“Side Jobs,” by: Jim Butcher – Review

Side Jobs

The Premise:

“Side Jobs” is a collection of short stories by Jim Butcher set in the universe and starring the characters of the Dresden Files book series. The Dresden Files is an urban fantasy series that takes many cues from detective noir, mystery, and high fantasy (especially in the later books). The stories follow Harry Dresden, professional wizard detective, in his efforts to make a paycheck while dealing with the challenges he faces from the seedy elements of Chicago’s mystical underbelly. These stories takes place between the books throughout the series, adding an extra window into Harry’s world while attempting to provide the thrills and humor fans of the series expect.

The Short of It:

Fans of The Dresden Files will find that this collection delivers exactly what they love from the main book series. They are all highly enjoyable except for one, which is still interesting in its own right. None of them are “essential” in that none of them really affect the events of the main series, but the insight into the side characters provides the emotional heft and value needed to make the collection feel just about as worthwhile as a main title entry. It is well worth a read for fans of the series.

The Long of It:

I didn’t read this collection for a really long time after I should have. That could be considered odd, given just how obsessed I’ve been with the series in the past. I blew through the majority of the series in just a few weeks, if I recall correctly. I don’t know, maybe I didn’t think that  the stories were going to be that good. I suspect that there is some underlying bias against short fiction in my brain somewhere, even though every time I’ve read a good short story collection, I enjoy it as much as long fiction. Another factor may be that since I didn’t get my hands on it for some time after finishing the series through Skin Game, I was worried that reading them would be hard, given that I sometimes have a hard time remembering what happened when and the context for each story.

That turned out to not be a problem. If anything, the stories had a way of giving subtle nods to their context that helped me remember the sequence of the events of the main series. That said, I wouldn’t recommend it to people who are unfamiliar with the books. The first story could genuinely be a turn-off and, seeing as how these are short stories set in a book series’ world, they all rely on the reader being relatively familiar with the characters.

Almost all of the stories in the collection are good, minus the very first story. The story, titled “A Restoration of Faith,” was the very first Dresden story that Butcher ever wrote, and it shows. It’s primarily interesting for it’s historical context and the writing lessons it can give, but it is very, very flawed, and it’s not particularly enjoyable outside of those contexts. The writing is choppy, the characterizations of side characters are inconsistent, and there are multiple instances of faulty logic.

That ultimately doesn’t matter, however, since at least five of the stories are highly memorable, while the rest are fun and well done. They run the gamut through humor,  action, tension and mystery, providing everything fans of the series love.

Harry’s “Day Off” is particularly funny, and the stories from Thomas and Murphy’s perspectives give very valuable insights into their characters, and into how other people see Harry. This is not only fascinating,  but it also accomplishes some great world building.

Probably my favorite story is “The Warrior,” which includes Michael, one of my favorite characters, and one of the most honestly righteous and truly Christian people I’ve ever seen outside of Jesus himself, fictional or not. It presses a number of my buttons expertly. It has insights into true goodness and spirituality, and the differences between that and false righteousness and those who claim to serve goodness. It also has a “this is your life” quality that is present in stories like “It is a Wonderfull Life, ” and “A Christmas Carol,” which is an element I tend to love.  

All of these stories have appeared in some form or another in anthologies and magazines except for the final novella, “Aftermath,” which was written exclusively for the book. “Aftermath” follows Karin Murphy after something terrible happens to Harry (it’s REALLY hard to avoid spoilers with some of these stories), showing how she copes  with the course of events. It is probably the most emotionally resonant of the stories, and as the real selling point of the book, being the exclusive, it makes a good case for the purchase of the book by itself. Putting this on top of the others, I think the case is very well made.

Conclusion and Star Rating:

If you’re new to the series, this probably isn’t the book for you. Start with Storm Front and fall in love there. Fans of the series, however, will find a lot to enjoy here, especially for people who like the side characters and want to get to know them better. The first story is only really interesting for the context and perspective it gives, otherwise it’s not very good. All of the others are good, and some are some true standouts that, while not technically essential to the series, make themselves worthwhile through the perspectives and heart they provide. It’s a great read. I give “Side Jobs” a 4 1/2 out of 5, or “Great.”

4 & One Half Stars

Four and one-half Stars

 

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