Monday, May 24, 2010

Turn Coat

Turn Coat is the 11th book in Jim Butcher’s Urban Fantasy series The Dresden Files.

For those out there that haven’t yet met Wizard for Hire Harry Dresden I’ll see what I can do to bring you up to speed. The books are narrated by the title character. Harry is a somewhat down at heel modern day wizard who makes a living by hiring out his rather specialized services. As Harry is mostly based in Chicago the majority of the books are set in the mid western metropolis. I can’t find any information indicating that Butcher has ever spent any length of time in Chicago (he lives in Independence, Missouri), but Harry’s descriptions of the city display a good deal of knowledge about it and deep affection. As a wizard Harry Dresden owes more to Philip Marlowe than he does to Gandalf and for that reason the books have a rather noirish feel to them. Butcher’s dialogue, however is more inspired by Joss Whedon than Raymond Chandler, and is liberally littered with pop culture references. Harry refers to his teenage apprentice; Molly Carpenter, as ‘grasshopper’ and in Turn Coat Harry compares his own intellect with that of Wile E. Coyote. Over the course of the previous 10 books readers have met the White Council of Wizards, 3 separate Courts of vampires (White, Red and Black, mention has also been made of the Jade Court, but they’ve yet to appear), at least one loosely organised pack of werewolves and various faerie organisations, to name a few. Butcher has also developed a large cast of supporting characters to help or hinder Harry and move the narrative along. The supporting cast is now large enough that the author can drop even a fan favourite for a book or two and still keep most of his readership happy. In Turn Coat Harry’s familiar Bob the talking skull only appears briefly and isn’t really missed.

Turn Coat begins with one of the White Council’s most trusted soldiers; Warden Donald Morgan, turning up seriously wounded at Harry’s apartment. To say that the relationship between wizard and Warden is strained would be understating it somewhat. The Wardens are the Council’s enforcers. Harry was once a wanted wizard and the man most after his head was Donald Morgan. The Warden claims to have been framed for the murder of a prominent Council wizard and has the Council’s attack dogs out for his blood. He came to Harry for two reasons. One is that it would be the last place anyone would expect, and two, Harry has a strong sense of justice because he himself was once unfairly accused, and he’s had success with similar cases in the past.

Once Harry agrees to help Morgan he puts himself and his apprentice in danger from the Council and unwittingly draws a number of his allies; feisty, little Chicago detective Karrin Murphy, his half brother White Court vampire Thomas, the Alpha pack of werewolves and his army of faery solidiers, led by the unforgettable Toot Toot, into a web of intrigue and stalking death in the form of a ‘skinwalker’ (an ancient Native American legend known as a Naagloshi). Only Harry can prove Morgan’s innocence and at the same time prevent the Council from destroying itself from within.

11 books in and Jim Butcher has not lost his touch. I’ve liked the stories about Harry ever since I first met the wisecracking wizard in Storm Front (the first of the Dresden Files) and he is still going strong. There are hints in Turn Coat, as there were also were in its predecessor; Small Favor, that other adventures Harry has had are all leading to one giant climax. It is possible that Butcher will wrap it all up somewhere in the future, although the 12th of the Dresden Files; Changes, is out in hardcover and a 13th instalment; Side Jobs is planned for release in November of this year to be followed by a 14th; Ghost Story at an as yet unknown time in 2011.

One small criticism is that at times instalments of The Dresden Files seem like they are being written on auto pilot. Given that since 2004 Butcher has been averaging 2 books a year (he generally releases a Dresden and a volume of his ‘swords & sorcery epic’ The Codex Alera each year) this probably isn’t all that surprising, it’s a punishing schedule for any author to stick to.

I also have one other small point to make and this is not an author fault, but rather a publisher one. Since the 7th book of The Dresden Files they have taken to advertising the author’s other series; The Codex Alera, by way of an author’s note at the end of the story. I have no problem with that, I don’t have any real interest in The Codex Alera myself, but that’s just me, what I would like to see is for them to at least change the note. I can almost recite from heart this particular author’s note.

Other than that I urge people to give Harry Dresden a try. I don’t think you’ll regret the decision. He’s a fun guy and you’ll love his friends.

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