Turn Coat: Butcher has wobbled off course

Jim Butcher The Dresden Files Turn CoatJim Butcher Dresden Files Turn Coat fantasy book reviewsTurn Coat by Jim Butcher

I like Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series. I like the idea of a wizard-detective in novel-noir Chicago, VI Warshawski with testicles and a magical staff instead of high heels. I liked the wise-crackery of the early books, I appreciated the whimsy of Harry’s potion-making, and I loved his brown leather, weatherproof, spell-laden duster, one of the coolest pieces of outerwear in fiction. With Turn Coat, the eleventh book in the series, however, Butcher has wobbled off course.

First and foremost, he cheats on the mystery. Butcher gives us a murder that ripples across the overarching multi-book plot he has been developing. A “minority member” of the wizards’ White Council has been murdered, apparently by another wizard, the Merlin’s sword arm and Harry’s nemesis, Morgan. Plainly Morgan has been framed, perhaps by the Red Court Vampires who are in a cold war with the wizards, perhaps by the agents of the Oblivion War, or perhaps by a group of unknowns Harry has dubbed “the Black Council.” Harry reluctantly agrees to shelter Morgan and uncover the real murderer/traitor.

Here’s where Butcher cheats. He gives us clues that make it obvious who the murderer should be, but switches away at the last minute to a straw-man character he’s just set up. If the book were a stand-alone, only about solving a murder, this might have been fine. This book isn’t a stand-alone. It’s about uncovering a conspiracy that has been brewing over several books… several books in which Straw Man never made an appearance. Cheat, Cheat! No fair.

This is either a failure of will or a bad tactical decision on Butcher’s part. Maybe he’s saving the real villain for a later book. If so, please remind me to act surprised.

In a larger sense, Turn Coat has some other problems. The White Council is starting to look like an apparatus from Harry Potter, not Harry Dresden — a hidebound bureaucracy at odds with the few really “cool” wizards, like Harry with his badass coat. Substitute “Hogwarts” for “Edinburgh” and there you are.

A few intriguing clues about Harry’s mysterious mother, Margaret, help out the book, the island of Demonreach is top-drawer awesome, and there is a mano a mano battle between shapeshifters that is exactly as great as it should be. The incubi/succubi White Court vampires are overexposed, however, in more than one sense. And Molly? Can’t she go off to beauticians’ school or something, just for a while?

Jim. Get back on track. Give us a stand-alone Dresden book, Harry with Murphy at his side, where he finally delves into the history of his mysterious wizard mother.


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MARION DEEDS is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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3 comments

  1. Hmm.. I think you might be in for further disappointment in the next book. Personally I like the grown-up Dresden. I love the early books, but I accept the fact that times are getting serious, and Dresden is finding less and less to crack jokes about. I thought it showed maturity of the writer to be able to grow his character from book to book and not necessarily in a positive way. I definitely see your points though, and I can see how the changes might be disconcerting to certain fans. I’m really curious how you will feel about Changes.

  2. Justin;

    While I missed the detective-wizard Harry in Changes, I thought Butcher made the issues real. I like your use of the word grown-up (although I don’t think being a battle-mage makes you a “grown-up.”) I thought the choices Harry had to make in Changes were believable given the stakes.

  3. Justin,

    I just read your fine review of Changes. I’m sure Jim Butcher is relieved that he won’t find frowny-face e-mails in his in-box!

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