Apr 6 2009 10:22am

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, 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.

1. NotACat
I would love a free copy, yes please. I would solve the problem of it not fitting in with my collection of signed paperbacks by donating it to the Library when the latter gets updated ;-)
2. INCyr
Ooh, free book? I'd love one, thanks! (Hopefully I manage to get the second comment space.) I still need to read small favors, but I've loved the rest of the series so far!
3. Michael Reed
Can I have a free copy if I'm in the UK?

If not, have I just mucked up the offer?
4. Michael Reed
I see not. ;-)

Congrats, INCyr.
5. Ethan Watrall
any chance of a Kindle copy?
JP Ikäheimonen
6. Oldtribe
I have read only the first Dresden book. I liked it some, but not enough to read more. I was somewhat annoyed by the deus ex machina solutions to Harry's conundrums. The reader (me) did not seem to have any possibility to figure out what's going on in advance.

I realize that often the later books in a series are better than the first ones, and maybe, when one has read a couple of books, one develops a feeling of Harry Dresden's world that helps to immerse oneself into the books. Can somebody who has read more than one book tell me if that is the case of this series? I'm still interested in the series.

Thanks for the review, I enjoyed reading it.
Stephanie Leary
7. sleary
Oldtribe: yes, the series acquires lots more depth by, oh, say the fourth book. I think you can tell through the first three that Butcher didn't quite know yet how to hold everything together, so you get these light and largely unconnected caper stories. Things take a darker turn in the third book, and by the fourth he's figured out how to blend the various parts of Harry's world into a more believable and satisfying whole.
Jen Hill
8. greybon
Megan, you got to read it early? No fair! My only consolation is that I have a copy coming soon enough. :D Although, I may find myself going to the library later so I can read it now and re-read when my copy comes in. Heh.

Ack! No real news on Michael yet? For the love of...

@Oldtribe Yes, the series gets better with each book. Like @sleary said, book 4 seems to be where it really finds its stride. That book was my favorite until I read book 7, which very well may be the best one so far.

All right, must go forewarn a friend of mine of the lack of info on Michael in this one…*grumble grumble*
Joanna Slupek
9. Spriggana
There is a story "The Warrior" published in a collection "Mean Streets". It's definietly after "Small Favor", not sure about "Turn Coat". But it has Michael in it.
And Fictionwise will not sell me a copy of "Turn Coat" until tomorrow. Damn.
Stephanie Leary
10. sleary
Yes, "The Warrior" tells you what you want to know about Michael and the aftermath of Small Favor.

I hope someone collects all the Dresden short stories (so far) soon.
Megan Messinger
11. thumbelinablues
Spriggana @ 9, thanks for the heads up! I'm not always as on top of the short stories as I should be - I see a trip to B&N in my near future, because I need to know how Michael's doing! Sleary @ 10, I would love to see an all-Dresden anthology.

Congrats to INCyr and NotACat (e-mail me!).
12. EmmetAOBrien
Oldtribe@6: "Deus ex machina" in book 1 ? Gosh. I agree that the series gets stronger as it goes along, but I would think of that as because the plot resolutions to the first three books at least are way too obvious. (Unless you mean one specific thing in book 1 - the helping hand outside the house at the end - which is actually as I read it something entirely rational that Harry just does not get the information to put together until book 6.) I think of the series as taking a big jump up at book 3 and another at book 7, though 8 - 10 are to my mind different in character because of having moved into the middle of the overall arc (I think of book 7 as the last one it would be remotely sensible to read independently.)

I understand there's a collection of all the existing Dresden short stories (the "when Harry met Murphy" one, the one set between books 7 and 8, the two set between books 9 and 10, and the three currently published and one not yet out post-book 10 including "The Warrior" and the Thomas-POV novella from NightShade) due next year, and presumably if he writes any more between now and then they might be in it too.
13. Aaron Bergman
23 books?

Really? So I'm to expect the series to end in 2021?
Nina Lourie
14. supertailz
I loved this book so much. I feel as though each book gets exponentially better than the previous book.

Can I spoiler on this thread? I feel as though I should be able to, but if you don't want spoilers, don't read the rest of this comment.

I loved that this book focused on the black council stuff. It's been building for so long and I know that we're really only halfway through the series, but I want it to start coming together and I lovedlovedloved the insights into the White Council's world and underground lair in Edinburgh.

I loved each time Harry came home to the same tableau. And Ancient Mai's response: "You have a foo dog???" "Yeah, I call him Mouse."

I often am left with so many questions at the end of his books - of the "what happens next" variety, not the "wtf just happened" variety. So here are some of my questions from this book:

DEMONREACH. I want to know what you are.
GATEKEEPER. Ok, perhaps not a question so much as, I LOVE YOU. Please don't be evil?
MICHAEL. How are you?
The swords - Murphy?? Who else?
How is Harry and Molly's relationship going to change now that she's gone back to screwing with peoples' heads, even if she's doing it with good intentions?
Why wasn't there more Bob? (Cause of Luccio?)
What's going to happen with Thomas now?

I did have a couple big problems with the book:

1. Peabody was too obvious and not, you know, all that three dimensional. I definitely felt as though he was just a prop. I know that he's just an envoy from the black council is a bigger, badder scheme, but couldn't you make him more interesting? Or at least not as bloody obvious? On the plus side, making the White Council so rigid in their thoughts that even after Harry proves it's Peabody they kind of still suspect Morgan was interesting.

