Shadowed Souls edited by Jim Butcher, Kerrie L. Hughes

Shadowed SoulsShadowed Souls

edited by Jim Butcher, Kerrie L. Hughes
Series: The Dresden Files, #14.5; InCryptid, #531; Simon Canderous, #0.5 (I’m guessing) ; and some others that I don’t have a tag for right now

Paperback, 330 pg.
Roc, 2016

Read: January 10, 2017


This is a collection of stories

based on the idea that good and evil are just two aspects of a complicated and very human story . . . [with plots that] play with the concept and invite the reader to explore the edges of their own darkness.

Eleven of the best Urban Fantasy authors working today contributed to this book, each bringing their worlds to life from that basis.

I’m not going to talk about each story, just about those from authors I talk a lot about here — I don’t have the time and energy to talk about Kevin J. Anderson, Kat Richardson, Tanya Huff or the others. If for no other reason, I feel like I should read more of these series/characters/authors before talking about them — many of whom are on my “Try Out Sometime” list.

We, like the book, have to start with “Cold Case” by Jim Butcher. Harry’s former apprentice, Molly, gets to shine in this story. This is one of her first tasks in her new role as Winter Lady — in Alaska, fittingly enough. There’s a large amount of on-the-job training going on for her — more than she bargains for, really. We also get to spend some time with Warden Carlos Martinez — been too long since we saw him. Perfect mix of action, humor and atmosphere — we also get a good idea what’s in store for poor ol’ Molly.

We got to meet another member of the Price family in Seanan McGuire’s “Sleepover”. Elsie Harrington is a half-succubus cousin to Verity, Alex and Antimony. Their presence is felt in the story, but other than a couple of name-drops, they don’t factor into things, it’s just in that series’ universe. Elsie’s watching Antimony in a roller derby match and finds herself kidnapped. Not for any nefarious reasons — just because some people needed her help and are bad at asking for favors. Elsie has a very Price-like voice and outlook on life, but she’s got her own way of doing things. I really enjoyed this — even if the ending felt abrupt.

Anton Strout got to revisit the series that gave him his start in “Solus,” which featured Simon Canderous as a rookie DEA Agent dealing with a haunted house. His partner/mentor, Connor Christos, has almost no use for him at this point and seems to have no interest at all in working with him/training him. Maybe I’m not remembering the character as clearly as I thought, but I thought I liked him as a person more. Still, this was early enough in the relationship that it was probably the right way to deal with it. Other than happening before I was ready for it, I really enjoyed the conclusion of this story. In short, “Solus” was good, it reminded me why I liked the series and why I miss it.

My one complaint about all these stories (save for “Cold Case”), was that they were too short. It’s not just Strout and McGuire. In all the stories, just as things started to get going, they resolved. I’m not saying I wanted a collection of novellas, but another 5-10 pages each, maybe?

Yeah, like all collections, you’re going to get some that just don’t work for a particular reader, and others that are going to get a reader pumped – and maybe one that’ll make you wonder why you bothered. Your lists of each will be different from mine — but there’ll be more than enough of the good ones to make it worth your while. You may even find a new series/author to check out.

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3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

Skin Game by Jim Butcher

I should’ve had this up no later than May 29, but I wanted to get it juuuust right. And I failed. But I’m always going to fail when it comes to this series. Amongst series currently being written, this is my favorite (yeah, I’m taking the coward’s way out and not choosing between Dresden and Wolfe), which means that I’m just never going to be able to properly express how great I think the books are.

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Skin Game (The Dresden Files, #15)Skin Game

by Jim Butcher

Hardcover, 454 pg.
Roc Hardcover, 2014
Read: May 28, 2014

Quick review for people who haven’t read up through Cold Days:
Why are you reading this? Go and catch up. You’re missing out on one of the best series being published today. You’ve got about a year ’til Peace Talks comes out, so you have plenty of time to read up through Skin Game (which you really should read, because it was great).

