Changes: Book Twelve of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Published April 2010 (UK), by Orbit UK, US 2009.
Review by Mark Yon
So, we reach Book Twelve of the Dresden Files series.
(Which again reminds me, for the record, as there are spoilers here, please read the ever-lengthening list of other reviews first:
(Book One (Storm Front) review here; http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/219.html ; Book Two (Fool Moon) review here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/232.html ) Book Three (Grave Peril) (link here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/243.html ), Book Four, Summer Knight (link here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/281.html), Book Five, Death Masks (here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/416.html );
Book Six, Blood Rites (here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/419.html );
Book Seven, Dead Beat (here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/473.html ); and
Book Eight, Proven Guilty (here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/560.html );
Book Nine, White Night here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/588.html);
Book Ten, Small Favour, here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/626.html);
I last reviewed Harry Dresden in August 2010 with Turn Coat here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/652.html ).
OK. I realise now that it has taken me five years to get to this point, and for the series itself, ten. And as you might have discovered from my previous reviews, it’s been an interesting and entertaining journey for me. But here is, as the title would suggest, where everything changes. This is the Dresden equivalent of Holmes and Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls, or of the Battle of Minas Tirith.
Here things really become different. This is one where Jim rips up what has gone before, and makes, in many ways, a fresh start. Many of our reference points are removed here, leaving a feeling that this book really does change things about.
Having said that, there are some things that don’t change. The series, as I’ve noted before, has a reputation of starting with a bang. Turn Coat did, but this one is a new shock.
“I answered the phone, no big deal, until I heard the message: ‘They’ve taken our daughter.’”
The phone call is from Susan Rodriguez, his ex-girlfriend who was turned into a vampire by the Red Court back in Book Five, Death Masks. He is told about something he didn’t know – he has a daughter, Maggie, kept in secret from Harry for her protection. And that Arianna Ortega, Duchess of the Red Court, has found out, kidnapped her and plans to use Maggie against Harry as revenge for the death of her husband, an action precipitated by Harry.
Over the next three days Harry’s task, with Susan and half-vampire Martin, is to find his daughter and save her from the evil vampires. Whilst she initiates the kidnapping, Queen Arianna also manoeuvres towards a proposed peace settlement between the Red Court and the Wizards: something that would be greatly desired by the Council. Thus given a choice of saving Harry’s daughter or ending the war, the Wizard’s actions seem restricted – exactly Arianna’s point. The actions are further limited when a serious and mysterious illness dehabilitates many of the Council who remain at the Council Centre in Edinburgh.
Further help is denied when newly appointed Gregori Cristos (in Turn Coat) has many of the Senior Wardens arrested, including Captain Anastasia Luccio, who was involved with Harry in Turn Coat. Harry is pretty much on his own here, with only his closest friends to help. Them and Queen Mab, who for reasons of her own is enlisted to help in a pact made with Harry.
To do that, Harry has to pay back some old debts, all at a cost. He also uncovers secrets and makes serious sacrifices that will affect him, and those around him, forever.
So: we finally see a resolution of sorts of the Vampire Wizard War, though perhaps not the way it what was expected to be initially. I must admit, considering that Susan is now a half-vampire why the Court hasn’t considered using her against Harry before, particularly if they are as ruthless as we are led to believe. However she has kept Maggie a secret from Harry (and everyone else) for that reason, though I’m not sure it would be that easy to do.
In terms of overall plot development, the arrival of Maggie now means that we’re into what I jokingly referred to as Dresden: the Next Generation in an earlier review, though this is not developed here. However some of our regulars do have their star moments – the training of Molly as an apprentice finally comes to fruition, Mouse has an interesting development and Karrin excels herself as a friend of Harry.
There are some new elements. We have some new characters: Esteban and Esmeralda Bastiste, collectively known as ‘the Ebs’, are sent as hired assassins to kill Harry. Though rather deranged, I did think they were a little bit underwhelming.
Less disappointing was the fact that, as you might expect from previous Dresden’s, Jim does do epic battles well. Here there is an epic battle at Chichen Itza, where Maggie is to be sacrificed, between Harry and his friends and the might of the Red Court. We discover that Arianna’s aim is to sacrifice Maggie in a blood ritual which would release a death curse which would travel up the family tree from the sacrificial victim to all her siblings, then to her parents, then to all their siblings (like Harry’s half brother, Thomas), to the grandparents, to the grandparent’s siblings, ad infinitum.
What works best here is that the book has jaw-dropping moment after jaw-dropping moment. We have the appearance of an ancient God, the emergence of the Red King, and Harry visits the domain of the ErlKing. Most importantly, here’s where a lot of those plot lines previously told comes together: Harry’s past, Harry’s responsibilities, the Vampire-Wizard War, Harry’s friendships.
And just when you think the tale’s been wrung out as much as it can, the ending is a stunner, which, in a page, changes things again.
In summary, those readers who have made the journey, as I have, to this point are going to be shocked and horrified by some of the things that happen here. There are characters that come to the fore and unexpected betrayals. This book is life-changing for Harry and many of the key characters we have got to know, in both positive and negative ways.
This, for me, puts Harry above the genre competition by a mile. If I may have felt that there were previous books that treaded water a little in places, this one definitely doesn’t. This is where everything that has gone before counts and for the reader makes what happens here have an emotional punch that makes reading all the books up to this point pay off. Big time.
The thirteenth novel, I understand, will be called Ghost Story and is due out March 2011 (though we have short story collection, Side Jobs, already out in the US and due later this year in the UK.)
I can’t wait.
Mark Yon, October/November 2010