Changes by Jim Butcher

Reviewed by Stephen Aryan

Changes is the 12 book in the Dresden files and not to sound like a broken record but this was a fantastic addition to the series and an amazing read. The Dresden Files are now one of my top ten series of all time. Also, if you’re reading this I’m assuming you’ve read the previous eleven books so there will be some spoilers about them but only minor ones about Changes. It’s also hard to talk about the book too much as the blurb actually gives away a massive spoiler, so I’ve not included it on purpose this time, but I can talk about some of the book’s themes and the characters.

changesBook 11, Turn Coat, was one of the most shocking in the series and it included some events that changed Harry’s life irreparably. It took my breath away and was a real gut punch for the character, so I wondered what on Earth was going to happen next. At the start of Changes, Harry is a teacher and mentor to another wizard who was due for the chop. Like him when he was young, she was labelled a warlock, someone who dabbled with black magic and was due for the chop. He put his neck on the line, just as McCoy had done for him as a boy, and history is repeating itself. The differences are that Harry is hip deep in a lot of other stuff, such as dealing with the Fae and fighting alongside holy Knights who carry blessed Swords. He’s been fighting in the war against the Red Court of vampires (which he started) and he’s been investigated by the police multiple times for crimes featuring weird creatures. He’s fought against and fought beside the local crime boss, Gentleman Johnny Marcone, and has been involved in a whole range of other things with the White Court and Thomas Raith. There’s a lot of other stuff I’ve missed out, but in short, Harry’s life is very complex.

His personal relationships took a beating in Turn Coat and the rug was pulled out from under his feet, leaving him on his own again. Thankfully he still has a lot of friends around him to stop him from sinking into a pit of despair, and despite everything that has happened, he is still trying to do the right thing.

So, there is a lot going on in Harry’s life and this book marks the start of a new direction for the series. Butcher could have kept doing the same thing, and as much as some fans might claim that’s exactly what they want, forever, the majority would eventually get bored. So this book clears the deck a bit, steers the ship in a new direction, and the next book in the series (Ghost Story) will be the first in a whole new chapter of Harry Dresden’s life. There are many unresolved issues and story threads that still need addressing, so Changes is by no means a reboot.

At one point in Changes a senior wizard says to Harry that he has endured more than most other wizards experience after a century. Not yet 40 years old (I think), Harry is therefore rather special and is, potentially, one of the most dangerous wizards alive. He isn’t the strongest, but he has a lot more experience of dealing with a wide variety of monsters, demons and all kinds of other creepy things that some have never come into contact with. He is used to thinking on his feet, he is smart witted (and smart mouthed) and his experience makes him an implacable enemy, so much so, that some very senior beings have actively taken an interest in him.

Harry is also the only wizard listed in the phone book in Chicago and he firmly has one foot in the ‘normal world’ and one in the wizarding world. Other wizards shun those without powers and live their entire lives in a sort of parallel world, never interacting with those not involved in the struggle against dark forces. Harry sees things differently. He cares about normal people and the normal world, and he knows the two rely on each other and are interconnected. The reason he put his name in the phone book is he wants to help normal people who have been drawn into something they don’t understand and can’t cope with. Karrin Murphy, his friend and confidant on the police force, used to be someone who thought Harry was a bit of a weirdo, but after years of working with him she knows him better than anyone else.

It’s a weird thing to say about a fictional character, but after twelve books about Harry Dresden, I feel as if I also know him really well. I’ve just checked my bookshelves and the Dresden Files is the only series I’ve ever read with twelve books in it. It’s the only series I have with that many written in the first person, so part of my delusion about being a close personal friend of Harry Dresden is understandable. For me picking up a new book in the Dresden series at this point is like reading a blog or diary entry from a friend. You don’t need to work out who all the characters are and their relationships, you already know all of that.

Changes is a real crossroads book and the old saying things will never be the same again actually applies in this case. As excited as I am to know what happens in the short term, because the book ends on one hell of a cliff-hanger, I’m very curious to see where the story will go in the long term. I thought I had an idea, but now my predictions have been completely blown out of the water and I like that uncertainty and the idea that anything can happen.

The story is hugely emotional with some amazing scenes, and in theory you could read this book and understand most of it without having read the others, but you would be robbing yourself. This book is the fulcrum of a lot of different story threads, and as well as affecting Harry, it marks a big change for a lot of others characters who I have been reading about for many years. So I would definitely recommend starting with Storm Front. In the meantime, while I eagerly await the arrival of Ghost Story, I’m going to tuck into Side Jobs, a collection of short stories and novellas about Harry Dresden.

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