Sunday, June 23, 2024

Changes Come in Changes

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Everything changes. Nowhere in the Dresden Files is this more true than in the 2010 Changes. This is the pivot on which the entire series turns. Butcher works his magic, weaving together the plot and worldbuilding, and changes the game. If at all possible, please read the book before this article, because reading spoilers completely changes how you read the book. Everything changes in Changes and no one and nothing is the same afterwards.

Spoilers for all of Changes and Butcher’s Previous Works.

So, What Happened

The book opens with Susan Rodriguez informing Harry that the Red Court took their daughter. He starts preparing after a brief moment of panic. He, Susan, and Martin go investigate a Red Court base in Harry’s office building. A group of vampires attack, and Harry’s magic accidentally fries the computer server. The vampires blow up the building, which leads to an FBI investigation of Harry, because the charges surrounded his office. Harry keeps investigating, with Ivy sending him to Marcone, to Donar Vadderung, aka Odin. Odin tells him where to find Maggie and how they want to ritually sacrifice her. It’s a blood curse, one that kills the victim and all their relatives.

The White and Grey Councils refuse to help. Harry faces several assassination attempts from a vampire couple known as the Eebs. In one of them, they firebomb his apartment. In evacuating his neighbors, he falls and breaks his back. He becomes the Winter Knight to reclaim his ability to fight, though with some reservations.

Harry, Susan, Martin, Sanya, Molly, Murphy, Thomas, Mouse, and the Leanansidhe head to Chichen Itza, the site of the ritual. On the way, Ebenezar contacts Harry, and Harry reveals that Maggie is his daughter. Ebenezar agrees that Harry should go, and comes with the Grey Council and Vadderung to help. Harry kills Duchess Arianna in a duel, and the Red King double-crosses them. Martin betrays them to the Red King, and Susan kills him when he reveals he led them to Maggie. She turns into a vampire, and Harry sacrifices her instead, taking out the entire Red Court. The survivors return to Chicago, and Harry gives Maggie to Father Forthill to protect her. He and Murphy agree to consummate their relationship, but before that, a sniper seemingly kills him.

Best Moment – The Changes

This entire book turns everything on its head. But two moments stand out for the changes they make, the opening and the closing of the book.

Butcher begins the book with a cold open.

“I answered the phone, and Susan Rodriguez said, ‘They’ve taken our daughter.’ I sat there for a long five count, swallowed, and said, ‘Um. What?” (p. 18)

This scene changes everything. It sets up the conflict of the book: recovering Maggie. But it also sets up Harry’s response to the situation. He explains the situation in short sentences to his friends, and many of the emotionally charged moments in the book come in short sentence. Harry grows more emotional and more in touch with those emotions over the course of Changes. And Butcher sets it up with two, maybe three sentences.

While I cannot comment as much about the ending, it’s also a doozy.

“I looked at the Water Beetle’s cabin wall, bulkhead, whatever, behind me and thought, Who splattered red paint on my boat? … I thought, Why did I pick the shirt with a bullet hole in it? Then I fell off the back of the boat, … It got dark. It got quiet. … I saw a light ahead of me. … Typical, I thought. Even when you’re dead it doesn’t get any easier. The light rushed closer, and I distinctly heard the horn and the engine of an oncoming train.” (p. 412-3).

The cliché of the light at the end of the tunnel turning into an oncoming train is perfect. Butcher seemingly killed the protagonist of his entire series on the last page of this pivotal book.

It’s fitting in a way. The opening revealed a new life, and the closing took away a life.

Most Improved – Fatherhood Changes You

After Susan hangs up, Harry spends a good amount of time panicking. Then he heads to McAnally’s. He talks to Mac and Mac gives advice with actual grammar.

“Something like this will test you like nothing else, … You’re going to find out who you are, Harry. You’re going to find out which principles you’ll stand by to your death—and which lines you’ll cross.’ He took my empty glass away and said, ‘You’re heading into the badlands. It’ll be easy to get lost” (p. 22).

That advice comes true in Changes. Harry slowly finds out what he wants to do for his daughter, and what he will do to make her safe. In a conversation with Molly we find out the former. “If things ever went really, truly bad, he’d Show Up,’ she said, … I wondered if my daughter even knew that she had a father, if she knew that there was someone who wanted, desperately, to Show Up.” (p. 110). He does his best to do so, and when his back injury seems like it will prevent it, we find out the latter. Harry invokes Maggie before he calls out to Mab and becomes her Knight.

