Review of Ghost Story
By Jim Butcher
I have to admit, I found Ghost Story to be immensely satisfying and a little disappointing all at the same time. The last Dresden book left me with my mouth hanging open, completely astounded. I clearly remember saying “But… but… It’s Harry Dresden. He can’t be dead! Harry doesn’t die! What the hell?!” It was not only a terrific cliffhanger, it was beautifully set up as an eerie reminder that there are consequences for the actions of even a man powerful enough to wipe out the supernatural equivalent of the USSR. So, I was pretty anxious to read Ghost Story, not only to see what happens but, as a writer myself, to find out how you come back from killing the main character of the series.
Most of my disappointment stemmed from a rushed feeling to the book. In all the other books Harry is the driving force, sometimes manipulated by others, but he drives the story and in Ghost Story he was being pushed along a lot more obviously by outside forces. In all fairness, this may have been intentional, as being a ghost keeps Harry off balance and he is never really given time to step back and work things out on his own. Overall, it had a very different feel from the previous books and felt a little looser and a little more forced. That’s about the only ‘negative’ thing I can draw from the book (is it really a negative to be different?)
On the positive side I was tremendously satisfied to find that while Harry has changed a little in death, he hasn’t lost his wisecracking attitude, his conscience, or his stubbornness. The pop-culture references tickle the hell out of me and Dresden’s snarky attitude is always enjoyable. I daydream constantly of being able to say some of the things Harry does. He doesn’t just think “Wow, you are a super corny villain!” he tells the bad guys right to their face. The “Darth Bathrobe” line from Dead Beat still cracks me up. Not only is it hilarious, it is an extremely well crafted acknowledgement of some of the cliché things Butchers villains do and say, as well as being an accurate and satirical commentary on how rare true originality is in the real world, which is simply awesome writing, and Mr. Butcher does not lose this technique in Ghost Story. (Yes, I am a fan. Take what I say with a grain of salt.)
I thought the identity of Harry’s murderer was simply fantastic. I had correctly identified the doer of the deed (the hints are dropped in an earlier novel and mentioned periodically after that, so it wasn’t too hard) but I rejected that character since I could find no possible motive. Contract money was suggested but it just didn’t cut it for me. It didn’t make sense. The explanation of the motives was an astounding revelation for me, but it fit brilliantly with the characters involved. With any other character than Harry Dresden, it might not have worked but Harry pulls it off like, well, magic. As the man says, meddle not in the affairs of wizards for they are subtle and quick to anger (Hat tip Tolkien and Mr. Butcher). It was really cool to see Harry coming into some of that subtlety part.
Another cool aspect of this novel was to see the reversal of roles between Dresden and Murphy. I think that it clearly demonstrates the character development that both of them experienced in Changes. The realization of what he’s done and what he’s capable of leaves Harry a little taken aback and uncertain. I think if it hadn’t, it would have left him a hollow character, and the lessons he learns will stand him in good stead in Cold Days. Without them, I think he would wind up a deranged madman (well more so of one) like Lloyd Slate, the previous Winter Knight. I also found the emotional changes in other characters to be accurate and reasonable, if not exactly likeable. Although I did like the development of Butters. The little guy has been itching to get some back ever since Grevaine busted his bubble (Dead Beat again) and it’s good to see him come into his own.
Backing off from the characters to the development of the Dresden-verse, I think the book was brilliant. As anyone who has lived a little while knows, you overcome evil (or the baby’s diaper, whatever your mileage may be) but that doesn’t mean happily ever after. There are more evils out there creeping in (or in the case of diapers, maybe exploding is a more appropriate word). Ghost Story gives that creep in, shows how the world is changing and adapting in the absence of a major world power, not to mention the Red Court! The appearance of new powers makes things more complicated and difficult for Harry and his friends, but I find it very satisfying. Part of the attraction of the Dresden Files for me is the realism (aside from the obvious fantasy elements) of the characters and the world they live in. Harry doesn’t just have to defeat the evil warlock and rescue the princess, he also has to take out the trash, walk the dog, and pick up another jug of milk. It makes Harry a relatable character, so much so that it is easy to lose sight of the amazing and incredible powers that he has at his literal fingertips.
On a final note, let me say I am a huge fan of Jim Butcher’s and when I grow up I want to be Harry Dresden. I can only hope to someday be able to write on the level that Mr. Butcher does and I doubt I will ever be able to tell as good a story. Achieving the success that he has is a dream for me, kind of on the same level as going to Heaven. It’ll take an act of God to get me there. I’m looking forward to Cold Days coming out. Well, ok, I can’t wait to see Harry come back as the Winter Knight and kick some serious ass.
If you haven’t read any of Butcher’s books, I highly reccomend all of them and suggest you check out his website.