Thursday, January 23, 2014

Turn Coat (a book review post)

Turn Coat by Jim Butcher may be the first of his Dresden novels that I am truly ambivalent about. On the one hand, I really enjoyed reading it. On the other... let's just say it has some problems. And this is going to be spoilery. Be warned.

The easy stuff:
The editor needs to go back to editing school. The comma usage was distracting. Not everywhere but enough that they frequently made me stop and say, "Why is there a comma here in the middle of this sentence?" To write that as it would probably appear in Turn Coat: "Why is there a comma, here in the middle of this sentence?" or "Why is there a comma here in the middle, of this sentence?" I shouldn't be stopped by oddly placed commas. Just sayin'.
[And, yeah, I know; most people will not be stopped or even slowed down by the commas, but I kept tripping on them, and that was annoying.]

As with all of the Dresden books, I found this one an enjoyable read. I mean, I found the reading of it enjoyable. I find the character of Dresden enjoyable, and I really want to see where Butcher is taking us on this meta-plot he has running. However, whenever I stopped to think about this one, I would become annoyed.

As the title may indicate, this book deals with the idea of a traitor. Specifically, there is a traitor in the White Council. Okay, fine, I can deal with that. The issue here is that for the story to have any meaning, any impact on the reader, it really needs to be a character we've already met. For it to really mean something to the reader, it needs to be a character we like, even if it's a minor character. Yes, that would mean that Butcher would have to mess up the life of one of his characters, but that's what writers do, right? Evidently, that was too much to ask of Butcher because, about 1/4 of the way through the book, we're introduced to a completely unlikable character that Dresden immediately has issues with. The astute reader knows at that moment that that is the traitor. So, yeah, at not quite 25% of the way through the book, I knew where it was going, so there was this pervasive disappoint as I read. I just kept hoping that maybe I was wrong and it would actually be someone like Ebenezer and we'd all be shocked, but I knew that it wasn't going to be anyone like that.

So, you know, great, Butcher introduced a character that we didn't like just to kill him off. No emotional payoff at all.

There are some other things that don't make a lot of sense, either:
1. Why in the heck is the skinwalker working for Peabody? The skinwalker is some ancient evil creature; why does it care at all about what Peabody wants? [Granted, this may become more clear as the scope of the Black Council is revealed, but it felt more like Butcher just needing to up his game from the previous bad guys Dresden has had to fight.]
2. Why does the skinwalker kidnap Thomas? This doesn't actually make any sense within the context of the story or the skinwalkers behavior throughout the rest of the book. He just shows up and takes Thomas and leaves. What the heck? Sure, I get that Butcher wants this traumatic event to happen to Thomas to get him to embrace his vampire ways, but none of what happened felt genuine.

Also, there's the issue of the Black Council. This is probably not an issue for other readers so much, but it reminds me too much of the Black Aes Sadai (I think that's what they were called; something like that, anyway) from Wheel of Time and the black whatever they were from Sword of Truth. I'm not saying that he copied the idea, but it just feels like the same concept going on, and I find that particular thing annoying.

On the other hand, there is the ending where Dresden actually lives up to the title of the book, a thing which I'm not going to explain, but, at least, the whole turn coat thing wasn't just about Peabody. That said, I think what I need from Butcher with these books is for them not to keep feeling like Butcher is screwing with Dresden for the sake of screwing with Dresden. The thing with Thomas just feels like one of those things where they have a good relationship and, so, you have to screw it up, because the main character isn't allowed to have good relationships, and Butcher had to contrive a way for that to happen. A way that felt contrived. The same with the stuff with Anastasia.

So... I enjoyed the read but am annoyed by the book overall. I'd say it probably comes in at a C+ for me.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I'm actually behind on the Dresden series. I haven't caught up, because it means going through the Dresden books. I have to figure out what the last one was, so I can get the next one, and that sounds like a lot of work.

