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Some time ago, I read the ninth book from Jim Butcher's ''Dresden Files'' series. ''White Night'' was a decent enough book, but did conform to a couple of the more obvious clichés and this took the edge off it for me. But with the eleventh in the series, Butcher seems to have been improving as he goes along and I found ''Turn Coat'' to be far more enjoyable.
Over the years, Harry Dresden has been adept at getting himself into trouble with the Wardens, who uphold the rules of magic he is bound by. This time, however, the boot is on the other foot. Warden Morgan, who has been Dresden's chief persecutor, has committed a crime for which the sentence will be death. He comes to Dresden seeking his help to both hide and clear him. Despite knowing that complicity could mean his own death, Dresden nonetheless agrees to help, believing that Morgan could never have committed the crime he stands accused of.
Dresden's investigations unearth a conspiracy deeper than he ever imagined. It appears that the White Council of wizards may have a rival and hidden Black Council trying to cause trouble and enlisting the help of some members of the White Court of vampires. As if this wasn't bad enough, there is a virtually invincible skinwalker on the scene and it's clearly not there to help Dresden. Add in Dresden's werewolf and faerie associates and there is a lot going on.
This is the aspect of the story I enjoyed most, in that you could never be sure exactly what was going to happen next or who would be the focus of the next page. Dresden is most heavily involved, but there is such a wide range of fantastical beings around, that the styles and attitudes are constantly shifting. There were so many twists and turns that the unexpected was usually the most likely outcome. This helps to keep the reader off balance as much as Dresden was, which helped draw me into the tale, knowing I had something in common with the lead character.
Telling the story from Dresden's point of view also added to the immediacy of the action for me. Seeing through his eyes gives you the best perspective on the story, as most things happened around or to him. We also get to experience the whole range of Dresden's emotions, which run from terror to lust and through most places in the middle. With all the action going on, there are a lot of emotions flying around and Butcher describes these very well, which helped me to feel a great affinity for Dresden.
Dresden is a no-nonsense character, so he doesn't tend to waste time in detailed descriptions of people and places, usually painting in broad strokes. Only when he's under stress or focussing hardest does he go into much detail and this is usually describing actions more than locations or people. But this felt a lot more realistic, as it's how you would see things yourself in such a story, as it's natural you would remember more about the things that require you to concentrate the most. Of course, it could be that his descriptions were most vivid when talking about scantily clad female vampires that helped this appeal to me.
It helped that I really liked Dresden as a character. He's got a world weary air and a dry, self-deprecating and sometimes sarcastic sense of humour, much like my own. There are a lot of parts in the narration where Butcher plays on the series having become a TV show, as there are a lot of lines that I could see working as an aside to camera. These were generally the funniest moments of all and whilst the style may be a bit of a cliché, the lines themselves rarely were.
As good as this was, it wouldn't be any use if the story were poorly written. This far into a series, there are references back to things I've missed, but these didn't impact the flow of the book as much as with others I've read. Butcher is skilled at focussing attention more on the present than the past and I rarely wondered about what I'd been missing. This was the only negative part of the book for me, and it barely counts, having as little impact as it did.
The combination of all these factors made it an enjoyable read, although it does fit nicely into the kind of things I like, which helped. I always enjoy tales of the magical and fantastic and Butcher combines this with a slightly Chandler-esque feel that I also enjoy. Butcher seems to be growing with every book and I'm pleased to see that the more clichéd aspects of the story that I felt spoiled the flow of ''White Night'' are gone here. What's left is an exciting and fun story and I'm certainly looking forward to seeing if he can keep this up. This far into the "Dresden Files" series, "Turn Coat" may not be the best place to start, but at £1.00 from eBay, it's certainly well worth reading.