Tome of Geek: Changes by Jim Butcher

For several years now the exploits of Chicago’s only wizard has proven to be a thrilling addiction, allowing for a mix of urban detective literature and high magic fantasy.  In the twelve book of the famous urban fantasy series author Jim Butcher bring us a turning point for his series, a book that will change the status quo for this long running series.

“They’ve taken our daughter.”

These are the opening words of the latest book, an ominous warning that quickly sets the pace of the novel.  The words come from Susan Rodriguez, a former character of the series and past romantic fling of the hero Harry Dresden.  The words surprise both Harry and the long time reader as neither has been mentioned before and is unexpected.  With his eight year child, one he had no knowledge of mere hours ago, Harry begins his normal heroic path.  In each book Harry follows this path normally at some cost minor for himself, but Harry has always been one to sacrifice him for others.

“You’ve got to be very careful, Harry.  Something like this will test you like nothing else.  You’re going to find out who you are, Harry.  You’re going to find out which principles you’ll stand by to your death – and which lines you’ll cross.  You’re heading into the Bandlands.  It’ll be easy to get lost.” – Mac McAnally

With the sage-like words from a long time ally of Harry’s coming in the early pages of the book Butcher clearly illustrates how much higher the stakes are this time, how steep the costs will be, and that there is more at risk than simply his daughter.

The book is a thrilling adventure, an excellent example of an urban fantasy adventure.  Jim Butcher pits his titular character against the Red Vampire Court lead by the vicious Duchess Arianna Ortega, a blood thirsty and malicious villainess unlike any that Harry has faced.  Harry, still reeling from the personal loss he received in Turn Coat, is pushed to the edge as the Duchess attacks not only his personal life, but all aspect of his life.  She attacks his office, attacks his home, and frames his for terrorism, all in an attempt to break him both physically and mentally.  By the time the book comes to a close the reader I stunned for what Harry has done to save his family, what he has sacrificed and what favours he has had to use.

Jim Butcher succeeds on several different aspects of his latest books, providing a perfect example of what an urban fantasy novel should be.  The adventure in Changes is reminiscent of an exciting detective novel, a gumshoe shooting first and worry about the damage after but with a solid mix of magic and mayhem which ends in an epic battle the likes seen in the writings of Tolkien or Martin.  The second aspect that Changes succeeds at is in being the latest book in a long-running series.  Changes is the twelve book in the Dresden Files and with no end in sight we have many more adventures to be expected.  Many great series begin to suffer as they reach the status of long-running, The Wheel of Time being one such series often claimed to have suffered from this, but Jim Butcher has done his best to keep the series fresh with each book but not at the cost of his faithful fans.  In Changes he throws Dresden up against the Duchess.  The Red Court vampires have been a reoccurring threat in the series the Duchess, the widow of a former Dresden foe, has proven to be a thrilling enemy that will force Butcher to raise the bar for the Red Court.  In his quest to save his daughter Butcher acknowledges his long time readers by having Harry visit most of the supporting cast, a large number, and calling in every favour he has accumulated over the past ten books, novelette and eleven short stories.   Often a small advantage or blessing gained in a series is forgotten about or lost in the levels of cannon, but Butcher has proven that even the smallest detail from a short story aren’t lost.

The third factor that Butcher does successfully is the turning point novel.  When a long running series reaches the point where things get stale or stagnant many authors will choose to change their world instead of simply ending it.  These books are often an ending of an era and the beginning of another, some will choose to change main characters like Tom Clancy and others will make a generational leap like Piers Anthony, but Butcher has chosen a third route.  He has his main hero evolve and change, using major unresolved plot points from the series.  Changes, the accurately titled book, forces not only Harry to change, but Murphy, Molly and Raith as well.  The book closes off several smaller storylines while leaving major lines, like the Black Council, open and unresolved; the book also opens several new and exciting storylines.

Now as a long time reader and vivid fan of the series I often find it hard to find flaw in thing I obsess over, but there are some small flaws that do need to be addressed in the book.  This is not a book to start in on.  I always suggest that people read The Dresden Files and the series can be leapt into at anytime; most of the books are standalone adventures that reader will suffer only a small loss of understanding and confusion the later the series.  However despite the ability that the series has Changes does not carry it.  Almost every part of the book is based upon or built up from past events.  Butcher spends less time on explaining well known element from the past instead spending his time describing the torment and stress that Harry suffers.

In short Changes is a brilliant book that long time readers are already reading but that newcomers should hold off until the they read the previous books or wait for the next book, an adventure traditionally written for new readers to jump in on.

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