Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series is the literary equivalent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Like that blend of chocolate and peanut butter, the mix of hard-boiled detective fiction with traditional fantasy elements adds up to “two great tastes that taste great together.” Protagonist Harry Dresden, a Chicago-based P.I./professional wizard, has been the subject of 12 books, numerous short stories, a television series and a role-playing game. And he’s helped make his creator Butcher a frequent resident on the New York Times bestseller list.

Side Jobs: Stories from the Dresden Files gathers together all but two of the Dresden universe tales. It also features a new story—the novelette “Aftermath,” which takes place, as the title suggests, immediately following the explosive finale to Butcher’s 12th and most recent Dresden novel, Changes.

Though someone new to the Dresden Files could pick up Side Jobs without too much confusion—Butcher is careful to refresh character descriptions and over-arching plot details—I wouldn’t recommend it. Over the course of 12 books, Harry Dresden’s life has experienced more than its fair share of plot thickening and denouements. It would be easy to spoil more than a few of them by reading this collection first.

But Side Jobs is not aimed at the unchristened—it’s meant for the hordes of fans hungry for everything Dresden. As such, each story is prefaced with a few words, or a few paragraphs, from Butcher explaining the genesis of the story, where it first appeared, and where in the overall publishing timeline it fits.

As a supplement for the hardcore Dresden-phile, Side Jobs hits the mark. This is especially the case with “Backup” and “Aftermath,” two stories that deviate from the traditional “first-person Harry” approach. The former is told from the perspective of Thomas, Dresden’s half-brother and a vampire of the White Court, while the latter is seen through the eyes of Karrin Murphy, an officer of the Chicago police department and one of the series’ principle characters. After so many adventures told by Dresden, it’s refreshing to get into the minds of some of the other characters.

Of course, the biggest drop of honey in Side Jobs is “Aftermath” itself. The end of Changes—equal parts barn-burner and cliffhanger—left readers with some pressing fears for both Harry and the series, and until the next book, Ghost Story, hits the stands in April 2011, “Aftermath” is the only glimpse of the post-Changes universe fans are likely to get.

This glimpse alone is likely to make the reading of Side Jobs a full-time preoccupation.

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