Side Jobs

More Dresden Files. I know. But the series is almost done, and then I’ll find something new to talk about. (You can check out my previous Dresden Files posts here and here.)

Side Jobs is a different kind of story. The Dresden Files series encompasses more than a decade of adventures had by Harry Dresden, professional wizard. Side Jobs is a compilation of short stories interwoven into the larger plotline. They have little bearing on the series overall, but do offer insight and character development and, let’s face it, just a little bit extra for us nerds who can’t get enough.

I’m a couple of stories in, but for this post I want to focus on the first story in the book, A Restoration of Faith. In his introduction, Jim Butcher writes, “This one won’t win any awards, because it is, quite frankly, a novice effort…I had barely learned to keep my feet under me as a writer, and to some degree that shows in this piece.” This is a story that editors declined to publish, and it predates any of the full-length Dresden Files novels.

Reading it easily shows how fairly simple the story is. I’m 14 books into this series, and I feel like I have a good grasp on how Jim Butcher tells a story. A Restoration of Faith doesn’t come close to the finished works I’m used to. As well it shouldn’t. It was a long time ago, at the beginning of his career, and he was still learning. Obviously, it worked out. He made the New York Times Bestseller list.

I’m taking this story as a lesson today. Everyone starts somewhere. And the stuff at the beginning isn’t always that great. I’m still at the beginning, and anyone who’s read my posts knows I’ve been struggling. Maybe my stuff isn’t that great. That doesn’t mean I won’t write a bestseller. I just have things to learn first.

Ghost Story

I’m still reading the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (see previous post here). I’m about to finish Ghost Story, which is book 13 (spoilers!). This is one series I just can’t seem to put down. I’ve read a couple of other books interspersed throughout, but even then I have trouble getting Harry Dresden out of my head and focusing on a different story.

I’ll admit, I didn’t like the beginning of Ghost Story. At the end of the previous book, Changes, Harry is shot and falls into a lake, and we’re lead to believe that he dies. It’s fitting, then, that the next title is Ghost Story. Because, when the book starts, Harry is a ghost. He gets sent back from the afterlife to find his killer, but, since, he’s a ghost, he can’t communicate directly with his friends.

I have to applaud Jim Butcher here, for being able to change how he writes his protagonist. It’s still the same Harry, but how he interacts with the world is required to change. He can’t be exposed to sunlight. He has to speak through a medium. He can’t access his magic, nor can he interact directly with mortals. The character has to adapt to new circumstances and change the way he investigates this case. As the author, Jim Butcher has been writing Harry Dresden pretty much the same for the past 12 books. There’s a rhythm and set ways that Harry responds to stimuli. To abruptly change these things while still keeping the story true to its roots is impressive.

That being said, I didn’t like it. I don’t adjust well to the basis of a story suddenly being changed. It happens a lot in the TV shows I watch too, especially when they introduce time travel. Suddenly the characters you fell in love with are acting completely different, and it becomes hard to reconcile in your mind. The same is true for characters in books. I love Harry Dresden, and to suddenly see him portrayed so differently has been difficult for me to deal with.

Like any good reader, I’ve soldiered on, and I only have about 100 pages left. The book has grown on me, but it’ll never be one of my favorites in the series. Harry was finally able to interact with his friends, the other characters I’ve grown fond of, and those relationships are comforting to see. He also discovered how to access his magic, which seems to make him more whole and allows him to act more like I’m used to him acting.

I’m eagerly anticipating the end of the book. See, I don’t believe that Harry is actually dead. I think Harry’s starting to believe it too. There are two more books that I know of after this one, so I think Jim Butcher is going to bring Harry back to life, which will make a terrific resolution and settle my mind. I’d much prefer to continue reading about Harry the wizard than Harry the ghost.

What about you? Does it bother you when the basis of a character is suddenly changed? Let me know in the comments!