    That has nothing to do with anything, really. But since I'm not caught up I can't really comment on this one. Yet I did. :)

  3. Enjoyable but annoying. Interesting combination. I have one of Dresden books on my iPad, but fortunately I don't think it's this one.

  4. Alex - if you're reading - you need to read them in order.

    And I just assumed you were current with the Dresden books, Andrew. I had no idea. I picked up the first one, just before I had a life-changing horror inflicted upon my life, and was sent into huge personal crisis.

    And my escape, as it's always been was reading. But since I'd started the first Dresden book, I really, really, dove in headfirst. I managed to read them all (the 12th had just come out in hardback) in less than a week.

    I couldn't separate the stories in my head after that. I was just one, 3600 page, novel. I did remember that while I liked the first one, I didn't love it, but I was too distraught to worry about finding something new, so I picked up the second and thought it became much better by the time I got to the third one. I went back a year or so ago and read the first one, then the second, and again felt they were fine, but not great.

    Anywho, I can't think of Turn Coat as a standalone story in my head. It's just part of the giant blur I have regarding Harry's adventures. So I can't comment on the quality of this story in comparison to some others.

    But I think this series will get a pass from me for as long as it runs, probably, so double-five-stars from me. Yay.

  5. I'm not familiar with the Dresden series. I see from Rusty's comment that there are 12 of them. That's quite a bit.

    When I read your reviews like this, I get nervous you may one day review one of my books! =)

  6. =( I hate that, when you can see what's coming early on. But oh, when the reverse happens... Magic.

    I haven't read this series, but methinks I should go look into it. Let's see, where did I misplace my time-stopper?

  7. Shannon: Just go to wikipedia; they have a list.

    Alex: Make sure you start with Storm Front. You really don't want to read these out of order.

    Rusty: No, I'm not current with anything. I read in the cracks, which is now going to be a blog post.

    I've really enjoyed the Dresden books, on the whole, but I don't think I'd want to go back and re-read them. I don't think they'd stand up for me on a second reading.

    Elsie: There's more than 12. I think the count's at 15? But they're fairly quick reads.
    (Everyone is nervous about me reviewing their books. I get anti-requests.)

    Crystal: If you like contemporary fantasy, you certainly should.

  8. Wheel of Time is black ajah although they would be aes sedai. I love the Dresden novels, I thought I was totally up to date with them, but maybe not because I don't remember the characters you mentioned, will have to check it out. My favourite was when he activated a dinosaur to ride it to the scene of a problem. Hilarious.

  9. I saw some of the TV series, liked it a lot, got many of the novels, but haven't had time to read a one. But I really appreciate hearing about your viewpoints, particularly the idea that the death of an unlikeable character has no emotional impact for the reader. I tend to think it makes them happy, like justice is served. Maybe that's just in monster movies. :)

  10. I read this post and the one below it so I'll double-up on my comments as I catch up on the week.

    RE: Dresden. All I really got out of this was the general disappointment of the book vis a vis the actual identity of the traitor. I agree with you that it would have been way better to have it be an already-introduced character, but that's the problem with ongoing stories. Just like in comics, people are reluctant to kill off a major character.

    One thing I've noticed about me, as I shop or borrow books to read: If you say it's a "series" or hint at that, I'm almost immediately turned off unless it's an author I know. You, Rusty, PT, or the bigger names could release a "series" and I'd be all "YES!"

    But if I just go to Amazon and am browsing around and I see something like "The Armageddon Breakfasts: Book One of the Apocalypse Ranger Series" (Which is a title I just made up but now I think it would be awesome), I'm immediately turned off. I think it's because I figure "Oh, boy, I'd have to read 3 or 6 or 15 of these to get through them" and I'm unwilling to commit to that.

    That's probably something to think about.

    As for "Her", Sweetie really wants to see that. I hadn't wanted to but it's getting good reviews. I like the general premise, overall --I like unique scifi like that, especially -- but I wondered whether they could make it stick for the whole movie. I guess it helps that it's Joaquin Phoenix. He's an amazing actor.

