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Side Jobs: Stories From the Dresden Files Hardcover – October 26, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Fans of Butcher's long-running and bestselling urban fantasy series featuring Chicago wizard PI Harry Dresden were stunned by the concluding events of the 2010 novel Changes. They'll probably want to skip ahead to the last of this collection's 11 stories, "Aftermath," set just hours after the end of that book. With Dresden's fate uncertain, it's his longtime ally, Sgt. Karrin Murphy, who must help find a kidnapped werewolf. This entry is the collection's strongest, full of powerful emotion. The rest of the book is a mixed bag, ranging from Butcher's first attempt at short fiction--"a novice effort" that "wasn't up to par for professional publication"--to more recent tales set around and between the novels. First-timers will be lost, and this uneven volume mostly makes the case that Butcher's talent is best displayed in longer form. (Nov.) (c)
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These are Butcher’s short pieces about Harry Dresden. (Previous novels featuring that character, which the author’s many fans will recall with pleasure, include Proven Guilty, 2006, and White Knight, 2007). Most of these stories are reprints (“Something Borrowed,” “It’s My Birthday, Too,” “Day Off,” and “Last Call” are included), but the collection offers some previously unpublished material. Butcher has not only given the genesis of each story but also indicates where each fits chronologically among the novels. Anyone who likes the Harry Dresden long works probably thinks it’s high time this collection came out. Enjoy, but be warned that there is a sequel to Changes (2010) in the collection. --Frieda Murray
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Instead, this collection is a set of alternate perspectives: stories from the viewpoint of Thomas or Murphy, a story that shows us Harry when he was just starting out as a detective, a story that focuses on Harry when he's *not* working on a case and just trying to take a day off, a story that focuses on the Carpenter family, so forth. Butcher includes a paragraph or two of commentary at the head of each story, so we get to find out what *his* perspective is on each of the stories, too. A fair number of them were initially written for theme anthologies, so there's a certain amount of "Harry Dresden Does a Wedding Story" or "Harry Dresden Does a Birthday Story" going on, but each stands on its own merits, and fans of the series will be very satisfied with what they get here (as long as they aren't looking for answers to major plot arcs).
In fact, I'd go so far as to call this a "must read" for dedicated fans of the Dresden books: not only does each story have plenty of the action, comedy, and "Crowning Moments of Awesome" that have made the series so successful to date, but dedicated fans will find answers too all kinds of minor side puzzles that Butcher hasn't necessarily addressed head-on in the novels (like more information about Gard's true nature). That said, if you've read all the other stories in here already and are picking this up just for _Aftermath_ because you want answers to what happened after _Changes_, you won't get clear ones; _Aftermath_ is told from Murphy's perspective, not Harry's, and it's more about how Murphy personally processes the, well, aftermath of the events in that book. While we do get a few more pieces of the puzzle, it looks like we'll have to wait for the next full novel, Ghost Story, before we see the whole picture.
I would not recommend this anthology as a starting place for new readers to the series; instead, start with either Storm Front, the first full novel, or Welcome to the Jungle, a graphic novel set before the events of Storm Front. Reading this collection first would spoil pretty much every major surprise in the series to date, so yeah, don't do that.
Alternatively, you could pick this collection up and then flip back and forth between it and the novels, reading in proper sequence. If you want to do that, here's a list of the stories in this volume, in chronological order:
A Restoration of Faith...(before the first book, Storm Front)
Vignette.......................Between Death Masks (5) and Blood Rites (6)
Something Borrowed.......Between Dead Beat (7) and Proven Guilty (8)
It's My Birthday, Too.....Between White Knight (9) and Small Favor (10)
Heorot..........................Between White Knight (9) and Small Favor (10)
Day Off.........................Between Small Favor (10) and Turn Coat (11)
Backup..........................Between Small Favor (10) and Turn Coat (11)
The Warrior...................Between Small Favor (10) and Turn Coat (11)
Last Call.....................Between Small Favor (10) and Turn Coat (11)
Love Hurts....................Between Small Favor (10) and Turn Coat (11)
The second reason for reading this book is, of course, the final story in the book. "Aftermath" takes place shortly after the end of "Changes," a book certain to win the World Fantasy Award for Most Apt Title. There are no spoilers in this review, but it is probably influenced by the peculiar fact pattern: due to a death in the family of a close friend, I had taken Monday off from work, and somebody at the post office screwed up and delivered my copy one day early. Perhaps the coincidence between external loss and Harry Dresden's situation at the end of "Changes" colored my appreciation, but I was actually kind of grateful for this story. It's at one and the same time unusually interesting and deeply unsatisfying, a change of pace and a coy hinting at future directions -- much in the manner of a funeral, I realize. Butcher carries on the narrative from a wholly unexpected point of view, which I found both refreshing and convincing. He answers few of my questions - well, none, actually - while raising still more. What I valued about this little intermezzo was the way it deepened some of the characters in the Dresden universe, central and peripheral, hero and villain. It doesn't really satify my hunger for the next novel, yet it's a healthy dissatisfaction after a worthwhile read. These are all fun stories, sometimes comedic, sometimes thoughtful, and at the end rather wistful.
Thanks, Mr. Butcher. You made one rather bad day a little better.