It’s scary when the next volume in a beloved series is called Changes. I mean, pretty much every book in the Dresden Files could be called “Changes to Character Relationships and Long-Term Threatening Situations That You Didn’t Even Realize Were Happening Because I Successfully Distracted You With the Plot, Including One or Two Big Reveals and Some Neat Explosions.”
But that’s not what they’re called; they have snappy, two-word titles like Fool Moon and Dead Beat. This title stared at me as I contemplated my copy. Were these changes going to be bigger? Badder?
For the wary: This review contains no more specific spoilers than you would get reading the inside flap. I’m a total nut about not getting spoiled myself, so you can trust me. But Jim Butcher released the biggest spoiler of all on his Twitter stream, and it’s the first line of the book:
I answered the phone and Susan Rodriguez said, “They’ve taken our daughter.”
Bwuh. Quick reminder: Susan was a reporter who liked to bug Harry for details about his cases, until one day in Grave Peril—book three—she got too close to a scoop and was bitten by a Red Court vampire. She hasn’t made the full transition yet, and now fights her blood lust and kills vampires in South America; we last saw her in book five, Death Masks. And apparently at some point, she and Harry forgot rule number one of dating, at least as defined by my mother: “Don’t get pregnant!” (The “because vampires might kidnap your child” was implied.)
The Dresden ensemble cast is in full force in Changes: Murphy, Molly, Sanya, Mac, Bob, Ebenezar, Mouse, Lea, Mab, Toot-toot, Luccio, Thomas, and Gentleman Johnny Marcone all turn up. There are big relationship reveals, excellent explosions, and a doughnut that I suspect of being symbolic. But, taking into account that I would rather be reading the new Dresden Files book than doing pretty much anything else, Changes didn’t pull me in as powerfully as I was expecting.
There were two main problems: one is that the emotional centers of the book were a woman I haven’t read about in five years and didn’t have strong feelings about even then, and a child I’ve never met. Obviously the kidnapping of children is wrong and I disapprove, but just imagine, say, Molly in danger—the stakes go up exponentially. In Turn Coat, we followed Harry on the emotional journey from thinking Morgan was a total prick to thinking he was a complicated and very human prick. I loved when Harry talked to Molly about what it means to be a wizard, because I’d seen Harry get to that place over the last few books, and I’d seen Molly trying to find her way in the magical world. In Changes, it’s obvious that Harry still cares a lot about Susan and he’s desperate to be there for his daughter, but I felt removed from the driving emotional force. Maybe Susan fans or people reading straight through the series would disagree, which raises an interesting question about who authors are really writing for: the audience as the books come out, or the potentially much larger audiences of the future?
But there’s also the problem of escalation. Apparently the Red Court are the baddest bad guys we’ve faced yet. But who would win, a vampire or a Denarian? A vampire or the Naagloshii? Could the Red King take on Queen Mab? Butcher is throwing more and more powerful obstacles in Harry’s way, and consequently Harry becomes more and more able to deal with them, until everyone is so powerful that the descriptions of their speed and strength just become a background hum. But power doesn’t have to mean force. Mab was one of my favorite threatening presences, because the tension was based on Harry owing her favors, not on the fact that she could pound him into pudding if she wanted to. I hope that the next book will take a cue from its title, Side Jobs, and resolve not by might, not by power, but by badass craftiness.
All of that said, Harry is still Harry, and there are some good twists and turns waiting for you. Take a look at the list of characters above and remember, Changes is funny, quick, and full of people you love, and the titular changes are the kind that leave me excited for what Butcher is going to do in the next book. But of course, I shouldn’t mention those here… I’ll see you in the comments. The spoilery, spoilery, do-not-read-the-comments-if-you-haven’t-read-the-book-yet comments.
And to facilitate discussion, I’m giving away my review copy to the first person to comment specifically asking for it. A simple “ME BOOK PLZ” will do. Warning: dust jacket is slightly battered around the edges, and the book has been in a house with cats. Safe for those with peanut and seafood allergies. We do not ship to the Nevernever.
Megan Messinger is a production assistant at Tor.com, and she still misses Michael Carpenter.