I still call this improvement because of his last action. Earlier he thinks about going and asking for power and turns it down, because. “But what about after? I wouldn’t have to go on the run with Maggie to protect her from the monsters. I’d be one.” (p. 174). It is that fear, of becoming a monster, that makes him leave Maggie with Forthill. That makes him ask not to know where she will go. Because he’s Showed Up now. Now he needs to protect her from the monster Mab would make of him. Because that sacrifice will protect Maggie.

Best Worldbuilding – The Ritual and the Rationale

Because of the information gained from the computer server, Harry knows that the Red Court is preparing a ritual. His visit to Odin, Donar Vadderung, lets him know what type of ritual.

“Death magic,’ he said, ‘focused upon the bloodline. From the sacrifice, the child, to her brothers, sisters, and parents. … Spreading up the family tree until there’s no one left. …They like to be thorough, those old monsters. … It tears out the heart,’ Vadderung said. ‘Rips it to bits on the way out, too. Sound familiar?” (p. 164-5)

Butcher takes this opportunity to connect his stories more with the reuse of the ritual from the first book. Bob tells Harry more about the ritual, how another could be substituted for Maggie, when they arrive at Chichen Itza. That leads to Susan’s death and the destruction of the Red Court.

But tied along with the ritual is the rationale, why they picked a bloodline curse for a small family. One child, two parents, seemingly no one else. Vadderung even hints at it with his comment about thoroughness. Susan asks Martin why Arianna took Maggie after he revealed himself a traitor. Martin replies.

“Because the child’s father is the son of Margaret LeFay, the daughter of the man who killed her husband. … Margaret LeFay. Daughter of the man who had killed Arianna’s husband (and vampire child), Paolo Ortega. Duke Ortega. Who had been destroyed by the Blackstaff. Ebenezar McCoy.” (p. 391).

Harry and Susan were collateral damage. Ebenezar was the target, and Maggie was the most vulnerable. Afterwards, Harry and his grandfather talk about why Arianna knew and Harry didn’t. Why Ebenezar took in Harry and taught him.

Worst Moment – I won a war. God forgive me.

This moment stands between a traditional choice for Worst Moment and a situation like the one with Michael. Susan turns into a vampire, the youngest vampire in the Red Court.

“I put Susan on the altar and said, ‘She’ll be safe. I promise.’ She nodded at me, her body jerking and twisting in convulsions, forcing moans of pain from her lips. She looked terrified, but she nodded. … I pressed my mouth to hers, swiftly, gently, tasting the blood, and her tears, and mine. I saw her lips form the word, ‘Maggie…’ And I … I used the knife. I saved a child. I won a war. God forgive me.” (p. 396-7).

There are problems with this, no doubt. Primarily because Susan has been coded as Latinx since the first book, and she’s one of the first female characters we met. Now, she’s been sacrificed on an altar by a white man because she changes into a vampire. Those implications are very bad.

But depiction vs endorsement is important to the Fandomentals as a whole. The narrative here depicts but does not endorse this death, this sacrifice. Take Harry’s shattered and fragmented internal narrative here, we can see the guilt. Earlier quotes reinforce that notion. “One day I hope God will forgive me for giving birth to the idea that came next. Because I never will. I knew how angry she was. I knew how afraid she was. … what I did to her was as good as murder.” (p. 392). Then he asked her a question that leads her to kill Martin and to turn. The reader is free to hate and blame Harry, as he does, for Susan’s death. This is not framed as positive. There is only the grief and the guilt.

In Conclusion

Everything changes. Butcher certainly puts us through the wringer here. Susan’s death, the death of the Red Court. Harry’s death, and Maggie’s survival, and the acceptance of the Winter Mantle. These changes affect the narrative entirely. Harry loses everything in this book. His office, his apartment, his car, his self-respect. And his life. Those losses and the changes that come from the mantle, and being a father as well as his death, will ripple through the books to come.

I did have some things I wanted to include in Best Moment. Mouse swears at the Leanandsidhe when she turns the questers into dogs to travel. I adore Mouse and it features the line, “I live with a wizard. I cheat.” (p. 335). But Murphy’s angelic denunciation of the Court when they arrive at Chichen Itza also deserves an honorable mention. There are so many changes to chronicle, so many good moments. Like the fact that the Grey Council actually exists now, and the tie between Victor Sells and the Black Court.

But for now, Maggie is safe. And that’s all that matters to Harry.

Image Courtesy of Roc

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