Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review: "Side Jobs" by Jim Butcher

For those left hanging and wondering by the somewhat shocking end to Jim Butcher’s last novel of the Dresden Files, “Changes,” here’s a collection that will help hold you over until the next installment this summer when we can find out just what the heck is going on with Harry.

“Side Jobs” ($25.95, Roc) collects a variety of Dresden stories from various anthologies over the years, and also gives readers a look at two never-before-published stories. Those two will likely be of most interest to fans.

The first, “A Restoration of Faith,” opens the book and also happens to be Butcher’s first tale of wizard private investigator Harry Dresden as he saves a runaway girl (who really doesn’t care to be saved) from a bridge troll in Chicago. It was not published, and you can see why when you read it, though it’s not as bad as Butcher seems to think judging by his opening commentary. I’ve read worse stories that did get published.

The collection closes with “Aftermath,” the story that fans will probably most anticipate. The novella takes place in the hours following the final scene of “Changes” (which I will try not to spoil here in case there are those out there who haven’t read it), and involves Sgt. Karrin Murphy and the werewolf couple Billy and Georgia. If you’re looking for the answers to your questions, you won’t get them here, but the story does offer a little taste of what might be to come in the next book. With Harry, though, you never know.

“Aftermath” gives readers, perhaps, a closer look than they’ve ever had before at Murphy, Harry’s No. 1 supporter on the Chicago PD and on-again, off-again romantic interest. It’s a theme that runs through the stories here – deeper glimpses into some of the characters that surround Harry. In “Backup,” the story is told from the viewpoint of Harry’s brother, White Court vampire Thomas Raith. In “The Warrior,” which is one of the better stories in the collection, we get some insight into Harry’s friend and retired angelic warrior Michael Carpenter, in addition to some very keen insights about Harry’s position in the great scheme ot good and evil as well. A couple of the stories, both involving magic that loosens inhibitions, build on the relationship between Harry and Murphy, and we even get a little peek inside the world of Mac, the bartender to the supernatural world.

All stories come with a brief introduction from Butcher explaining why they were all written and offering a little insight into each tale. It’s not necessary, but interesting background information.

The name of the anthology, “Side Jobs,” is certainly appropriate. The stories here were largely written for themed anthologies and, with a few exceptions, have little bearing on the overarching story of the novels. They’re just fun side trips along the way. That said, they’re entertaining and sure to be enjoyed by Butcher’s fans. Look at them as a little something extra to make the story of Harry Dresden just a little richer – and get us by until “Ghost Story” arrives in July to, hopefully, answer a few of the questions.

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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