Changes – Jim Butcher

Posted: 19th July 2012 by Charlotte in Book Reviews
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This book has been out for quite awhile, but if you haven’t read it yet, beware of spoilers.

This is Book Twelve of a series about a Chicago wizard named Harry Dresden.  Harry’s long lost half-vampire girlfriend, Susan blows into town with the Big News that Harry is a father to a little girl and that said girl has been kidnapped by the nasty Red Vampire Clan, who just happen to be some of Harry’s biggest enemies.  You can probably read this without wading through the prior eleven books, but you’ll miss some of the details.

Changes is a big, fun book, like books ought to be, with lots of characters and destruction and stuff.  It is a little Dickensenian even with the mad whirl of characters.  Jim has improved quite a bit since the first Harry Dresden book, Storm Front, which was good, but a little thin.  There’s nothing thin about Changes.

Taking away stuff from the hero

You know how writing instructors always tell you to take away stuff from the hero?  JB takes it to the nth degree.  He takes away Harry’s office, house, cat, dog, spinal cord, love interest and more, then terminates his personal freedom by making him sign up as the personal retainer of Mab the Wicked Hottie Queen of the Winter Fairies.

But, wait!  There’s more!

He takes away Harry’s leather coat!  Yes!  By the end of the book, the coat is destroyed!  (I’ve always thought the coat thing cut a little bit too close to Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, although JB develops it nicely by having Harry place protection spells on it and making it into a sort of magic device.)

Finally, Harry is shot and falls into Lake Michigan and disappears.  Talk about your major cliffhangers.  I hung by my fingernails for a year waiting for the next book.  I actually bought the next hardcover the week it came out because I Could Not Wait to find out what happened.

What didn’t quite make it for me

I don’t like the whole “daughter I didn’t know existed and is now ready to graduate college” thing.  I have never seen an instance of this in my whole life.  Mostly women let Mr. Inseminate and Run know when the spawn is on the way, don’t they?  Not to mention the little trip to court to file that paternity action against Drive By Daddy.  I’m thinking  this trope is about as rare in real life as amnesia.  JB makes the most of it, I admit, still it changes Harry from swinging bachelor type with romantic possibilities to more of a Dad character.  Not sure how that’s going to work out in future books.

Harry also finds out his grandfather has been right under his nose all along.  Sneaky, but it raises a lot of questions about where was Wizard McCoy when Harry was in all those foster homes, especially the one with the Big Bad Wizard?  I can buy that McCoy wanted to protect Harry from his enemies while Harry was a child, but once Harry’s parents were dead, shouldn’t he have stepped in?  If nothing else, why doesn’t McCoy tell Harry once he’s an adult?  Maybe these questions will be answered in some later book.  And maybe we’ll get some good betrayal out of McCoy.

JB’s played the revelation of an Unknown Relative bit three times (including half brother Thomas the vampire) now.  I’m thinking it’s going to be harder to play the orphan card now that Harry has family members all over the place.  [Now that I've read the next book, Ghost Story, I can see the Orphan Card is still in full swing in the hands of the master.]

Some fun and not so fun characters

Martin – the double died traitor.  Loved the traitor levels.  The depth of deception was inspired and unexpected.

Susan - I was a little disappointed when Suzy blew into town, although it was better than Harry’s flop with Elaine.  I wanted to see Harry goose up the romantic flames although there was one pretty good scene.  There should have been some dangerous, naughty sex.

Daughter – This was pretty much a bust.  She never even speaks or really interacts with Harry.  I suppose I should congratulate JB for restraining himself with the schmaltz, but some “I love you, Daddy” was needed.

Molly  – What a little goody goody she’s become.  What happened to the girl who used to put her finger in people’s brains and root around?  If you knew how to brainsuck annoying people, would you be able to restrain yourself?  I thought not.  If she isn’t going to be doing the brainsucking thing, Molly ought to come up with something else evil.  I don’t think much of the Molly in love with Harry thing, but I can live with it as long as Harry shows no interest whatsoever.

Fairy godmother, Leah whatshername.  She’s also proved to be on the goody side in this book, which was completely out of character.  I get that Mab, the Winter Queen, is controlling her, but fairies are supposed to be shifty, treacherous and downright untrustworthy, right?  A little betrayal at a critical point would have been more fun than her being so damn helpful and cooking up green uniforms and turning people into dogs or whatever the hell she was doing.  If she could cross up Mab and Harry at the same time, icing on the cake.

Toot Toot -  I’m sick of Toot Toot.  He should be creepier or more out of control and unpredictable instead of CUTE.  Although he did an excellent job of embarrassing Harry when he revealed that everyone in the Nevernever got to watch Harry seal the deal with Queen Mab.

Plot points

Why does Harry go for being the Winter Knight?  Why not just whistle up the magic coin?  He was able to control it once, sort of, and he could drop it when he was through with saving his daughter.  I guess it was a Been There Done That consideration or maybe JB is saving it for later.  Not that having Harry be the Winter Knight doesn’t have many cool (sorry) possibilities.

The fight at end got to be too much, perhaps because I was a Read It All Right Now Glutton.  I reserve the right to totally change my mind when I read this book again.  A lot of time was spent suiting up for war and getting there which wore me out.

I hated the dog business.  The thought of people turning into dogs (gross) then sniffing each other’s butts (ew) then turning back into humans and remembering that the sniffed each other’s butts is just — no.

The hook up with Karen – crappy crappy crappy.  Harry’s loved her and been thwarted for years, especially when she took up with Kinkaid and now, because he’s tired, the two of them are just going to run out for a Beer and Bang?  (Hah – see I am a writer.)  I don’t like it.   Or maybe I do.

Getting shot at the end – Excellent!  Good handling with the thing with the bullet hole in the shirt.

Turning it all on its head – JB manages to make Harry question EVERY SINGLE THING HE’S EVER DONE!  Maybe all those people who told him that he was a Loose Evil Cannon were right!  Now everyone has to scramble back and re-read all the Harry Dresden novels to see if it all adds up to where Harry is at now.  Love it.

Lots to learn

You can learn a lot from JB .  How to handle a lot of characters.  How to write in first person without making your reader stick an letter opener in his ear, how to write four pages of setting, work the plot, fold in the themes and serve it all up with a maraschino of emotion on top.

Maybe the most important thing is how JB handles Harry’s use of magic.  Harry doesn’t just wave his fingers.  Magic has rules, it works in, around or through real world physics.  It makes sense.  Harry has to work to get his power, work to keep it and scramble when it runs out.

The only thing I wish is that once in a while Harry would use magic for something fun, like twitching up a rose for his girlfriend.  Cause that would be romantic.  :)