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This collection contains eleven short stories and novellas from the popular urban fantasy Harry Dresden series. I’m a big fan of this series, which I consider to be light, fun, engaging reading. This isn’t great literature by any means, but it’s fun and I find the characters and setting to be interesting. I was happy to have these stories collected, as many have previously appeared in past anthologies, usually bundled with either paranormal romance crapola or stories from ongoing series with which I’m not familiar. Each story is preceded by a one-page commentary on the story by Butcher along with where it has elsewhere appeared, both of which I appreciated. The stories are presented chronologically, and we are told exactly where each story fits into the overall series chronology.

I won’t provide a lengthy analysis of each piece, but I’ll offer a few thoughts on each story.

Spoilers follow.

A Restoration of Faith: The first Harry Dresden story Jim Butcher ever wrote, and he says it’s maybe the third or fourth thing he’d eve written. For such an early work, it’s not bad. Harry rescues a runaway rich girl who doesn’t want to be returned to her family and has a run-in with a bridge troll. He meets Murphy, which is fun, and he’s also working for a guy named Nick, who’s a PI specializing in child-related cases. As far as I can recall, Nick never reappears in the Dresden Files, which is too bad. Not a bad little story.

Vignette: A quick little piece Butcher wrote for a promotional insert for his publisher. It’s just Harry and Bob arguing over what will go on Harry business cards. Utterly pointless. Ugh.

Something Borrowed: Harry has to save the day when the werewolves Billy and Georgia are trying to get married. Sadly, the faeries interfere and Harry’s got to prevent Billy from accidentally marrying Jenny Greenteeth. A fun adventure.

It’s My Birthday, Too: A fairly long piece in which Harry is just trying to drop of a birthday gift for his half-brother. Who happens to be playing in a live-action role-playing game (LARP) in a mall at night when some Black Court vampires arrive for some vengeance. Good stuff.

Heorot: A nice piece where Harry and the enigmatic Ms. Gard (Marcone’s henchwoman) confront a “grendelkin.” Sure, the plot device for Harry getting drawn in is pretty flimsy, but it’s a fun piece with interesting creatures and a quick-moving plot.

Day Off: A fun piece where the stakes aren’t life or death, but instead just revolve around whether or not Harry is going to have a relaxing day off. There’s a nice scene with Harry playing a role-playing game with some of the Alphas (he, of course, plays a fighter and complains about the unrealistic magic system in the game) and I like the caricatured goth “villains.” Another one that’s short but sweet.

Backup: I previously read this one in the Subterranean Press limited edition hardback. It was far too thin a story to be a stand-alone work like that, but it works as a very nice little story here. The story is told from the perspective of Thomas, making it the first Dresden Files story we get from the perspective of someone other than Harry. Here, Thomas must save Harry without Harry even knowing that Thomas is involved. Also involves the Oblivion War, which is a cool concept that I won’t spoiler here. My one complaint is that, to be honest, Thomas’ voice sounds almost exactly like Harry’s; characterization could have been better.

The Warrior: A nice story about Michael and what happens to him after his injuries and retirement. Butcher always seems to struggle with presenting Catholic theology in his characters, but he tries pretty earnestly, so I’ll give him some credit. The story was well-done and enjoyable.

Last Call: A loose follow-up to the story Heorot, involving Mac and his beer once again. There’s a very nice scene with Murphy in it, plus it’s a good little piece.

Love Hurts: Harry, Murphy, a love spell, and the sad, poignant situation they must deal with. ‘Nuff said. This is a good one.

Aftermath: This is the only all-new, never-before-seen story, as well as the longest in the collection, and it’s probably the one most eagerly awaited because it’s set immediately after the cliffhanger ending (which I will not spoiler here) of Changes. I suspect many readers will want to read this story first, despite the fact that it’s the final tale in the collection. Again, no real spoilers here, save to mention that the viewpoint character is Murphy, and despite some facile (and a trifle annoying) remarks by Butcher on gender relations, works well. Murphy and Billy confront a major new threat, and that’s all I’ll say about the plot. You could cut the tension in this story with a knife. Very good.

All in all, this is a very fun collection. The stakes tend to be lower in many of these stories than we find in the novels and I think that works well, producing entertaining stories that don’t necessarily involve the fate of the world. I give it 4.5 stars out of 5. Obviously this is a must for all Dresden Files completists, but if you’re caught up through Changes, I think you’ll want to pick this one up.

Review copyright 2010 J. Andrew Byers