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Read yesterday, Tuesday, July 26th.

The latest novel of the Dresden Files, urban fantasy starring Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professional wizard. The Dresden books are a lot of fun, have moments of genuine good and moments of genuine suck, and do try not to be the same book every time. If you don't already read them, this is not where you come in. Too much backstory. This is like book eleven or twelve and while book one is not great, starting somewhere in the three-four range will do you better.

A non-spoilery assessment: Fascinating. This is definitely Butcher trying new things in several directions, some of which I like immensely and some of which I would like him to stop immediately. It has one of the tighter plots I've seen Butcher handle, interwoven with entirely too much in the way of brooding about previous moral decisions and backstory. It feels like a transitional book to me, old series status quo becoming a different thing emerging (hey, the last book was called Changes), and the new voice hasn't settled in solidly but is definitely present. On the structural level, it's kind of weirdly paced; there's so much going on that I suspect that part of the reason for the aforementioned brooding is to give the reader a breathing space. There aren't many natural pauses in the plot, and Butcher knows that there need to be lulls but is obviously fighting his page count to get all the plot into it. In the past, he's done a lot of A-plot, B-plot, and one plot would provide distraction/rest when the other one was slow/heated up. This book is not run that way and consequently needed to have the pauses built into the main thread. The couple of natural pauses that aren't brooding are actually very good, though.

And this is a more ambitious novel, structurally and in several other ways, than I've seen out of him before. I admire his determination not to let his series sit where it was-- honestly, I suspect he could have written the previous sort of book forever and people would have kept buying them. So I think that despite the occasional shakiness, this is a good direction, and it's certainly an entertaining book (he got the entertaining down a while ago and it hasn't gone away, which is always the danger when you hit slice-and-dice on your series' core concepts).

Do I think this is great literature, or going to be? Oh fuck no. But this series is some of the most enjoyable idfic I read, and the better he gets at it, the happier I'll be. And this is a clear sign that he's working really hard at getting better at it, and pretty much succeeding. I'll take it.

Spoilery thoughts. )
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A collection of short stories (and two novellas) set in the Dresden Files universe. One is original to this volume, two have previously appeared on the author's website, and the rest are from various anthologies.

This is a book that assumes you have read the entire previous series. In fact, the final novella is set after the most recent one, so unless you are the kind of person who can somehow magically manage to read only part of a book (I do not understand this, but I am assured it occasionally happens), it's probably best to have read the entire previous series. If you haven't, you start with Storm Front; Harry Dresden is Chicago's only professional wizard, it's urban fantasy without that being code for paranormal romance, and while we are not talking Great Literature we are talking a consistently entertaining ongoing series that shows upshifts in writerly quality on a fairly regular basis.

The stories here vary somewhat in craftsmanship-- they include Butcher's first attempt at a short story ever, which is, uh, an instructive example of its type (props for putting it in, though, since he obviously knows)-- but are mostly tight work, focused on magical blowing-stuff-up and on allowing minor characters their moments to be badass or entertaining. I particularly liked the one in which the resident Valkyrie gets to go into full combat mode. As usual, there's a fair amount of humor; Harry Dresden thinks he's funny, and sometimes he even kind of is. These suffer from the usual problem that short stories affiliated with long-running novels series have, in that they cannot advance the overall plot significantly because there is no guarantee that the people who read the novels will read or even hear about the relevant anthologies. (The only writer I know to have broken this unspoken rule is Lois McMaster Bujold with 'Winterfair Gifts', which drove me nuts until it was reprinted in the omnibus because a) I couldn't find the anthology and b) it had nothing else I wanted to read in it anyway. So, even though this consigns short stories set in the continuities of ongoing novels to the realms of character study, plot-that-appears-to-go-somewhere-and-doesn't, second-verse-same-as-the-first, and comedic interlude, it's a good unspoken rule and I would appreciate people continuing to follow it.)

I suspect that Jim Butcher is enjoying the challenge of trying to write readable Dresden Files stories which follow this rule while nonetheless having some heft to them. And he's doing a pretty decent job. A couple of the stories will give you information that simply has no way to get into the novels proper at this time, and which I suspect will be revealed in entirely different ways than these stories work with if the novels ever get to that. And I liked the final novella, 'Aftermath', almost more for the clever way in which it takes place after Changes without spoiling anything for the book what is not out yet than I like it as a story for itself, because that is a neat little line to dance on, there.

So this is fun, as all Dresden books are, although I do not necessarily recommend reading it in one sitting because it can get a little same-y, and it's not essential for understanding of the greater series.

Also, Harry Dresden plays D&D. He is of course a barbarian. I wish that scene had gone on a lot longer. Sadly, when encountering LARPers he does not actually LARP. One may I suppose hope for the future.


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