Turn Coat, by Jim Butcher (Dresden #11)

  • TITLE: Turn Coat (The Dresden Files #11)
  • AUTHOR: Jim Butcher
  • PUBLISHER: Orbit (UK)
  • PUBLISHED: April 2009

I liked Turn Coat a lot more than I thought I would, given the subject matter. Morgan is being hunted by the Wardens (oh, irony, hello there) and naturally, as a man on the run accused of something he didn’t do, he turns to Harry for help. Luckily, the irony of this is not lost on Harry, either.

On Goodreads I was forced to give this a 4/5 star review, where in fact, I wanted to give it a 4.5/5 rating. Here’s why: Turn Coat is very exciting, even for a Dresden Files book, and it’s also really, really good. It punches, it kicks and though nearly every thread of plot ends with a bitter tang, it also finishes with hope. It’s a damn good book. It left me bitter, but applauding Butcher as a writer, for having gone with what feels right for both his characters and his plot. But damn, it’s harsh. The last thing this harsh was the line about things not going together: orange juice and toothpaste; me and Susan.

A lot happens in this book, but unlike Small Favour where too much happens and the plot seems staged, contrived and stretched, nothing of the sort happens here. Turn Coat is a subtle book with a subtle villain—something I don’t feel Butcher has attempted before—and it works.

Morgan turns up at Harry’s door wounded and knee deep in trouble, and as the caring, sharing guy Harry is, he decides to lend a hand. Never mind the history between them, Harry flat-out refuses to let an innocent man go down for the murder of a member of the Senior Council. Furthermore, there’s something big and nasty stomping around Chicago, and Harry’s having none of it. Turn Coat is a book where Harry grows up and matures, a lot. After a disastrous soulgaze with the Big Nasty, Harry is forced to rely upon friends and call on them for aid. The result is one death and a good maiming, and instead of wallowing about it and subsequently shutting out the world—as Harry has been known to do—he merely takes it in his stride and understands that stuff happens, and he can’t always protect every person who allies with him, or with whom he allies himself. It’s a big lesson for Harry, and one that’s been a long time coming. It’s a big change from the days where, at the slightest sniff of danger, Harry would keep potential allies (and friends) in the dark. Naturally, this only led to more trouble, and Harry finally seems to have realised that.

Furthermore, the change of scenery was very welcome. The HQ of the White Council presently occupies a network of tunnels and passageways and great halls and chambers that sit in the underbelly of Edinburgh. It was great seeing more of the inner workings of the Council, even to a small extent, rather than just the fusty, grumpy wizards that attend and frequent the meetings we’re been allowed to glimpse and attend through Harry’s eyes thus far. Up until now we’ve seen the Senior Council as wizards, but very rarely ever as men.

In addition, instead of the Senior Council standing around idle while Harry is seemingly the only wizard wont to put himself in danger, we see many of the big wizards throwing some pretty powerful punches. We get to really see the firepower behinds the bigwigs on the Council—McCoy, Injun Joe, Ancient Mai—and it excellently contributes towards the overall idea that Harry is a wizard who is part of something bigger. Until now, we’ve heard of the bigger machine in which Harry acts as a cog, but we’ve scarcely seen it roll.

I’ve been dreading this book since I found out it centred heavily on Morgan, I’ll be honest. Donald Morgan is, frankly, a dick. He’s one of the more infuriating semi-but-not-quite antagonists throughout the Dresden Files, and a book about him? Hell no. Instead, I thoroughly enjoyed every damn minute of it, and will swallow my prior moaning and groaning. There’s something about how the whole book plays out that just works. We see another side of Morgan—granted, it’s not entirely removed from the sides we’ve already seen—a side where he’s more honour than hate and paranoia, and certainly more “human”. He’s got a good character arc, I’ll say that much.

It was nice to see something set up in Small Favour become relevant, showing that Butcher hasn’t suddenly stopped weaving plotlines throughout the series, even at this late stage. The island. Granted, that it was presented in Small Favour detracts from how I approached it: it seemed forced because it was first introduced in Small Favour, and since that was a very staged and forced book, it took away a little from how great a point this could have been. The notion of the island, its power and history, and Harry’s eventual relationship with it was a shade or two less awesome because the island seemed a necessary tool in Small Favour rather than a natural destination on the course of the plot. It was a plot device in Small Favour, whereas in Turn Coat it seemed to naturally fit in.

Turn Coat was a return to everything good about a Harry Dresden novel, without the negative points that have been scattered across the series to date. It only missed out on a perfect star rating because it didn’t live up to the brilliance of the novels that I did award five stars to; it wasn’t perfect enough to be considered on par with the likes of Summer Knight, Blood Rites, et al.

Fantastic character development, brilliant plotting, and a well-executed ending that saw Butcher develop an idea and stick to his guns, regardless of how hard-hitting it would be. The ending of Turn Coat is like a relentless tide of smarting punches that hit hard and fast. It is a very big novel in terms of plot, and definitely a great direction for the series. Even this far through, Butcher is showing that he still has it.



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