Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
Publication Year: 2009
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Dresden Files, #11
Narrator: James Marsters
So I know titling this post "musings" is perhaps a little douchey and ridiculous but while I have some review-like thoughts to relate, most of what I have to say is sort tangentially related and not really fairly called a review. Semantics? Probably, but I don't want to be accused of false advertising:0). And I'm not sure what the most appropriate term to use if not musing....looking up synonyms, I like the looks of brooding and rumination but suspect they might be even more ridiculous. So enough. Below are some thoughts, many of them tending towards a review of Turn Coat.
The book begins with Morgan, a warden with a deep grudge against Harry, collapsing on Harry's doorstep and asking for help. He was found standing over the murdered corpse of one of the White Council members holding a knife but he has no idea how he got there. He fought his way free, being gravely injured in the process and decided that Harry's dingy apartment in Chicago is the very last place the other wardens and agents of the council would look for him. Despite his loathing for Morgan, Harry doesn't believe for a second that he killed a council member and he sets out to find out what really happened.
It had been ages since I had picked up the the preceding volume in the series..like 6 years...so I did have moments of confusion while reading Turn Coat. References to past happenings flew right over my head, but if you are in the same boat as me you'll be happy to know that while that was a minor annoyance it didn't really keep me from following and REALLY enjoying this book. As with the other Dresden novels it features non-stop, relentless action and it also introduces bucketfuls of international political intrigue. The intrigue isn't new but I did find it particularly interesting in this book especially because the ultimate ramifications in the series are exciting. Morgan may be innocent but his innocence does very few people any good and it could seriously screw up the uneasy balance between all the world's magical folk. Dresden has to wrestle with the whole idea of weighing the value of one man against the greater good. It's interesting to see what he chooses and why. There are also some major consequences in his personal life that had a serious emotional punch.
There are some really great scenes between Dresden and Murphy in this book as well. My favorite is when she kind of calls him on his shit and delivers this pretty thought-provoking and surprising defense of bureaucracy. She makes the case that being a rebel or going rogue are just flashy words for someone who likes things the way they like them and won't bend to other's ideas/preferences. While others may be wrong they are deserving of respect and bureaucracy is one of the mechanisms used to protect ALL ideas. It's interesting and it shows how well Murphy gets Dresden. They also have this really touching and rather intimate farewell scene when Harry is headed off into danger where she can't follow. It's a lovely throb of emotion in the middle of the chaos which is coalescing into the big showdown.
As might be apparent Murphy is really my favorite character in these books. In my opinion she is the only female character that is made real and given agency. She doesn't get the leering descriptions that most of the other female characters get, including Molly who at this point is more of a regular than Murphy. She's meant to be attractive but nothing special. A great cop and a loyal friend who isn't afraid to give Harry shit when he deserves it. She's solid and dependable. And while part of me really likes that Butcher has kept her and Harry's relationship platonic, another and probably larger part really wants to see them together romantically and as a team. These thoughts sparked a daydream where Murphy was actually the main character in the series and we get everything from her perspective as she becomes aware of this other magical world existing within our own mundane one. Like the Doctor's companions from Doctor Who - she would be the reader's entry point into this crazy world. Maybe 3 or 4 books down the road she finally gets fired from the Chicago PD and goes into business with Harry, she providing the gun power and common sense and he the magic. I REALLY want this series. Any fan fiction writers out there willing to take this on? Pretty please?
Somewhat related to the above I also kept my eyes peeled for any chauvinism and right wing ideals being preached in the book. I had recently seen Butcher's name associated with the Sad Puppies group that is currently playing havoc in the SFF genre world particularly the Hugos. I've always felt the Dresden Files books are certainly of a more masculine bent than many books I read but it had never bothered me or alienated me as I'd experienced with a few other books (ex: Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid series). And I didn't really notice anything here. As mentioned above Butcher does have a very leering male gaze way of describing many of the female characters but he used similar descriptive flourishes when describing Thomas, Dresden's preternaturally hot half brother. I didn't pick up on any other obvious red flags either. As I said - Murphy in particular is a fantastic, capable, intelligent and strong female character. I wish she got more page time but other than that she's a good female role model. Furthermore, the overall politics, if it ever appears, is neutral. See above that he actually, sort of seems to make an argument defending bureaucracy as a mechanism for protecting diverse ideas. I'd be interested to hear what others' thoughts on this! FOLLOWUP NOTE: I have since begun reading the next book in the series, Changes, and actually have noticed some troubling things in it which I guess I will discuss when I get to it. One particularly glaring thing was Harry telling another male character he doesn't like that having his hair dyed blonde makes him look "gay" and he doesn't mean happy. Seriously Butcher?
And finally, the most damning thing I can say about this book? It claims there are Cottonmouths in Chicago which is, patently, ridiculous. It is a common mis-perception that cottonmouths or water moccasins are found everywhere. They are not. They are a southern species. Not every snake you see in the water is a cottonmouth! And yes this is a nit only a wildlife biologist would pick:).
I should end by commenting that James Marsters' narration of the audio version of this book is really, really excellent! He nails all the humor and captures Dresden's voice perfectly. I was a little wary as I'd listened to another book narrated by him in a different series and it wasn't very good but he's in top form here!
FINAL VERDICT: One of my favorite of the series! Non-stop action as one comes to expect in a Dresden novel but sprinkled with some more thoughtful and emotional moments that work really well. A fun and meaty romp! 4 out of 5 stars.