Fantasy Round 22.5: Changes
This is the “wham episode” for the Dresden Files. It’s the only book that breaks the title two-word potentially-punning naming scheme. It also changes everything. The long running plot takes a sudden, sharp turn. And, also, stuff blows up.
If you thought the earlier books were a wild ride… hoo boy.
Oh, The Drama
Is this a soap opera now?
If you thought the brother that Harry Dresden didn’t know about was bad, it just gets worse in this book.
In fact, at least twice as bad.
The first big twist is that, actually, Harry has a daughter with his old flame, Susan Rodriguez.
Who didn’t tell him about it. Their little girl is around seven or so. Also, she’s been kidnapped by the Red Court of vampires.
Dresden is rather understandably furious. He’s mad at Susan for lying to him (by omission, at best), and even more mad at the Red Court. It’s Papa Wolf time. He goes a bit overboard, in fact. Still, I wonder if there wasn’t a less… overtly dangerous approach he could have taken. More on that later.
It gets better, though. It turns out that Dresden’s mentor, Ebenezar McCoy, is actually his maternal grandfather. An item kept (mostly) secret for everybody’s safety. At least in this case, the secret has been floating around long enough that some people had figured it out before the story opens, notably including a group of Red Court vampires. Again, oops. At least this makes all the secret-keeping feel a little more realistic, since the information did actually leak.
If both secrets had been out, and openly discussed? Then, surely, McCoy and Dresden together could have found a safe place for Maggie (Dresden and Susan’s daughter) to grow up away from all the things that go bump in the night – as Dresden eventually does. Instead of Susan just relying on her contacts in the anti-vampire underground, some of whom were ultimately untrustworthy.
Meanwhile, I’m just frustrated at all the secrets being kept. Seriously, people, those don’t help anybody. It just makes everything messier. And it also makes me wonder who Dresden’s maternal grandmother was.
A Deal With The Devil You Know
Dresden makes a dangerous deal to save his daughter.
Oh, yes he does.
He was in a bit of a rough spot after some adventuring resulted in a spinal injury which left him paralyzed from the waist down. Which makes it kind of hard to lead an assault through the parallel world of the Nevernever and from there to southern Mexico. So, he accepted the offer of Queen Mab to become her vassal. This required that he kill Lloyd Slate, the previous Winter Knight, in order to take up the position himself.
Spinal injury repaired. Magical mojo increased. But now he serves at the whim of Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness, one very scary fairy indeed. It’s a particularly interesting twist, given that he’s been resisting her attempts to recruit him for many of the previous books. But, it’s plausible, since he knows several other ways of picking up the power he wants quickly — this is just the least horrific one. And he’s apparently willing to sacrifice pretty much anything to rescue his daughter.
As part of the bargain, has leave from Mab to rescue his daughter. But he fears that he will become a monster afterwards. Speaking of which…
The Well-Intentioned Extremist
Admittedly… the stakes are high. Especially once Dresden realizes that the Red Court vamps are going to kill Maggie in order to power a bloodline curse. One which will kill Dresden, Susan, his brother Thomas, and (he later realizes) Ebenezar McCoy. Which would be bad.
Dresden, having spent much of his life as an orphan, has some extra angst and bonus anger when anybody threatens his family.
This is adequate motivation for him to push his limits. We’ve seen that before — when he started a war with the Red Court over their attack on Susan Rodriguez, and also burned down a building. We’ve also seen it in his efforts to help Thomas. So it’s not out of character.
This is a delicate line to walk in the writing, however. It’s hard to sympathize with a protagonist who goes over the moral event horizon. Dresden probably manages to avoid going in too deep, at least so far — which is helped along by the fact that the bad guys are utterly evil. On the other hand, to keep him in a place where the reader can root for him, Dresden is going to have some serious regrets after all is said and done. In fact, it’s even worse than we realize in this book… but I’ll talk about that when we hit the sequel.
Meanwhile, in less psychological terms…
You Blew Up What??
Dresden causes a… small earthquake at Chitchen Itza, the big, famous Mayan pyramid in Mexico. With the associated considerable damage.
Also, because he redirected the bloodline curse onto Susan as she turned into a vampire, he ended up killing all of the Red Court vampires. All of them. Which means there are lots of bodies with their hearts exploded out of their chests, in addition to all the numerous other mortal and vampire bodies that are lying around the site.
And, still… the Masquerade prevails. If that kind of event occurred in reality… there’d be some hell to pay. Starting from that little earthquake. Earthquakes are closely monitored, and can be observed far from the area where high-tech seismic sensors would be damaged by the magic being flung around. The close monitoring is for two reasons. First, to learn about and understand earthquakes, learn how to manage living in earthquake-prone areas, and provide some amount of warning when a large earthquake occurs. Second, to watch out for nuclear bomb tests. (The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the related monitoring systems are the relevant information, if you’re interested. And here’s the Wikipedia article.)
This kind of monitoring is actually one of the ways we know so much about the North Korean nuclear tests. Since those are largely surface events, they’re relatively straightforward to tell apart from natural earthquakes.
Dresden’s actions? Not a natural earthquake. There would be people flying in there in very short order to try to figure out what the heck just happened. And then call for backup after realizing something funny was going on on the ground.
You could argue that the Red Court has (had…) enough influence in the area to avoid being disturbed, but that would be difficult. Ignoring a potential nuclear strike is not exactly in the national interest. Besides, the Red Court has been largely identified with the drug cartels, and I don’t think that’s quite enough influence to get the military to overlook threats to national security.
So, here is where I say that Dresden is definitely not our reality. Even with a lot of handwaving, I can’t quite make it fit. Nonetheless… I’m looking forward to the point where, as the story progresses, the Masquerade inevitably comes down. Perhaps during the Apocalyptic Trilogy that Butcher has planned.