    (Part of my problem with "Her" is that throughout the movie I KNOW I am going to be remembering that stupid "Is That Rain?" Zooey Deschanel commercial. I used to think Zooey was a cute and good actress. Now, because of that commercial, I can't even watch her at all, and now, too, apparently, I can't even watch movies that REMIND ME of that commercial.)

  11. Jo: Yeah, I liked the dinosaur one. I have a thing for dinos, though, so that's not a surprise.

    Lexa: Oh, the TV show was horrible. At least, it was horrible in comparison to the books.

    That can be true if it's a character that's just there and is always doing bad stuff and you really just hate the character, then, yeah.
    But this guy was in, like, one chapter and is annoying mostly because Harry tells us he's annoying. He's really not there enough for the reader to develop any antipathy for him, so he was only introduced as a throw away character, which seemed rather cheap.

    Briane: I don't know that commercial you're talking about. That probably has to do with the lack of watching TV.
    Go see the movie.

    I can understand not wanting to get rid of a major character, but he's got so many ongoing side characters that he could have used one of them. And he did actually even kill off one of the ongoin side characters in this one, so, evidently, he doesn't really have a problem with that.

  12. I don't disagree. The Dresden series has its ups and downs. This one was mostly down.

    I still pant and drool for the next in the series though. Along with Patricia Briggs, Butcher is one of my favorite authors.

  13. Huntress: Well, it did take 12 of them before I got to one that just fell flat.

  14. I'm still laughing at your random comma placements. Ha!

    I think you've touched on a key issue here: the necessity for a negative character to be likable, or at least interesting. It's hard to pull this off (an imperfect but likable hero) but so necessary. Why would we read about someone we feel indifference, or worse, annoyance?

  15. Loren: Me, too, actually. heh

    Or for the character to just really be unlikable, which works, too. There need to be feelings one way or the other beyond dismissive annoyance.

  16. Overuse of commas and semi-colons drives me insane. I understand completely.

    Sorry this book was a disappointment.

  17. I'm horrible at misusing, misplacing, and over using commas. It's why I depend on editors, but that said - Wow what a review - I love that you know what you like and it all makes perfect sense. They say, I'm sure it was someone famous - like Stephen King, (maybe?) kill your darlings! I think it's important especially if this is a 15 book series. Sorry, I've not read it, but the other complaint during this blog hop was the killing off of too many darling in the Game of Thrones. There are so many ways we as authors can go wrong.
    Great job!

  18. TAS: I don't think I've ever seen semicolons over used.

    Maybe the next one will be better.

    Yolanda: Well, Martin has admitted to overly enjoying killing favorite characters just because he likes to mess with his readers in that way. That kind of disturbs me, because, at that point, it's not about the story.

  19. Ah, I am guilty of sprinkling commas! I find that I do a sort of silent reading as I write and chuck a comma in anytime the internal voice pauses. Sometimes it's for drama, sometimes it's because the dog is barking!

  20. Lisa: That's a common mistake with commas. Their purpose is not to tell the reader when to pause but to provide clarity (prevent a sentence from being misread).

  21. Hummmm, I haven't read any of this author's work - but having been annoyed by a great many books in the last year or two, I dunno if I'd want to read this one. But you did say you enjoyed it, so ... I dunno :P

  22. I am guilty of overpunctuating. A good editor should have helped Butcher with this, but it seems when an author becomes a bestseller, they aren't edited anymore. (Stephen King most famously ... and he certainly doesn't self-edit. Kill your darlings, my foot. He hasn't done that since 1985.)

  23. Trisha: Well, this was the 12th in the series, and it was the first one I felt didn't really deliver, so that's saying something.

    Stephanie: Well, I over punctuate, but I do it in the sense that commas are falling out of fashion so, even though mine are where they're supposed to be, people prefer them not to be there. These commas weren't in places they should even have been. And it's just as likely that it was his editor as it was that it was him.