review: turn coat

Note: This is the 11th book in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher.  Spoilers will inevitably follow.  If you are new to this series, look away now and go find Storm Front, the first book in the series. You’ll be glad you did!

Turn Coat by Jim Butcher (2009)

If you’ve been around this blog for a while, you know that my opinion of the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher is that it is the exemplar par excellence urban fantasy series, and so many series follow in its footsteps (and if I may say so, struggle to stand outside its very long shadow). This series is a must-read. Period. It’s been a long, long time since I got lost in a Harry Dresden book. Each time I return (escape?) to Jim Butcher’s version of Chicago and spend some time with Harry and his friends, I wonder why I haven’t already consumed every last available page of this series. Then I remember why I’ve taken my time in getting caught up—as long as we were all still waiting for the 16th book in the series to get published (Peace Talks, which finally has a release date of July 2020), I saw no reason to rush. I also haven’t blown through the remaining books in the series because each one of these books is a lot to take in and digest. They’re not quick reads (especially not for this slow reader) and a lot happens in every book. Plus, I want to savor each one. But with Peace Talks on the horizon (and Battle Ground, the 17th book, scheduled for a late 2020 release!), I’m a bit more motivated to return to this series and finally get caught up. For any readers of this series who stopped somewhere before Turn Coat, or maybe put the series down and haven’t come back to it, you should definitely come back. Turn Coat is one of the books in this series that bears the burden of establishing the foundation for the next major plot arc for the series. Important moments happen in regard to many of Harry’s relationships—with his apprentice, Molly Carpenter, with his mentor, Ebenezer McCoy, with his longtime enemy/antagonist, Morgan, and with his brother, Thomas. There’s even a special moment between Harry and his best friend, Karrin Murphy. (Indeed, after that list, it becomes even more apparent to me why the next book in this series is titled Changes, a notable break in Butcher’s book naming conventions). So, if you’ve been unsure whether or not Turn Coat (or any of the books in the Dresden Files series, for that matter) is worth your book dollars, my opinion is that it definitely is. If your book budget has been stretched a bit thin due to COVID-19, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find these books in your local library (mine has them!). I’m going to do my best not to spoil the story, but here are a few things you might want to know about Turn Coat before you dive in.

Harry Dresden. You know how I’m always talking about how the protagonist of a series has to be compelling? So compelling that you want to follow them through the book and their latest adventure? Good news! Harry is just as compelling in Turn Coat as he has been in previous novels, though I have to say, there are some signs of trouble. When the book opens, Harry is suffering from a migraine and we learn that headaches have been plaguing him for months now. Sounds ominous and I’m worried about him, but before we can learn more about that problem, the Warden who has dogged Harry’s every footstep for years shows up on his doorstep begging for Harry’s help. Yes. Morgan is in trouble and on the run from the White Council, who believe he has killed a member of the Senior Council. For years, Morgan has watched Harry and waited for him to break one of the Laws of Magic, waited for the opportunity to haul him in front of the White Council so that justice can be served at long last and Harry can finally receive the punishment he escaped when he was a teenager. You cannot make too much out of this catalyst that sets the plot of the book into motion—Morgan is an innocent man on the verge of being executed for a crime he didn’t commit, and he seeks help from a man who knows exactly how that feels, who has been in that exact same situation. More than that, though, is the tension between justice and retribution exposed by Morgan’s current situation and Harry’s previous situation. Morgan’s predicament, and Harry’s pursuit of the truth of what happened and the identity of the real killer, invites readers to contemplate a difficult philosophical question–is it ever right to sacrifice the life of an innocent man in order to hold a community or a society or a nation together in order to prevent significant loss of life and a descent into civil war? But Butcher doesn’t stop with this question. He also wants readers to think about what constitutes a justified response when a marginalized, disenfranchised segment of the population loses the one representative with a seat at the table that has advocated for their interests as a result of an assassination plot. So when Harry agrees to help Morgan prove his innocence and find the real killer, the stakes of the game are incredibly high, with success or failure having far-reaching consequences. Why would you not want to follow Harry and watch what happens next?

I know. You thought you were getting a simple urban fantasy novel, a bit of escapist reading where you don’t have to think too hard about life, the universe, and everything. Sorry, not sorry?

I spend a lot of time talking about the supporting cast of characters that live within the protagonist’s world. One of the reasons I love this series so much is that Jim Butcher also spends a lot of time thinking about and developing Harry’s supporting cast. A lot happens to Harry in Turn Coat, but what is even more satisfying is that a lot happens to several supporting characters. Take that a step further and you won’t be shocked to discover that by the end of the book, not all of Harry’s relationships are the same as they were at the start. Part of the change has to do with loss—and in Turn Coat there are multiple types of losses. Loss of life, loss of innocence, loss of self, and perhaps most devastating of all, the loss of the chance to be a different version of yourself (for better or worse). Again, I don’t want to spoil the story, but just know that by the time the story ends, Harry’s relationships with Molly and Thomas in particular will be much different. What happens to them changes who they are, and yes, it helps them grow and develop as characters whose stories I get more and more invested in as the series progresses. They aren’t static, two-dimensional cardboard characters, nor are they used as plot devices to move the story or Harry’s character arc along. Molly and Thomas are as vibrant and compelling on the page as Harry, and I know I keep coming back to this series because not only do I want to know what’s next for Harry, but I want to know what’s next for his friends, too. If you have felt the same way about this series, then be assured that Turn Coat will not disappoint.

I hinted at Harry’s troubling migraines earlier. There are some other events that occur during the course of the story that signal great changes are on the way for Harry. I won’t spoil the details but I’ll drop a couple of words here, and you’ll know what I mean after you’ve read the book—Demonreach and the Grey Council. Yep. I cannot wait to find out what both of those are all about.

I wouldn’t say Turn Coat is the best book in this series, but it was really good and (sorry sorry for being such a fangirl!) so much better than a lot of books I’ve read recently in this genre. Plus, there was a reference to Hamlet and (maybe an accidental) reference to Othello all in the same chapter. Even though I haven’t read them yet, I can see how it has set the table excellently for what comes next. All of the books in the Dresden Files are recommended reads, and Turn Coat is no different. Changes is already on my bookshelf (and if I’m being honest, it’s been there for quite a while) and I’m already looking forward to another return trip to Harry Dresden’s Chicago.

Have you read Turn Coat or any of the previous books in the Dresden Files series? What did you think?

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