Changes (Dresden Files, Book 12) - Jim Butcher



~~Moved from GR~~


Changes (The Dresden Files #12)

by Jim Butcher


Several times in previous books, Harry has threatened that if an enemy touches someone he loves, he will pick up every weapon he can use to go after them, no matter the cost. In this book, he proves it.

His old lover, Susan Rodriguez, suddenly drops in and tells him that the daughter he never knew existed has been kidnapped. Characteristically, Harry is savage and single-minded in his urge to protect and save her: she is a child, a girl, and, most of all, his own kin. Changes is the darkest, most intense book yet. The title is not merely ironic; practically everything in Harry's life is altered as he takes up weapon after weapon, uses person after person, to save his daughter. The book is bittersweet and heartbreaking at times, horrifying at others, and intense throughout. The book not only changes Harry and his life, but also how we view him as a character.

I was a little skeptical when I started the novel--probably just like everyone else, it got David Bowie running through my head...and given this book's more serious tone and often frenetic pace, "cha-cha-cha-chaanges" doesn't really work as background music. However, although not a good book to start the series with, Changes is a fantastic read for anyone familiar with Dresden's world. Basically every character, major and relatively minor, makes at least a cameo appearance in the book, and a lot of offhand comments from previous books take on a whole new significance in Changes. There are tons of explosions and standoffs, a fun new monster of the week that Dresden names "the Ick", and several hilarious, touching, and heartbreaking moments. Despite the title's deviation from standard form*, there are even a few puns that actually made me giggle--for instance, at one point, Dresden literally "treads the primrose path"...and given it's Dresden, the "everlasting bonfire" isn't far behind.

For me, Dresden's savagery makes this a difficult and not particularly fun read, but it is probably necessary for the series as a whole. One slight nitpick is that the Black Council subplot is not directly advanced and some of the plot threads thrown out at the end of Turn Coat aren't picked up. In Turn Coat, Murphy was left with a phone and a set of numbers; this isn't even referenced here.

This isn't a book I exactly enjoyed reading, but I also couldn't put it down, and that speaks volumes for how good the series is. I really, really don't like it when Dresden turns cold and savage, killing without remorse or thought. Typically when that happens, I just disassociate from the character and end up putting the book down as dull. I couldn't put Changes down, despite my revulsion, because Dresden's savagery is mixed so well with his humanity that I could not disassociate with him.

My major issue is that everyone in his world seems to take Dresden's actions as the right course. I would argue that there is no good or just course here and every path leads to necessary evil. Dresden risks everything to save his are those actions not inherently selfish? They may be human, but makes a decision about which innocents will live and which will die, and he makes it biased on his own personal desires. He is willing to sacrifice countless others for his child to live.
The argument is explicit in one scene in the book:

Merlin: "Uncounted billions, born and unborn, will be one life, innocent or not, is worth that."

Dresden: "No life is worth less."

I'm not sure what we, the readers, are supposed to think. Are Dresden's action supposed to be noble? At one point, he tells Murphy that he doesn't care if the world burns; he and his child will roast marshmallows, and she responds that he is a good man. At another, he explicitly states that he will be willing to murder millions of people to gain the power he needs to rescue his child. Maybe I might be able to buy some definition of shortsighted nobility if the child were not his, but as it is, I feel Dresden is placed in a position where no good choices are available. Choosing to protect his family over countless other lives is not a noble action, it is a human one. He is willing to directly cause the destruction of others to save one he cares about. He weighs the life of his child to be greater than that of the uncounted billions. This moral struggle, for me, is a powerful, meaningful, and unresolvable conflict in the book, and I hope the author doesn't just cop out by arguing that Dresden's decisions are the right ones.

While I found this book hard to read--Dresden's savagery and pain throughout is appalling--the symmetry made the book feel complete, somehow. The number of times Harry has threatened genocide to the various vampire courts that have opposed him...he did it to Ortega, to Mavra, to Lara. And now he fulfilled his threat.
He crosses so many lines into the antihero zone that I found his death to be both appropriate and fitting, and somehow made the book complete. The only life he had the right to bargain with was his own, but he made a Faustian bargain in which he handed his abilities to one who could force him to take innocent lives. His own death was the only ending that I believe could be satisfying: he paid the price, but did not force (as many) others to pay it.

I was quite surprised when I found out there was a sequel.

(show spoiler)


*Dresden Files titles are always two words, same number of letters and syllables in each word, and as many puns that can be shoveled in as possible.



Other Reviews

Believe it or not, I've written a review of every single book in the series. I may have addiction issues. Links to the complete set are below. The starred ones are my faves.

[#1] Storm Front    [#2] Fool Moon    [#3] Grave Peril    [#4] Summer Knight*    [#5] Death Masks    [#6] Blood Rites    [#7] Dead Beat*    [#8] Proven Guilty    [#9] White Night    [#10] Small Favor*    [#11] Turn Coat    [#12] Changes    [#13] Ghost Story*    [#14] Cold Days