Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Turn Coat

My flaws as a writer are pretty obvious. Even just from looking at this blog. I write long, rambly sentences. I'm overly fond of parenthetical clauses, which make my already too long sentences torturous to read. My writing often has a scatter-brained stream of consciousness feel to it.

Reading my review of The Ginger Star, I find it almost unreadable. And I'm the one who wrote it! As an excuse, I can only offer up that I had stayed up way too late the night before finishing it, so that I could write that review. Plus, I was interrupted a lot while writing it. Not the best environment.

Of course, if that's all true, then this review will probably be completely incoherent. After having Jim Butcher's Turn Coat in the house for the better part of five weeks now, I finally started reading it yesterday. Now, about 24 hours later, I'm done. Turn Coat is over 400 pages. You do the math. I got about three hours of sleep last night. I'm cruising on fumes and Mt. Dew right now.

When I embarked on this project of re-reading all of the Dresden Files books in preparation for the release of Changes in a couple of weeks, I decided I'd write reviews of all of the books as I did so, since the first time around I hadn't reviewed any of them. What I didn't foresee, although I absolutely should have, was that by the time I was at the 11th review, I would have said almost everything critically that I could possibly scrounge up to pass muster as a meaningful comment about the series.

So, what can I add at this point about Turn Coat itself? I had said that at the end of the last volume, Small Favor, the series had taken a much darker turn and been left in a bit of a cliffhanger. I compared the tone to that at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Butcher manages to stretch that tone out a bit further. The main problem confronting Harry this time around is the conspiracy and traitor(s) within the White Council itself. Despite this lack of overt supernatural threat (well, wizards are supernatural, but less so than, say, a fallen angel or a vampire) the situation in which Harry finds himself is about as bad as its ever gotten for him. I remember reading in a "How to Write a Bestseller" type book once that the key to great structure for a novel is to put the protagonist in a dark, terrible place... and then keep piling it on repeatedly, making it worse and worse for him as the novel progresses. Butcher also manages to hold to this advice on a macro-level; from book to book Harry's situation gets worse. He has small victories--the resolution of the specific plot of each novel--but overall the world get much more dangerous every time the series advances.

This is also true for the personal relationships in Harry's life. Another theme of this novel could be Harry's increased isolation, in some ways. Two supporting characters, who had a major role in his personal life, take a serious turn for the worse by the end of the novel, raising the question of how much Harry can continue to count on them.

However, I think one thing Butcher did in this one didn't quite work. As cats-paws of the shadowy conspiracy, Butcher introduces a small team of supernatural bad-guys. They're not the main villains of the piece, but they end up being the main villain's "muscle" if you will. This includes Binder, a kind of wizard who only does one spell (although he does it very well), another White Court succubus, and the naagloshii, or skinwalker (turns out the actual Navajo word is yee naaldlooshii, not naagloshii, but I can forgive Butcher simplifying that spelling.)

I think the concept of the skinwalker is fine, but Butcher really built the skinwalker up, and then it turned out to be a bit of a let-down in reality. It's not nearly as scary as even Finn the werewolf from way back in Fool Moon. Anyway, that particular critter made a clean escape, so I've no doubt it'll make a return visit. But in general, I found its big reveal underwhelming.

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