Monday, September 19, 2011

Changes by Jim Butcher, book 12 of the Dresden Files

Susan, Harry's old lover who was half changed by the Red Court vampires, is back in town. And she has a revelation for Harry – they have a daughter together. She's been brought up in secret, hidden even from Harry. But the Red Court have found her – her foster family have been slaughtered and the girl has been kidnapped.

Harry, who for so long has lived without family, now has to find and save his daughter from some of the most evil monsters he's ever faced. And he must do it with very little help, just his truest friends – the White Council has been mired in schemes and politics and a virtual coup – certainly none are free to help Harry. To make things worse, the Red Courts' greatest and most powerful leaders have gathered – including beings that were once worshipped as gods and have the power far beyond his own.

Harry is faced with a desperate choice – as more and more of his life is torn apart and to save his daughter, he looks to embrace power he has rejected for so long – and cross lines he refused to cross.

This book had a desperate tension to it, a very well done tension as Harry becomes more and more desperate. It was very well done with minimal telling and considerable showing. As Harry's situation becomes more desperate, as the enemies he faces are made more powerful his desperation becomes really believable. In other books where the protagonist has been forced to cross lines because of desperation, I've had trouble believing it. I've felt there were other ways out or the bad was just not that bad (or even when it was that bad, I've felt that the protagonist didn't exactly agonise over their decision). But here there was a strong sense of desperation and a complete lack of reasonable options which was hard to do because we've seen how much Harry was capable of and we've seen him be truly epicly powerful before - yet despite that power Harry did feel very much pressed to consider Mab and Lasciel. Again, it was just so well done. Scenes like this are made or broken by the quality of the writing – and this was done well.

I admit, I couldn't quite get the full impact of the tension. I can understand Harry's motivation to want to desperately save Maggie, but personally I couldn't be overly invested in the tension of whether they'd save her in time because we have nothing invested in Maggie as a character. She was too much of a stranger for her rescue to be a major issue for me. However, the feeling of everything falling apart was a much greater and more powerful source of tension that I feel created its own tension even if I wasn't engaged in Maggie's rescue.

In some ways this book is a break from the previous books because it's a different story. Because the epic is ratcheted up and there's much less of a mystery – it's about survival and desperation and being pushed to the edge. For a while I wasn't sure I liked the change but I quickly settled on the new rails – and yes, I love it because it was done so extremely well, the balance was made, the theme set and the desperate, back-to-the-wall mood well maintained..

The ending was incredibly epic beyond measure. It was tense, action filled, paced amazingly well with new surprises and new shocks constantly evolving. It had a full sense of risk and fog of war and just terrifying, world changing power. I do feel that the Red Court lords didn't really live up to their hype very much – but it's a small complaint. It felt like the whole world he'd created changed and was shaken to its very foundations and wasn't just a wonderfully dramatic, climactic ending – it also set the foundations for a very changed world.

I love the Leanansidhe and hope we'll be seeing more of her in future and see her developed more. And Mouse of course - who I hope will develop even more epicly. Did I use the word "epic" enough yet?

There were some problems however, that I cannot ignore even though I loved this book.

Murphy was epic, as usual. I want her to take up the sword full time and I do so love that she saved the day in a fashion that was epicly epic with a little more epic. Did I mention it was epic? Because it was completely epic. However, again, we have Murphy having little life or story of her own and just being the muscle who shows up whenever Harry needs her. She's getting tougher and more powerful and more impressive muscle – but she's still Harry's muscle.

I am glad to see Sanya show up again, though, like Murphy, he's rapidly becoming a servant, a thug for call, that shows up whenever Harry needs him. Between him and Susan it meant there was a greater presence of POC than usual, and I do like Sanya as a character, but the trope of foreign POC continues

I'm not Molly's best fan and wish the whole “she has a crush on Harry” thing could just go away. I'm glad that she has skills and powers beyond Harry and is capable in her own right but I'm still not happy with the idea that she's just inherently less combat capable than Harry.

I don't like Susan, never really have but I was pleasantly surprised that even though she's back for this book she doesn't play a major role in it. I'm less than happy with her sacrifice though, as I think it's a sad and tired trope to have a woman, a WOC and a mother to sacrifice herself so. Though I'm comforted that it's a character I don't particularly like all that much out of the picture.

I think Harry dressing up as a conquistador expressly to rile the Mayan vampire, even if it's the idea of the cruel Leannansidhe. It was gratuitous, tasteless and unnecessary. And can we please stop the gay jokes. Please. It's bad enough that we have complete GBLT erasure, without being reduced to a “funny” punch line as well. Old fails and tired ones that keep getting repeated and we could sorely do without..

On the whole, if I wasn't hooked before this book, I would be with this one. It was an effort of will not to pick up the next book right away. I want to know what Harry will have to do in his new role. I want to know how his relationship with Ebenezer will change. I want to know what happens with the White Council now, the fallout from the Red Court – everything. I have to say, this is the ideal thing to do with a book series this long. Keep the story but move it forwards. After so mnay books with the war rumbling in the baclground and threadsw lying around unfinished, this blew new life into the series – a new twist, a new turn and a massive shift in the world that (very satisfyingly) finished a lot of old plot lines while continuing the meta-plot.

I can't wait to see how this develops with so much change and new beginnings.