Changes, by Jim Butcher (Dresden #12)

  • TITLE: Changes (The Dresden Files #12)
  • AUTHOR: Jim Butcher
  • PUBLISHER: Orbit (UK)
  • PUBLICATION DATE: April 6th 2010

Changes was a big book, and one that’s not titled lightly: there are a lot of changes. In fact, everything changes. As a big fan of the ‘Files, I’ve been dreading getting further along in the series; I’ve been afraid of Butcher running out of steam, him changing Harry’s personality just to keep the wise-cracks coming, or generally him just jumping the shark. So far—though it might have come close in places—hasn’t happened.

More than Changes, I’ve been dreading Ghost Story, so I was at least able to begin the book without the same sort of readerly baggage I took with me into Turn Coat. I’m a reader that both hates and loves change; I like familiarity, but I like excitement. I’m actually damn hard to please. Too much “slice-of-life” can become boring, but none enough and I start floundering in the setting and feel surrounded by characters I neither know nor understand.

In fact, despite any reservations; Changes was a superb book.

There were issues, yes, but at this point in a series there are going to be problems that the nitpicking reader will point out. I’m not that much of a nitpicker, so there weren’t many issues. I felt that after the events of Turn Coat, Thomas’ return was very…blah. There were no real changes to his character in light of his “regression”. Unless, subtly, Butcher means to show that Thomas is feeding more deeply and regularly by demonstrating his control around Molly after she’s wounded following the One Woman Rave spell ends, especially when, in contrast, on the island Thomas cannot control his hunger following his release from the big nasty that hounds everyone’s steps in Turn Coat and Molly is forced to hide herself from him, and previously, when they soulgaze and they are both drawn into a feeding. Even so, there should have been a little more on Thomas’ side—or even Harry’s—that showed how little time they’d spent together in the wake of his return to the White Court. There wasn’t, and it felt a little underdone. It was a Big Thing, for both brothers, for Thomas to quit his nibbling existence, and return to wholesome bites. Especially in light of Thomas’ ideas on how to change (for the better, in his eyes) the way in which the White Court feeds, in treating humans as more than just food while still sustaining themselves.

I’ll give Butcher the benefit of the doubt and say that he just focussed too much on Susan’s return—and the circumstances of it—instead of bottling out of writing a deeper relationship between Harry and his brother. You might be able to tell where my preference falls, but that’s because Susan has been an inherently annoying character from the beginning.

That doesn’t really change, to be honest. Without Susan, the book would have been improved, but without her, it wouldn’t really happen at all. This was annoying. The storyline, all the way from Grave Peril through till now has been a source of annoyance for me. I refuse to buy that a character as strong as Susan would have been stupid enough—given that she knows and accepts the existence of the supernatural—to go to that first Red Court shebang in the first place. Butcher needed a dumb damsel and I think it betrayed Susan’s character to the core. And made her look stupid, which was awkward and it broke character. There’s a difference between a strong woman seeking to report the truth, and someone smart enough (which Susan is) to pull back and go easy with things.

But, without Susan being stupid, the entire plot that runs through the series wouldn’t have happened… and well, the series might be a lot shorter!

Regardless, Butcher had the chance to paint Susan with a different brush, given how long it’s been since her last appearance. Instead, Susan was again a plot device. Pure and simple. A device to start the war and a device to use at the end. He wasted a perfectly fine female character, as far as I’m concerned.

Her behaviour in Changes was nothing extraordinary; worse, it was expected. It’s as though Butcher bottled out of writing her character and so copped out and kidnapped her daughter instead. Mommy’s very angry, as it were. That’s it. There was nothing else to Susan. I loved Susan before Butcher decided he couldn’t really be bothered to write a good female—it’s as though he’s used up his “good female” quota on Murphy, and even then, she’s your typical cop-slash-avenging-angel figure, like a battle-goddess. My whining about Susan is generally where my problems with this book end.

Harry loses everything and sells his soul in order to get his daughter back, but there’s a deeper game at play. Other than that, it’s a standard Dresden Files novel, which means it’s very good, all said. I gave it five stars despite my grievances about Susan, mainly because those grievances aren’t specific to Changes. They’re relevant to the whole series from Grave Peril onwards, so it isn’t fair to judge Changes because of it.

Instead, this instalment is amazing. It’s a very grown up, very thrill-a-minute urban fantasy ride, and by the end you are quite literally breathless. It’s hard. The ending kicks you in the teeth, repeatedly, and then does it again. The actual end—which reads rather more like an epilogue—is awkward and it feels rushed. It’s as though he should have started Ghost Story with the “epilogue” and let Changes stay the way it was. But that might be a matter of taste.

All said, Changes was a compelling read that kept me up at night and generally sucked the time right out of my day. It was a good book and definitely a good Dresden book. I do, however, worry how Butcher will both keep the pace and interest, and further the Story (capital ess) without recycling the same old, same old, hereafter. We shall see.

Definitely one of the best Dresden Files to date. Sharp, hard-hitting, and full of tight plotting.

5/5

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