Tuesday, June 2, 2009

“Turn Coat” turns the tables on Harry Dresden

Before I give you my latest book review from the Leisure Reading section, I have to confess a “guilty pleasure” of mine. I’m addicted to urban fantasy novels. In case you’re unfamiliar with the genre, urban fantasy takes elements of fantasy (such as magic, wizards, vampires, werewolves, fairies, etc) and puts them in a contemporary setting, usually a modern city such as Chicago (Harry Dresden’s beat). Some of the tension in the stories often comes from the desire of the supernatural creatures to conduct their business out of sight of the average person and keep their existence a secret from the wider community. Popular novels for young people such as the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and the Twilight books by Stephanie Meyer are considered by some to fit the definition of urban fantasy, as are the Anita Blake series by Laurell K. Hamilton, the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris, and my particular favorites, the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs and Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files.

Turn Coat is the eleventh and most recent Dresden Files novel, and while it is an outstanding read, I think newcomers to the series would be better served by starting with the first novel, Storm Front. It would be best to have some grasp of Harry’s world before reading Turn Coat, because this is the book that turns everything upside down.

Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is a private investigator, and the only wizard listed in the Chicago phone directory. One of the aspects of this series that I love is the way Butcher infuses his fantasy with good old-fashioned elements of noir mystery. Harry Dresden’s been described by critics as a cross between Spenser and Merlin, and his world as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” written by Philip Marlowe. As most private-eye books do, Turn Coat starts with a knock on the door. This time it’s not a client at his office, but one of his worst enemies who’s shown up at his home, badly injured and wanted by the authorities. This particular individual, a wizard named Morgan, has hounded Dresden for years, searching for evidence against him to turn over to the wizards’ White Council. But now it’s Morgan who has been accused of treason against the wizards’ governing body. The sentence is death, and Morgan looks very guilty indeed. Will Harry help his old enemy to clear his name? Is Morgan guilty? Can Harry find the real “turn coat” and uncover the conspiracy at the very heart of the White Council? And can he do so without bringing himself under suspicion?

Well, of course I’m not going to tell you the answers to all those questions and spoil the fun. I will say that regular readers of the series will be pleased to see the return of several recurring characters, and some minor characters fleshed out in this novel. There’s plenty of action, suspense and betrayal, as the Black Council (whose existence has been officially denied by those in charge) is revealed, and the scene is set for a major confrontation between the forces of good and evil. There are a couple of pretty nasty new monsters introduced into the mix as well. I would recommend this series both to fantasy buffs and to mystery readers with a taste for the supernatural, and long-time fans of Harry Dresden will not be disappointed in his latest outing.

Other urban fantasy novels in our Leisure Reading section include The Outlaw Demon Wails by Kim Harrison, From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris (this series has been adapted for television as HBO’s True Blood) and The First Death by Laurell K. Hamilton, a Marvel Comics-produced graphic novel that’s a prequel to the Anita Blake series.

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