers that no one is safe from this point onward.