25 August 2012

Population explosions at series' ends

Fantasy | Jim Butcher | Changes

I've only dipped into the Dresden Files series. I've read the first one, then Summer Knight, and now Changes.

Edit: Mike Martinez says that I should put in major spoiler alerts. I didn't think I'd put in any spoilers, but just in case. Be warned. Some things below may be spoilers, probably the partial list of characters, or the duel which Dresden won in a previous book (oh, come on, he has to win them all; he's the hero).

So, to start with, 10 bonus points for the fact that I don't feel like I've lost my way somewhere in between and need to trudge through all the intervening books in sequence. You have to admire a writer who can avoid prior plot summaries along the way, have loyal readers instantly identify characters from before, yet not turn off new readers who plop in for a look-see in mid-stream.

Changes is the latest in the series on wizard Harry Dresden, who solves supernatural mysteries for the local police force. Oh, wait, not any more. Now he solves supernatural mysteries for supernatural types.

His erstwhile flame, Susan, is back on page one, telling him the Red Court of horrible vampires (implying there are less horrible ones, and we meet at least two in this book) has kidnapped their daughter. The one she hadn't bothered to tell him about these past 8 years and counting. Curses!

Susan and her companion Martin (both half-turned vampires) are part of an underground fighting the Red Court in South America. (Apparently all the woes of the continent are due to these bloodsuckers. Gosh. That makes perfect sense, doesn't it? Doesn't it? OK, I wasn't impressed either; it only made me chuckle once out of half my mouth). And the Red Court has sent the evil villain, Duchess Arianna Ortega, the widow of the ex-villain (dead now) Duke Ortega, killed by Dresden in a previous book, and kid-napper of the girl, as the ambassador to the White Council of Wizards. Who do not take kindly to Dresden's attempt to challenge her to a duel. And he can't tell them why, as then anyone can use the kid against him.

Dresden then rounds up support in other places, and realises that his best bet is to take in all his friends, but then since all of them will likely die, that means he's killing all his friends. Fortunately, there is more than one way out of this dilemma. He takes one of them, and his friends the other (smack him upside his head and say we're coming along, like it or not, stupid!).

Of course there is a happy ending of sorts, or Jim Butcher would not be releasing another book this coming October.

What does one like about this book and the series in general? Snappy dialogue, check. Dresden forgetting basic precautions in the heat of the moment, check. He's certainly not one of those all-powerful all-clever wizards. He goofs. Spectacularly at times. But he muddles through. OK, enough nattering. Sample time:

"You aren't the boss of me." [That's Dresden's apprentice].
I could all but taste the pride she felt at making her talents useful to my cause. "The hell I'm not," I told her. "Do it or I dock you a year's pay."
"You know you don't pay me anything, right?"
"Curses," I said. "Foiled again."
You also get exotic locations. Chichen Itza. Edinburgh. What? Edinburgh is exotic to me. Chicago. Ok, stop giggling.

What causes facepalm? Long series tend to accumulate characters, particularly ones the author doesn't feel like killing off from time to time. Harry Potter had so many characters by the last book that you needed some 30 extra pages just to fit their names in. The Dresden series is going that way, too. See which ones you recognise: Dresden, Susan Rodriguez, Martin, Molly, Margaret Angelica (aka Mom), Duke Ortega, Duchess Ortega, White Council, Red Court, Grey Council, Black Council, Karrin Murphy, Wizard MacFee, Wizard Cristos, Carlos Ramirez, Anastasia Luccio, Arthur Langtry, Wizard McCoy, Bob the Skull, the doggy Mouse, Rudolph the IA cop, and le chat. And that's only from the first 10 chapters. There's a bro, a Knight of the Cross, tiny faeries, major bad faeries including Mab, and Dresden's faerie godmother, who is promoted in this book by Molly: "Spooky death Sidhe lady," Molly said. "Now upgraded to spooky, crazy death Sidhe lady." "Bless you, child. You have such potential. We should talk when this is over."

Dresden gets at least two upgrades himself in this book. One by deducing something and asking for it, the other by a Deal with [spoiler deleted].

Plenty of sorcery, good guys vs. monsters, and other assorted wizardly complications that the Dresden Files reader knows and expects.

Jim Butcher maintains his standards in this one.

But he needs to do something about the population explosion. You already need a fisheye lens for the cast photo at the end of the book. One sad bullet at the last page doesn't begin to make a dent.

[Sorry about the flash reflection on the cover picture. I'm just too lazy to shoot it again. And I thought I only had one more book to tell you about to polish my conscience and make it nice and shiny, but turns out I hid the other one in my desk to avoid writing about it. Naughty! Bad reviewer! And then, I found an unread book lying around, even if it is a Michael Crichton. So, if I don't write faster, I will have three to do again. Curses. Fuego.]

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