Review: Jim Butcher’s Turn Coat Goes to Eleven

Turn Coat, the eleventh book of The Dresden Files, comes out tomorrow. No spoilers, but in summary: Morgan, Harry Dresden’s wizard parole officer, suddenly shows up on Harry’s doorstep badly wounded and on the run from the White Council. Something about being found over a body with a bloody weapon. Harry is so sure that Morgan is innocent that he puts a lot of lives in danger to protect him as they try to track down the real killer. Vampires. Werewolves. Native American shape-shifters. Tiny fairies. That’s the long version; the short version is, go read it. Now.

If you can’t tell, I enjoyed Turn Coat. Jim Butcher has two big things going for him here: scope and pacing. It seems like the Dresden Files books are one caper after another, capable of continuing ad nauseum. But this isn’t an aimless, open-ended series, just a really long one; Butcher plans 20 volumes of the crime-solving type, and then an “apocalyptic trilogy,” hopefully to wrap up the conspiracy that’s been gathering speed over the last few books. We’re just over halfway through the build-up, every book giving Harry one or two more suspicions about just how big and bad his shadowy opponents are. I always look up on page 375 and realize that not only does Butcher have just fifty pages to wrap up the caper aspect, but that we’ve barely inched along with that larger arc. Harry is busy trading quips with giant spiders, melting supernatural hit men into goo, and pissing off the Council, and by the time I come up for air, whoops!

Much as I love action and quirkiness, Turn Coat also displays an emotional depth unmatched so far in the series. The Dresden Files takes Harry from his mid-twenties, still very close to an adolescence marked by loss and violence, to his mid-thirties, where he’s been doing this PI stuff and working with the same people for ten years. I was struck by grown-up Harry in Turn Coat; not only does he take in and defend someone who has been a potentially lethal pain in the ass to him, he opens up and we get to see how thoughtful and mature he really is. It’s easy for us to read “And then I didn’t sleep with her” or “And then I risked my life to save others,” and go, “Oh, Harry, you’re such a dreamy hero.” But when Harry talks seriously about taking responsibility for his actions and what it costs him, and what it will cost Molly if she wants to be a good person in the high-stakes supernatural world, it’s a new look at good old, flippant, fly-by-night Harry Dresden. There are moments of real pathos between Harry and Murphy—she’s learning to let people in, too—Harry and Molly, even Harry and Morgan, and a hard, heartbreaking scene between Harry and Thomas. If Butcher is purposefully turning the series inward even as the outer pressures on the characters increase, I think I may propose marriage. This is going to be a fun one to re-read all at once when the last one comes out, so I can follow the character and plot arcs all the way through.

Okay, I wish there were more Bob. I also wish we knew more about Michael Carpenter, considering Small Favor. I continue to be annoyed by the Codex Alera plug in the back of every book, but those are such minor quibbles that I’m ready to say that Turn Coat is the best eleventh book in a series I’ve ever read and one of the best of the Dresden Files. Go forth, read, return, discuss! Warning: there will probably be rampant spoilers below.

What’s more, to facilitate the discussion, Tor.com is giving away a copy of the book to the first two commenters on this post—request the book in your comment and then send your snail-mail address to megan dot messinger at macmillan dot com.

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