If you aren’t familiar with Harry Dresden, the creation of bestselling novelist and LARPer Jim Butcher, he’s the wizarding world’s most notorious private investigator, a staff-toting Sam Spade, complete with bullet-proof duster jacket.
Changes, the newest installation in the many-book Dresden series, opens with a phone call to Harry from his former lover Susan Rodriguez, currently a benevolent half-vampire, announcing that she and Harry have a daughter named Maggie who has been kidnapped by the powerful Red Court of vampires.
The phone call kicks off an adrenaline-packed search for the girl that brings Susan and Harry together again, sees the demise of many of Dresden’s trademark accoutrements, and brings him up close and personal with his bloodthirsty fairy godmother Leah.
As usual Butcher is at his best when he is writing action; not only is his language precise and visual, his action scenes always have an explicit plot purpose. When it comes to emotions, Butcher rests on shakier ground. Maggie’s kidnapping drives Changes, but Harry’s response to it seems generic, and Butcher relies on the inherent drama in the situation, the idea that since Harry’s a traditionalist, of course he wants to Show Up for his daughter. It’s a missed opportunity to develop Harry’s emotional life and to delve into his feelings about his own upbringing in a broken home.
Then again, this isn’t Gravity’s Rainbow; it’s Raymond Chandler meets M. Night Shyamalan. And in those terms, the book, and specifically the ending, succeeds in delivering plot twists and quippy dialogue aplenty.
Since the novel has not yet been released (and I know there are some avid series fans out there), I’ll only say that in the ending Butcher makes good use of the earthquake that rocked Macchu Picchu a few months ago, drops at least three plotty bombshells on the reader, and forces Harry into tough decisions that raise his personal levels of pathos to truly epic heights.