Everybody give Jim Butcher a slow clap. He’s finally written a book that impressed me so much that I’m willing to give it five stars. (It only took him twelve tries to get there!) I’ve been waiting for something awe-inspiring in order to bust out the five star rating, and I’m pretty sure this book qualifies.
Changes is a rather literal title. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find something within its pages that doesn’t represent a change in Harry Dresden’s life (or that of his friends and family), whether its something as minor as dealing with a broken wizard’s staff, or as major as learning you have an eight year old daughter that you never knew about. A daughter who has been kidnapped by a vengeance-seeking noble of the Red Court vampires. Harry deals with both in this book, and the whole range of the spectrum in between. Actually, let’s list out all the changes that happen in this book, so I can better illustrate for you just how monumental this book is in terms of the whole arc of the series (this should be obvious, but DO NOT READ IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE SPOILED):
1. In the very first sentence of the book, we (and Harry) learn that he has an eight year old daughter, Maggie. She is the product of his one night reunion with Susan back in Death Masks. Susan never told him about her, and sent the little girl off to live with a foster family so she would be safe. Harry understandably becomes very, er, UPSET, about most of this information and remains that way for the rest of the novel.
2. Harry’s office, which has been with us since the very first paragraph of the first book, was blown up by Red Court vampires. (They get away with this, we learn, because they actually own the building. In a neat bit of continuity, Butcher mentioned that Harry’s rent went up a couple of books ago in passing, and it turns out that the Red Court buying the building was the reason why.)
3. The White Council is sidelined by a mysterious illness, and new Senior Council member Christos makes his power play. After books of inaction and thumb twiddling on the part of the Council, this is pretty significant.
4. Harry receives an inheritance from his mother: her knowledge of the ‘Ways’ of Faerie, an extensive collection of passages to and from the Never Never, which enables Harry to travel quickly from one place in the world to another.
5. Harry learns (finally, the dolt) that his apprentice Molly is in love with him.
6. Harry’s infamous car, The Blue Beetle, is finally and utterly destroyed, after eleven books of it being wrecked and fixed, over and over again. (Inside the car is also his wizard staff, which is also destroyed.)
7. Harry’s apartment is burned to the ground by minions of the Red Court, along with all of his worldly possessions (excepting a few illicit magical items he had hidden from the FBI, like Bob the Skull and The Swords). Again, this is a place well established in these books. It is kind of mind boggling that all of these things Butcher has set up for as givens in his storyworld are just completely disappearing.
8. Harry gives in to Queen Mab and becomes the Winter Knight in exchange for the extra power he needs to save his daughter. (He also needs her to heal him, as he breaks his back falling off of a ladder while trying to rescue his neighbors from their burning building and seems to be paralyzed from the waist down.) This is actually probably the biggest change in the book as it has so much potential not only to change the way Harry views himself, but how he lives, and how the books from here on out are structured. He essentially gives up his freedom and independence in order to save his daughter, something inherent in the Dresden worldview as built up over twelve books, and as such, is not an act we can take lightly or that can easily (if ever) be undone in the world Butcher has created.
9. Susan becomes a full vampire of the Red Court and Harry kills her in order to destroy the entire Red Court (the machinations of this are too complicated to explain, just read the book). This is also a huge moment for him, as he murders someone he loves, knowing full well it doesn’t have to be done. He also takes responsibility for her murder of Martin, which caused her to become a vampire in the first place, as he essentially goaded her into it, knowing what the outcome would be (the destruction of the Red Court, the end of the war with the Council).
10. The entire Red Court is wiped out, thus ending the war that has been going on since book three, Grave Peril, when Harry rescued Susan from the Red Court vamp, Bianca. It’s fitting that he should be the one to end it, as he was the one that started it. This potentially has implications for the entire world as Butcher has created it, as Harry mentions that there were a lot of Red Court vamps hiding out in plain sight in powerful positions worldwide, and now they’ve just simply vanished.
11. Harry learns that his mentor, Ebenezer McCoy, is also his maternal grandfather.
12. Murphy loses her job as a cop thanks to the events of the book, and will presumably take up the holy sword Fiddelachius, and become a Knight of the Cross. This still leaves Amoracchius to be taken up by some unknown person in a later book.
13. In the aftermath of saving Maggie (Maggie having been bundled away to safety by Father Forthill) and before he takes up the mantle of Winter Knight, Harry finally makes a move on Murphy. She doesn’t reject him.
14. Oh yeah, and Harry dies. The book ends with him being shot by an unknown assailant while on the deck of Thomas’s boat, The Water Beetle, while waiting for Murphy to show up for their date. From what I’ve heard of book thirteen, Ghost Story, this is not a condition he will get out of in a hurry.
If I hadn’t already read a couple of interviews with Butcher where he pretty much stated it outright, this book would have clued me in that Butcher is playing the long game with this series, and this book was clearly designed as the pivot point. The series was often unpredictable before Changes, but it followed a general formula, where certain things were always a given. Now, though. That’s pretty much all shot to hell, and the next eight books in the series will be very different than what’s come before.* Because it was designed as a pivot point, a lot of previous storylines paid off here, and it was incredibly satisfying for that to happen after having spent twelve books with these characters. One of the advantages of television, which is why I always compare this series to TV, is that spending long periods of time with characters creates a different type of relationship between them and the reader.
*Supposedly, there will be twenty books in the The Dresden Files proper, to be followed immediately by a trilogy to be called The Big Apocalyptic Trilogy (tentatively to be titled, cutely, Hell’s Bells, Stars and Stones, and Empty Night, after the magical profanity Harry is prone to using).
Anyway, all of this is to say that I’m REALLY glad I stuck with this series after almost giving up on it after book three, and thanks to my buddy Dan in particular for giving me the recommendation in the first place. (One of my favorite things on the internet is this sentence he wrote in his review of Turn Coat: “It’s next to impossible for me to write anything about this series without it devolving into incoherent fanboy sputtering followed by a loss of consciousness.”) I figured if someone could possibly love something that much, it must be worth sticking around for. It took a while, but I turned out to be right. So thanks, Dan!