SIDE JOBS by Jim Butcher — a Review

I’ll admit right up front that I’ve only read the first two books of The Dresden Files (you can read my review of STORM FRONT here and of FOOL MOON here), and I’ve just started the third, GRAVE PERIL. I’ve really enjoyed reading about Harry Dresden, and I’ve admired Jim Butcher’s ability to knit together magical subplots in a noir fashion. But I wondered if he could shrink the novels down to short story bites. So I picked up SIDE JOBS. And I’m happy to say that Butcher pulls it off. This is a great read for the hardcore Dresden fans, those who are curious about starting The Dresden Files, and those who are curious about writing urban fantasy.

SIDE JOBS is a collection of 11 stories. Most are reprints of anthology chapters, but one story is new. Before each story, Jim Butcher provides a little introduction. The introduction tells you where the story takes place along the timeline of The Dresden Files, and it details the inspiration behind the story to give it some context. Some introductions even include some hindsight critiques of the story by Jim Butcher.

In order to turn urban fantasy novels into urban fantasy short stories, Butcher trims a lot of the subplots. There is typically one thread per story, and Butcher races along it, pushing and shoving and torturing Harry Dresden all the while. Think of the 11 short stories as bite-sized morsels. SIDE JOBS is the Whitman’s Sampler of urban fantasy. Except you won’t get a stomach ache when you devour the whole thing.

For the dedicated fans of Jim Butcher and Harry Dresden, the eleven stories will expand the Harry Dresden canon. For the curious, SIDE JOBS give you just a taste of urban fantasy, Harry Dresden, his humor, and his faults. You also get a glimpse of the magical side of Chicago, and the people and creatures who inhabit it. For writers, Jim Butcher uses these stories to show off his talent, demonstrating how you can incorporate interesting themes or goals into a story–that urban fantasy can be as varied as you like. It doesn’t have to be cliche. Writers will also see Jim Butcher evolve as a writer over the course of the stories, from rank amateur who can’t sell a story, to bestselling author. I think this is also something fans of The Dresden Files will enjoy too.

Lastly, a bit about spoilers. With the exception of the first story (which takes place before STORM FRONT), these stories all occur several books ahead of where I am now. Did I pick up a few spoilers? Yeah, but it was bound to happen. If that bothers you, you might want to hold off on reading this until you’ve read through book 11 of The Dresden Files (TURN COAT). If you’re like me, and you don’t care about spoilers, or realize that you will forget about them by the time you get to the relevant book, don’t worry about it. Read SIDE JOBS and enjoy.