Longer take for those who have read Cold Days (still, spoiler-free):

Okay, this is book 15, which means it’s time for The Denarians to return. But this time, Harry’s not opposing them (directly, anyway), but thanks to his service to Mab, he’s working alongside (for?) Nicodemus. Nicodemus has assembled a team of magical types to go rob a vault belonging to Hades. Harry, of course, is itching for a fight, but he doesn’t get the chance for one. If he doesn’t do what Mab & Nicodemus require, those closest to Harry will pay the price. Skin Game takes the basic plot structure of a heist film, and it works really well as such. A great, gripping story, doing things with the supporting characters involved (new and old) that you wouldn’t have guessed were possible with Harry’s past and attitude.

Beyond the plot — there’s something going on with Harry. Small, incremental changes are creeping in to our wizard’s character, as part of the aftermath of Changes. He’s dimly aware of them, but thinks he’s in control. Those close to him see them, too and make the same judgment call — it’s Harry, he’s got it taken care of. But there are those, like Butters, who aren’t as willing to believe that Harry can do it all. He sees trouble on the horizon and is willing to speak truth to Harry about it.

There’s other character development to take note of as well: Michael, Charity, and Murphy all continue to grow in positive ways — slowly, organically, and in ways you really only notice when you take a long look at them. Molly’s changing a lot, too — and not that slowly or organically, but after the end of Cold Days, what do you expect? Butters continues to grow and develop in ways that feel right, but are undeniable. When you think of who he was back in Death Masks and what he’s grown into by the end of Cold Days, it’s truly impressive. And he takes some major steps forward this time around, that I really want to talk about, but won’t. I have no shame in admitting that he choked me up. He could’ve easily been Butcher’s version of John Chen from the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike/etc. books — around for a little comic relief, some science help (some medical help, too), but nothing major. Instead, Butcher’s turned this polka-loving nerd into his Neville Longbottom.

In between the banter, the quips, the forzare-ing and fuego-ing, the action, you get things like this…it’s what separates guys like Butcher from the pack

There’s power in the touch of another person’s hand. We acknowledge it in little ways, all the time. There’s a reason human beings shake hands, hold hands, slap hands, bump hands.
It comes from our very earliest memories, when we all come into the world blinded by light and color, deafened by riotous sound, flailing in a suddenly cavernous space without any way of orienting ourselves, shuddering with cold, emptied with hunger, and justifiably frightened and confused. And what changes that first horror, that original state of terror?
The touch of another person’s hands.
Hands that wrapt us in warmth, that hold us close. Hands that guide us to shelter, to comfort, to food. Hands that hold and touch and reassure us through our very first crisis, and guide us into our very first shelter from pain. The first thing we ever learn is that the touch of someone else’s hand can ease pain and make things better.
That’s power. That’s power so fundamental that most people never even realize it exists.

I don’t normally read reviews of books I’ve already decided to read, but I made an exception in this case when Patrick Rothfuss posted his (pretty sure I linked it in one of my Saturday posts). One of the things he said was, “that Jim made me cry, like, four goddamn times in this book.” I went into this thinking Rothfuss was exaggerating about the crying. And then later I started to worry that he’s manlier and more in control of his emotions than I am. It’s not news to anyone who’s read Butcher — especially the more recent volumes — the guy can hit you right in heart. He’s like a long distance phone commercial from the late 80’s or the producers of the Friday Night Lights TV show — when he wants you to feel something, by gum, you will.

I do think that Butcher’s done better, but I’m still giving this 5 stars because while I was reading it, I was totally immersed in it. The rest of the world really didn’t exist — I was on the edge of my seat, leaning forward as if that’d help me get through it quicker — hanging on every word, chuckling, cackling, cheering, gasping as appropriate — totally engrossed, and that impact lasted for a couple of days following. If that doesn’t say 5 stars, I don’t know what does. And while I think other books were technically better — I can’t think of a problem with this one.

How long ’til #16, Peace Talks?