Steelheart

So, I just finished Brandon Sanderson’s Steelheart, the first book in his young adult The Reckoners trilogy (spoilers). I’ll admit, I was a bit leery about this series. Last year I read his Mistborn trilogy, and while I enjoyed it, there were a few aspects that I really didn’t like. He begins that series by plunging into a fictional world without telling the reader what any of the rules are. It was difficult to follow. Once I finally understood, I had a blast reading it. Then it ended with theistic elements that I wasn’t comfortable with, which left kind of a bad taste in my mouth for the whole experience.

Hence, my hesitation in this new series. There are some major differences this time around, though. First off, it’s set in a world that I can understand. It takes place in a futuristic Chicago, and what happened to the city is explained quickly and succinctly. The protagonist explains what happened when Calamity came, and the superhumans called Epics that decided to take over the world. It’s a good introduction, and allows the reader to accept and understand the details that follow.

One thing Brandon Sanderson does well is create his own lingo, especially for curses and epithets. These are simply thrown in, and it’s up to the reader to guess at the interpretation. In my own writing I struggle to come up with unique names and phrases, and I’m impressed and a little jealous that he does it so well.

I did struggle to connect with his protagonist, however. David is a young man consumed by the death of his father and driven to seek revenge against the Epic that killed him. He spends a whole decade on his research and planning, with no thought to other interests or his future or even girls. That’s something I simply can’t identify with.

I was intrigued by the character of Megan, though. She’s introduced as the tough-as-nails love interest that comes sweeping into David’s life, and it would be easy to box her into that corner. But she’s written with intense complexity and lot of mystery, and I have a feeling that she’ll have a major role to play in book 2: Firefight.

Keep tuning in.

The Dresden Files

This post is coming in a little late, since I’ve been reading The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher for a little while now.  This past weekend I finished up Proven Guilty, White Night, and Small Favor (spoiler alert).

In case you haven’t heard of this series, here’s an overview: The protagonist is a professional wizard named Harry Dresden. He lives in Chicago, and works as a private investigator. In the first couple of books this is where the main conflict comes from. A client will come in with a problem, which will somehow involve the use of black magic, and Harry will be drawn into a long and dangerous battle to resolve it.

One thing I can guarantee about this series is that it is non-stop action almost from page one. The conflict usually begins in chapter one, and the entire book is set over only a couple of days. Each story is a race-against-the-clock, beat-the-bad-guy-before-he-kills-everyone-and/or-destroys-the-world. They’re difficult for me to put down because I have to know what happens next, and it isn’t unusual for me to stay up into the wee hours of the morning to finish a book.

Harry is an excellent example of a conflicted protagonist. It takes a while for his backstory to be fully revealed, and we learn that there is black magic in his past. It’s difficult for him to keep some of those impulses in check, and he’s not always successful.  Even though his troubles are far outside the scope of what we can experience, his internal struggles are ones we can all relate to, and the fact that he isn’t always strong makes him very human.

Jim Butcher is amazing at weaving his storylines and tying his books together in more than just a sequential sense. For example, Queen Mab of the Winter Fae first appears in book four: Summer Knight. Harry agrees to grant her three favors, the first of which takes place in this book. The next favor doesn’t appear until book ten: Small Favor. There’s still one favor left, and I’m anxious to see what happens the next time Queen Mab appears. For me it creates a sense that the whole series is just one giant story, and I’m only reading chapters at a time, rather than individual books.

One character I love seeing is Thomas, the White Court vampire that turns out to be Harry’s half-brother. He’s prominent for a couple of books as he and Harry figure out their relationship, then he’s somewhat phased out a bit. He’s insightful, and funny, and is a good balance to Harry’s stubbornness and impulsiveness.

It’s difficult to summarize an entire series in a simple post without giving away all of the details prematurely, especially since this post comes in the middle and not at the beginning. Please don’t let my simple words keep you from checking out this series, because it’s definitely worth it.

Keep an eye out for what I’m reading next!