Review: Changes by Jim Butcher

Changes by Jim Butcher
Changes by Jim Butcher

Jim Butcher
Roc, 2010

Chapters 1-4 available here!

Changes is the 12th novel in Jim Butcher’s consistently excellent Dresden Files.  Of all the series I read the Dresden Files is one I most frequently question whether or not I should even bother reviewing.  Not because it isn’t good, but because it is so consistently excellent I find it hard to not recommend this series to anyone and everyone.  Point in fact I’m almost convinced that when it comes pure edge of your seat action few authors come close be being as skilled as Jim Butcher.  Changes weighs in at a fairly impressive 448 pages yet it reads like it’s half as long.   As the jacket copy tell us it seems that Harry may be father by way of half-vampire ex-girlfriend Susan Rodriguez.  Unfortunately for Harry the news isn’t as happy as it could be as it seems that in a bid for revenge against Harry’s meddling the nefarious and bloody minded vampires of the Red Court have abducted his daughter.  Thus Harry sets out on a quest to save his daughter from certain death.

Along the way Harry acquires a cadre of old friends to aid him in his quest including Murphy, Bob, his apprentice Molly, Knight of the Cross Sanya, Harry’s fairy godmother the Leanansidhe, and the ever vigilant temple dog Mouse.  As the true plot behind Harry’s daughter’s abduction are revealed and the scope of what her rescue might entail this group takes on a very Dirty Dozen like feel.  There are gobs of gallows humor tossed about, the best snippets coming by way of Sanya, that despite their disparate backgrounds hints a surprising amount of camaraderie amongst the group.

If I’m being completely honest I should point out that the Dresden Files have a pretty standard formula with minor variations from novel to novel.  Harry is presented with a problem, said initial problem is likely revealed as symptomatic or related to a larger problem or problems, Harry is tossed about either (physically, emotionally or both), Harry pulls out some amazing and mostly unexpected Hail Mary play that saves the day though often with consequences.  It’d make a nice flowchart.  I don’t mean to sound dismissive but this type of formulaic plotting is kind of the bread and butter of main stream fiction.  What matters here is how you dress it up.  The characters that inhabit your world.  The way they speak, the way they act.  The world itself.  The creativity of the conflict.  If Butcher were a lesser writer that formulaic quality would be a major let down but here it lets the rest of his creativity shine.  Sure there is a skeleton of familiarity but it so often obscured by a totally different body that it is barely worth commenting on (save, I guess, for this once).

As in previous novels Dresden is a snarky, arrogant lone wolf.  In Changes (like when he was being influenced by Lasciel) that snark and arrogance is enhanced by a rawness to his emotion.  This is not a Harry Dresden who you want to cross.  Harry is again snubbed by the White Council (why he even bothers asking them to help ever is beyond me) though at least this time he is hampered by his inability to tell those few members he trusts about the true nature of his predicament.  Given the level of firepower being used to protect his kidnapped daughter it sets a high level of tension forcing Harry to call on powers he would never have even considered using otherwise.  Changes does precisely what its title states.  I reorganizes the playing field for future volumes as the series as the whole shifts closer towards what is looking to be like a larger conflict that was never even hinted at the outset of the series in Storm Front.

While I maintain Harry’s undead dinosaur ride remains my all time favorite moment in the series Changes includes one major crowning moment of awesome.  It involves Karrin Murphy wielding the sword Fidelacchius and it had me grinning like a little kid.  Changes is chock full of smaller bits of awesome like Harry and Susan’s run in with the Erlking, or the last minute save from one of Harry’s oldest allies, or the revelation about the nature of the organization that hires out Marconi’s Valkyrie bodyguard.  More-so then in previous volumes I felt Butcher had honed his end-a-chapter-with-a-mini-cliffhanger style to a razor edge.  I was cursing the man quite frequently as I desperately read on excitement warring with my desperate need to sleep.  Unfortunately the novel ends on a rather large cliffhanger that will likely take another year before it is resolved (a cliffhanger that is immediately preceded by one of those series long awaited moments with touching distance).

Either way Changes continues the quality set forth in early volumes of the Dresden Files.  Like Small Favour and Turn Coat before it Changes furthers the evolution of Harry’s character to a degree that earlier novels did not.  It is a whirlwind of a novel that never lets up the excitement or the surprises and Dresden will eat it up.  It will also leave them absolutely desperate for more.

Note:  Butcher has typically published a book every 6 months.  Typically, for the last few years at least, this was alternating between his Alera Codex and the Dresden Files.  The Alera Codex ended with First Lord’s Fury last year; or so I thought.  Changes still includes the author note at the conclusion telling readers about this other series so now I’m not even sure of that.  Right the only other Butcher book with a publication date is the a reissue of First Lord’s Fury in November 2010.  So is Butcher taking a break from a second series or is there something new in the works?  I’ll keep an eye out though!

Update:  I just got the Backorder Update from B&T for our library.  The other Butcher title is Side Jobs (9780451463654) a collection of short fiction feature Harry and others due out in October 2010.

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