2. Making Luccio be mind controlled into killing whatshisface (my copy's in the other room) kind of left out some of the tension for me. I just felt like it was a little too much of a cop-out. Plus, if you've got this mind-control thing going and this happens to be Molly's big skill, make more out of that. Please?

3. I just didn't like the shape-shifter. Admittedly, I don't think I was supposed to. (Big spoiler: he was evil.) But he was scary and not very nice. Ick. I definitely felt as though there was a little too much randomdestruction! going on there in Lara's house.

4. I just don't find the werewolves all that interesting (perhaps lingering resentment from having the weakest book?) and oh god, the "He is now, suddenly, William!" scene was dumb. I don't think "hey, my friend just did something really mature! Why don't I stop calling him the thing I've called him forever?" Also, I didn't care all that much when they died and I think I should have.

Back to the positives though:

More Butters!
Morgan being ambiguous emotionally. Or you know, Morgan having emotions!

Did I mention Demonreach? I'm so intrigued I'm about to explode. Can't. Possibly. Wait. Another. Year.

*going to read Mean Streets*
Megan Messinger
15. thumbelinablues
Spoiler away!

1 - I think the problem with Peabody was that, like poor Cedric Diggory, he was written into the same book in which he served a major purpose, so Butcher had to walk a line between "well, THAT came out of left field" and "well, DUH, it's the new kid!" He erred on the side of obvious...I might prefer that to "the bad guy is a character whose name appeared twice on page six!" Not sure.

2 - They wouldn't have actually pointed fingers at Molly, but interesting point. I think the whole Luccio thing clicked together quite well: Morgan's motivation for protecting her, her motivation for being with Harry. I'd have to re-read from DEAD BEAT forward to really remember how that happened, but I was hoping it wouldn't go on for too long.

4 - I know I should have felt worse about Kirby, too, but I just didn't remember him. I care about Billy and Georgia, though, and I quite liked Fool Moon (!).

Definitely read "The Warrior" in Mean Streets - Butters is in it. :0)
Nina Lourie
16. supertailz
1. My problem was actually more with the "oh look! The bureaucrat! What is making people sign papers they aren't even looking at!" (Although I am glad they weren't accidentally signing things they shouldn't have been. That would have been horrifically too obvious.) That combined with Murphy's comment about bureaucracy - though I know that was supposed to be about the White Council over all, kind of felt a little like being hit over the head. Not a bad idea for a villain, just perhaps a little less subtle than I'm used to from Butcher?

2. You're right. :)

3. FBI werewolves for grate losings. Really. I mean, I liked the look inside the Special Investigations unit and I realise that no boilerplate, PI or PD novel seems to be complete without turf tensions with the FBI and I have no problem inherent with that (look at how much I love Shadowunit), but I just didn't like them. I didn't like the FBI agents, I didn't care about the resolution and I really didn't like any of the reasoning put forth about why they became werewolves. (Except "uh, cause my superiors were doing it and then it got scary".) It does remind me how much I miss Marcone though. Bring back Gentleman Johnny please! Especially now he's a signed member of the accords.

4. I forgot to mention one of my favourite scenes in the entire book. The Murphy scene! Not only are the two of them really growing up and finally listening to each other, but oh the head-kiss. It was really adorable. One of my biggest pet peeves in books is when there's a general feeling of "doom could be averted so easily, if only you ever talked to each other. Ever." and while I understood why they didn't previously, I love that they are growing and maturing and trusting each other more now. It's brilliant, although it did, sadly, mean that there was less Murphy in this book than I wanted.

(Do you get the feeling we're the only two Butcher fans listening? I know there are more of you out there! Come play!)

Mean Streets is going in my bag for my trip to Albany tomorrow. It's on the coffee table...or the window sill...or the cat is sitting on it. It's here somewhere. Will report back.
Phil Boswell
17. NotACat
Thank you very much for my complimentary copy, it made a fraught half-term week suddenly brighten up!

I enjoyed it hugely, and I especially liked the chance for another visit to a different venue, even though we didn't actually see a great deal of Edinburgh.

Can I just say that I spotted Peabody as the baddy right off? I was biting my lip as I neared the end of the book, wondering whether I'd been led down the garden path by a clever bit of misdirection, but it just seemed so obvious to me. The little scurrying guy, whom nobody really notices, has so much opportunity for mischief and mayhem.

@15.1: I'm sure we've seen Peabody before: wasn't he at Molly's trial back in "Proven Guilty"? And I'm not sure that he didn't appear even before then, but I'm away-from-text right now so can't check.

I had been surprised by the whole Harry-Luccio thing, so it came as no great shock to me to find out that it hadn't been completely spontaneous...although it didn't look like she was actually much worried about fighting the impulse off ;-)

I'm cheering on the Harry-Murphy 'ship in the meantime, in whatever form it takes. It might just be that in the end they both realise that their ideal romantic partner is indeed their best friend, and the latter is the vibe I'm getting off it right now. Regardless, unless something drastic happens, I can see them being BFF right up until (and hopefully beyond) that apocalyptic trilogy we're all looking forward to.

So now we just have to wait for the next instalment. That collection of shorts looks very appetising, any idea when that's likely to turn up?

In the meantime, I do have a question about "Small Favor" if I might beg an indulgence: why on earth is my paperback copy (signed courtesy of Dog-Eared Books and Jim ;-) about a half-inch taller than all the earlier books? (I'm not going to ask about how Orbit get away with spelling it wrong, that would just be needlessly worrying to all those pigeons, not to mention annoying to the cat.)

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