Ghost Story by Jim Butcher
Genre: Paranormal mystery with a healthy dose of snark
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Summary: Harry Dresden is dead. After fighting innumerable monsters, angry spirits, wicked fairies, and everything else in between, our favorite wizard detective was taken out by a mere bullet. But if ever there was a soul with unfinished business, it’s Harry Dresden. He makes the choice to return to earth in spirit form to find the identity of his killer. What he finds instead is a Chicago in disarray, with the friends he left behind doing their best to protect the city’s innocent from the new evil forces trying to take over. Harry wants to jump right in and save the day (of course) but learns it’s not easy living in a material world when you’re not a material
girl wizard. Even in death, Harry cannot find any peace.
I was wondering how Jim Butcher would follow up Changes – and if you haven’t read that one, it’s aptly titled. It’s a balls to the wall action story, including the obliteration of an entire evil species at Harry’s hands. If you didn’t guess from my summary, the cover, and the title, then look away NOW. Because Harry is freaking shot to death at the end of Changes.
One thought cycled through my mind when I closed the book: THA FUUUCK?
And then: Well played, Jim Butcher, well played.
Because I was ITCHING to get my hands on Ghost Story. It does not disappoint.
For me, the characters populating the world of The Dresden Files are what keep me coming back. Even if the plots can sometimes seem rehashed (which doesn’t happen often, but it’s hard to come up with new and unexpected twists and ideas in the 13th book of a series), I will continue to read the books as long as Butcher doesn’t drastically alter the characters. (I am looking at you, Patricia Cornwell). The interactions and ways they are able to effect each other keep the books interesting and fresh. I love the werewolves that started off as college kids who wanted to keep their neighborhood safe. Now they are full fledged badasses who still play D&D on their time off. Or Murphy, the human firecracker with rock solid morals. Her relationship with Harry has been a cornerstone of the series, and I love the unfulfilled tension between them.
And of course – Harry himself. The man who rushes into battle, blasting fire and pure will at those preying on the innocent. With his snarky lines and solitary ways, he is a wizard after my own heart. But here’s the thing about Harry Dresden – sometimes I want to reach through the pages and shake the shit out of him. He runs headfirst into battle and bad things always happen. And I don’t believe he ever learned from his many prior mistakes. Sure, he usually accomplishes his goal, but there is always a cost. This time, he paid with his life.
When he came back as a ghost, he was finally forced to stop and look at all the damage he caused. He created a huge power vacuum when he killed those creatures off, but didn’t stop to think of what would happen: a bloody brawl to fill the void. Chicago is in even more danger as these forces swoop down. His friends are at a breaking point as they try to clean up the giant mess he left behind. It only took being dead for Harry to see how much of a dumbass he could be. A well-intentioned dumbass, but a dumbass all the same. In an English major-y sense, the ghost story works on the obvious level (hello, it’s a story about a ghost) but also paradoxically. Harry looks back on his life and is scared by the person he became. He had crossed a line – hell, he bounded over it and never looked back. To see him finally recognize this was such a relief from a characterization viewpoint. He needed to self-realize, but it made sense that someone as stubborn as he would have to die first.
Butcher does a wonderful job of portraying the trouble Harry has as a ghost. Because when we think of the human Harry, there’s this super physicality to him. He is tall (6’5″ish) and rather gangly, with a big leather coat and a wizard’s staff. His magic is mostly explosions and force, backed by his larger than life personality. There’s not a lot of subtlety to him or his magic. So when he is in ghost form, the frustration is palpable.
It wouldn’t be a Dresden Files book without a full serving of snark. Only Harry would have a moment of awareness and then sing a line from West Side Story. Or when ghost Harry is awkwardly trying to bring up their almost-consummated relationship as Murphy is trying to set up an explosive device, Murphy shuts him down brilliantly, “You are not Patrick Swayze. I am not Demi Moore. […] And this sure as hell isn’t pottery class.” But in addition to the snark, there are some really raw emotional moments. It’s not just the bad guys who got hurt by Harry’s actions, and seeing the emotional toll was a new tone for the series. And not gonna lie – the last ten pages had me sniffling and wiping away some unexpected tears. As Harry says, “stupid eyes.”
As for the plot – it’s a little sprawling but very readable. Harry still gets sidetracked from his main mission by people in need (death cannot change some things), but I do feel like the end was a little rushed considering how long the book is(almost 500 pages). The only thing that really annoyed me was the absence of a major character who I thought would be one of the first people Harry would visit. That person doesn’t show up until like 15 pages before the end, but the resolution made sense. I just wished Butcher had found a way to touch upon the rather glaring absence without giving away the reasoning.
Oh, and I loved the resolution. It made such perfect sense, and completely fit with all the characters involved. Definitely a twist that I did not see coming.
-Harry Dresden finally takes a moment to reflect on his actions
-Interesting direction in plot, as Harry could not interject in the corporeal world
-More emotional tone, tempers some of the pure snarkiness
-Some of the new characters seem like throwaways
-One of my favorite characters was inexplicably ABSENT for too long
It’s a rare and wonderful series that can make you snigger appreciatively at Ghost jokes, cry with real emotion 20 pages later, and still manage to surprise you on the last page. The Dresden Files is all that and more.