I love Harry Dresden like he’s the crazy scary magical uncle I never had. My wife (The Asian OverLord™) gets annoyed at my exclamations of “Hell’s Bells!” and my constant need to tell people that a scar on my hand came from “Hell Fire” rather than a childhood bicycle wreck. The Dresden Files have become a part of my life in a way that few stories do.
When I first learned about Changes, it frightened me. I thought to myself: if Jim Butcher “Changes” too much, I will be forced to follow him around conventions until he promises to change it back, or send him e-mails filled with frowny faces. I don’t like it when the creator of something I enjoy takes drastic measures for the sake of being “fresh.” Fortunately for Mr. Butcher, Changes shakes a lot of things up, but does so without losing sight of what makes these stories so great. This novel does bring some serious “Changes” to the Dresden universe, but they feel justified. Harry is still funny, still finding his way out of tight jams, still surrounded by people he loves, and still tries to always do the right thing.
In Changes, Harry is once again at odds with the Red Court Vampires. They have taken a loved one hostage in a power play that puts in motion events that jeopardize the unstable peace between the vampires and the white council. Over the years the cast of The Dresden Files has grown quite large and in Changes it seems that they all play a role in one way or another. Butcher manages to juggle the massive cast without it feeling like fan service, and more like it’s what the situation actually requires. When Harry calls out the troops, just about everyone shows up. Even Susan makes a return and provides some good ol’fashioned relationship tension to the story.
I’m happy to report that in Changes, Butcher assumes you’ve read the previous books. Thus, there isn’t any tedious recapping of previous installments — he only recaps events which occurred far back enough that even old fans may have forgotten. Be prepared to have quite a bit of the old familiar rearranged in this book. The funny one-liners and humorous situations are still here, but the tone and plot are darker and more dramatic.
Changes is available unabridged from Penguin Audio. James Marsters returns as the voice of Harry Dresden and gives another perfect performance. Changes is an emotional roller coaster and the vocal challenges for Marsters must have been great. The anger, deep sadness, and stubborn resolve come through flawlessly. Marsters is once again brilliant. I judge all other audiobook performances against The Dresden Files.
In conclusion, Changes does just what the title suggests. Fans of the series will look back on this book and remember it as a pivotal moment in the story of Harry Dresden — these events will have a lasting impact. Changes is darker and more serious, and contains some of the most powerful scenes Butcher has ever written. I dare not ruin it by sharing them here, but you will laugh, cry, and often scream at this newest Dresden Files book. I cannot recommend The Dresden Files enough, and if you have not started them yet… you need to get busy!
Some changes are wonderful and terrible at the same time.
In Changes, the twelfth HARRY DRESDEN novel from Jim Butcher, Harry finds out on Page One that he has an eight-year-old daughter, and that she has been kidnapped by the Red Court vampires.
Harry is a wizard in modern-day Chicago. Originally, Harry made his living as a magical private detective (he even had an ad in the Yellow pages). Over the past three years, the war between the White Council of Wizards and the Red Court vampires has taken up most of his time. Now, in the opening chapter of Changes, his life is turned upside down. Mac, the taciturn barkeep and owner of Harry’s favorite pub, has a few words for him about fatherhood:
“You’re going to find out who you are, Harry. You’re going to find out what principles you’ll stand by ‘til your death — and which lines you’ll cross.” He took away my empty glass. “You’re heading into the badlands. It’ll be easy to get lost.
The vampires have requested a truce to arrange for peace talks at the White Council’s headquarters, but with the abduction and planned sacrifice of Harry’s daughter Maggie, it is plain that they are not acting in good faith. Still, Harry cannot persuade the leaders of the Council, who have never trusted him, to help him find his little girl, and the wizardly allies who attempt to aid him are immediately side-lined. Harry is on his own, except for six or seven of his magical friends.
In Changes, Harry loses almost everything. He gains a gift from his magical, long-dead mother. He makes a deal with someone who is possibly worse than the devil. He damages a lot of real estate along the way, and wonders if he can trust Susan, the mother of his child, a woman who kills vampires, but is one throat-bite away from being one herself.
Harry has not been appealing to me in the last few books, but there is a tinge of his old vulnerability and charm here. Molly, Harry’s apprentice, who irritated me in the previous book, Turn Coat, has matured in Changes, and shows the courage to face down Harry’s temper tantrums. His cop friend Murphy is back and at her street-tough best.
Harry soon discovers that the Red Court plans to sacrifice Maggie along with many other mortals at Chichen Itza in Mexico. This sacred site, a place of historical blood sacrifice, is situated on mystical ley lines. An influx of blood magic will give the Red Court incredible power, enough to crush the White Council, while the death of Maggie will form the catalyst of a powerful death spell that will kill Harry and his half-brother Thomas. The stakes have never been higher.
The book is filled with battle scenes, both physical and mystical. There are two great duel scenes, one in the hall of the goblin king, against a devourer demon, and one purely magical contest between Harry and a Red Court aristocrat. In the goblin king’s feasting hall, as in the realm of the faerie Winter Queen, Harry is forced to fall back on old rules of magic, riddles and word-play. The magical sequences are suspenseful and filled with action. Harry’s fellows, including Sasha, a Knight of the Sword; Murphy; Thomas; Harry’s faerie godmother Leanansidhe and his temple dog Mouse, engage in the usual banter and wise-cracking. The finale in Chichen Itza is breath-taking; vivid descriptions that touch all the senses, tension and suspense crackling all around the tiny dark-eyed girl, in chains, crouched by the altar at the center of the pyramid.
I am disappointed that Butcher has not bothered to make the politics of the White Council more believable and more meaningful. Basically, they are just the hidebound old guys, while Harry and his friends are the cool kids. This has been done too many times. It does, however, let Harry and his mentor have a humorous moment over which is more dangerous; evil or stupidity:
Ebenezar blinked at me, then snorted. “Stupid, Hoss. Every time. Only so many blackhearted villains in the world, and they only get uppity on occasion. Stupid’s everywhere, every day.”
Just when it seems we’ve come to the end and we know what’s going to happen, Butcher reminds us that we are in Chicago, and that while Harry has a lot of enemies, not all of them use magic. Some use guns.
I am more of a fan of the earlier wizard-detective novels than I am of Dresden as battle-mage, and he is in full battle-mage mode here. Still, I enjoyed Changes. The book lives up to its title. If you like the Dresden books, particularly the later ones, you will be pleased with this — and, like me, you will be left wondering what Harry’s got himself into now.
“Wow, Harry… This changes everything.” As the title suggests, Harry goes through some life-changing events in this book, starting with the first sentence and ending with the last. He’s got some really hard, almost impossible really, choices to make and he is not the same person at the end.
Changes ends with the most awful cliffhanger, so make sure you have the next book, Ghost Story, ready to go.