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5 Stars

Dusted Off: Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

Turn Coat (The Dresden Files, #11)Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the whole, Turn Coat is about the problems in the wizarding world that Butcher’s been giving hints about and glimpses at for a while now–and they come into focus in the most surprising of ways–Morgan asking Harry for help.

There’s just so much good stuff to be mined from Harry helping Morgan hide from the Wardens, deal with the Merlin (and others at HQ), investigate a murder/frame-job–it’s almost a shame to see Butcher wrap it up in 400 pages, because I’d love to get more of it. Great stuff.

In addition to all that, we see three important relationships forever altered in important ways (well, maybe one’s only temporarily altered, time will tell)–some good long-term character development for our pal Harry and his gang.

So, so good–Butcher had the ol’ brain firing on all cylinders for this one.

Dusted Off: An Open Letter to Jim Butcher

Dear Mr. Butcher,

I just finished reading your latest Dresden Files novel, Changes and would like to thank you for one of the best reads I’ve had in months. And by thanks I mean to say that I hope you die a slow, agonizing death. Not anytime soon, mind you, it needs to be after you’ve completed the next novel (if not the whole series). Still, I hope it happens, and I hope you dread its coming.

I actually am just kidding, sir. If nothing else, the intensity of my initial reaction speaks to the connection that exists between the great characters you’ve created and your readers. Honestly, you seem like a pretty cool guy, I’d love to buy you a Whopper some time and just chat–‘course what I’d really love is to take that Whopper and shove it so far down your throat that…

maybe I should finish this some other time.

Sincerely,

Dusted Off: Backup by Jim Butcher

Well, that was a fun, 45 minutes (give or take).

Just knocked off Jim Butcher’s Backup: A Story of the Dresden Files. Weighing in at about 12K words, it’s almost as meaty as the 4-issue mini-series comic book Welcome to the Jungle (recently collected and published in hardcover form).

This is a different way of telling a Harry Dresden story, coming at it from the POV of his brother, Thomas. Not only does this give us a new way of seeing Harry, it gives us a better appreciation for Thomas. (In many ways, it reminded me of Crais’ The Watchman from last year.)

Quick read; decent story–resolution came a bit too soon, but given the length, such was unavoidable; probably paid too much for it, given my budget; hope some of the backstory spills over into the regular Dresden File novels. Something any fan should pick up.

Dusted Off: Summer Reading: Dead Beat by Jim Butcher

So the Offspring are out of stuff to read, and since I have to drop by my doctor’s office anyway, we head off to the library. There’s virtually nothing left on my “to read” list that isn’t also on my “to buy as soon as I have the $” list–and the exceptions aren’t owned by the library [sigh]. So I just start meandering (not a fun thing to do with 4 kidlets in tow).

I vaguely remembered reading something about The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, and lo and behold, the library has the 7th in the series–Dead Beat. I try not to jump in so mid-stream, but figured it was worth a shot. Here’s the set-up, Harry Dresden’s a PI. Loner-type. Has a pal in the police department that feeds him some work. But he free-lances as well. Loose collection of friends who can help him out–Bob, who seems to have background on everything; his half-brother who’s good for added muscle and to bounce ideas off of; Butters in the morgue; and so on. Typical hard-boiled PI novel stuff.

Oh…but there’s a twist: Harry’s a wizard, Bob’s a talking skull, his brother’s a vampire, and Butters is a one-man Polka band.

This was a great read, basically Harry Potter meets Elvis Cole. That’s pretty much all I need to say. I loved it. Knocked it off in less than a day. Would’ve been better if I’d been able to start with the first book, but now I have a reason to make an effort to get it.

Characters were good, plot moved along alright, good mix of humor and action from the hero, and a satisfactory conclusion. Denouement could’ve been a bit longer for me. But that’s what the next book is for, I guess.

Figured since I’d recently talked about how amazon could’ve done better than recommend Harris to me, I should point out that this had also been recommended to me by everyone’s favorite internet store. So for this summer, they’re batting .500

Grade: A. Solid effort, great twist on the genre.