Dresden Files fans, this is the book you’ve been waiting for.
True, this is not the newest novel in the Dresden Files. (Peace Talks, the sixteenth installment in the series, still doesn’t have a release date.) But Brief Cases, a collection of several of Butcher’s excellent short stories and novellas from within the universe of Harry Dresden, offers not only excellent short narratives that dabble between the scenes of the novels, it provides a new story about Harry Dresden’s newest challenge: becoming a father.
In Brief Cases, Butcher carefully selects stories that bring the theme of parenting, and Harry’s opinions about it, to the fore—as well as the importance of children, even to stone-cold criminals, within the world of The Dresden Files.
But the collection isn’t just for Dresden fans—readers who only know a little about the setting are quickly brought up to speed and can enjoy each of these brief glimpses into the work of Chicago’s only professional wizard without the full context of the novels.
Breaking down the stories…
Of the twelve stories contained in this volume, the first is a prequel, set in the days of the Old West, which could easily be a launching point for a spin-off series. Warden Anastasia Luccio, a character of whom Butcher says in his introductory note, “I’ve always … wished she could have more stage time,” faces off against a group of warlocks alongside Wyatt Earp and an ill-tempered näcken (read: fairy horse) named Karl. The Old West setting is a joy, even though—or perhaps because—Anastasia despises it. And nothing says weird west like Wyatt Earp fighting the raised dead. (Wynonna Earp fans, take notice.) The collection is worth the read just for the intro story alone.
The other stories fall within the timeline of the novels, most of them narrated by Harry Dresden himself. In “AAAA Wizardry,” Dresden frames a story of one of Harry’s failures by having Harry share it with a class of young Wardens. Putting Harry in front of a class actually works very naturally, and the story allows readers to get a broader sense of how magic works within the world, and the dangers that non-wizard sensitives face.
“Curses” has its rough moments in a post-#MeToo world (Bob the skull is a more cringe-worthy character than he was when introduced almost two decades ago), but the story of how the Billy Goat Curse on the Chicago Cubs came to be has a delightful supernatural twist that shows a true love for the sport. “Jury Duty” shows what happens when the White Court and crime lord Marcone use the justice system and Harry Dresden to resolve a turf war.
Three of the stories (previously collected together as Working for Bigfoot in a special-edition hardcover) feature Harry’s misadventures with Irwin, the son of a Bigfoot and a human, as he goes from being a large and troubled elementary schooler to an accomplished college football star in love with a vampire who doesn’t know her own powers.
As previously mentioned, Harry’s own complicated relationship with parenting comes to the fore in these stories in particular; long-time readers know that Harry’s father died when he was young, and his frustration with River Shoulders, the Bigfoot, over not doing more to reveal himself to his son is palpable, building to a climax in the final of these stories. Because the stories take place over a span of time in the series, readers have the chance to watch the characters—particularly Irwin, but also Harry and River Shoulders—grow, which makes this trilogy among the most satisfying in the book.
Several of the stories are narrated by side characters other than Harry: along with Anastasia, Marcone gets to voice his own story in “Even Hand”; Harry’s apprentice Molly narrates both “Bombshells” and “Cold Case”; and former medical examiner Waldo Butters explores his first day as a Knight in “Day One.” Seeing each of these stories in the context of the tales narrated by Harry gives not only a larger scope to the world, but also showcases Butcher’s use of voice. While his general style is evident throughout, the nuances of the point of view characters in their unique narrations adds flavor to the normally Dresden-shaped lens readers get on the world.
The best story…
The best story in the collection is saved for last—and one of the things that makes it so delightful is that it’s structured from the points-of-view of three different characters, discussing the events of the same day. Harry, his ten-year-old daughter, Maggie, and Foo Dog Mouse each narrate their unique conflicts of the day, each challenge tailored directly to the characters.
In the first version, told from Harry’s point of view, it seems like a pretty typical Dresden Files story: Harry discovers a warlock in the zoo on his first outing with his daughter. The stories have all been leading to the types of choices Harry will make after discovering he has a child of his own, and what kind of parent he will decide to be, and this narrative beautifully explores those themes.
But, then, we get more: Maggie can see the types of creatures only children can defeat and, despite her anxiety and her worries that her dad won’t want her because she’s broken, she must figure out how to confront her fears by facing them… incarnate. Maggie’s child-voice feels authentic, if precocious, and she’s a pitch perfect counterpoint to her father.
But why are there two unique challenges tailored to the Dresdens? Mouse reveals that there was more than either human knew was at stake, and does so in a glorious doggy voice, simultaneously embracing and criticizing humans for not understanding the most important things in life. It’s a fantastic new piece and a showstopper for the collection.
Dresden Files fans are sure to get joy out of having these previously anthologized pieces together all in one cover, especially with a new short story to tide them over until Peace Talks is released. Newcomers to the series will find plenty to keep them engaged with the world—and might help them overcome the intimidation that being new to a fifteen book series can bring. There’s plenty to enjoy here, and this newest installment is definitely worth picking up.