Turn Coat, the newly released 11th book in the Dresden Files, is a major turning point for the series, both in terms of the overarching plot as well as thematically. Jim Butcher is as masterful a writer as always, balancing deftly humor and horror, black and white morality coexisting paradoxically with dark philosophical quandaries.
Of course those of you who have read the series hardly need to be told how engaging Harry Dresden’s exploits are. Scenes like Harry’s romp through Chicago riding a zombie T-Rex comes immediately to mind, but it is far from alone in the “freaking awesome” category of Dresden’s adventures. For those who haven’t read the series I offer this description of Harry, given by his half-brother Thomas in the novella Backup:
Harry’s a wizard. A genuine, honest-to-goodness wizard. He’s Gandalf on crack and an IV of Red Bull, with a big leather coat and a .44 revolver in his pocket. He’ll spit in the eye of gods and demons alike if he thinks it needs to be done, and to hell with the consequences—and yet somehow my little brother manages to remain a decent human being.
Urban fantasies have become one of the biggest sub-genres of fantasy recently, steadily growing in popularity since the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice. So take it as no small feat when I say that Dresden is, in my opinion, the best urban fantasy series out there. The stories are believable, (even when recounting the utterly fantastic) the characters likable but humanly limited and flawed.
Turn Coat wastes no time in ramping up the action. The very first page has Warden Morgan (all around jerk and nemesis of Dresden) showing up on Dresden’s doorstep, wanted for murder and on the run. Dresden has no reason to help Morgan, especially after all the years Morgan spent persecuting Dresden, but unfortunately Dresden knows Morgan is a jerk, not a traitor. As a whodunit story it’s fairly straightforward, but well executed. My only complaint is that it was a bit too easy to figure out who the real killer is, but then again the focus of the story is different than it would be as a pure mystery.
Spoiler Warning: From here on in I talk about the book’s impact on the series as a whole, so there will be some spoilers.
I spoke of this being a turning point for the series and it is in many ways. Harry’s suspicions about a “Black Council” of wizards working from the shadows has been hinted at and theorized about in several of the earlier books, but never actually seen. Turn Coat is where that finally changes, and the first open moves by the Black Council are made. Their goals and size remain a mystery, but after this their existence is no longer in doubt. The novel is also the darkest of the series, reflecting something of the maturing process Dresden himself has gone through. Dresden can no longer afford to be naïve, convincing himself that all will turn out just fine or ignoring the fact that his world is getting worse. People he cares about die, wrongs aren’t righted, matters and relationships worsen. This is not a book with a rosy ending. But Dresden goes on. That is the key to the whole series. Whether he is facing down fallen angels with millennia of experience, fighting skin-walkers with magnitudes of power over him, or enduring being mistaken for his brother’s gay partner, Dresden never stops. Dresden’s open grave (a ‘gift’ from a vampire) proclaims that Harry, “Died doing the right thing.” Of course, that vampire hadn’t planned on the grave being empty for long, but it doesn’t matter. That is who Dresden is. No matter how bad things get, how uncertain or grey, Harry Dresden will do the right thing.
[tags]The Dresden Files, Urban Fantasy, Fantasy Books, literature[/tags]