Friday, September 4, 2015

REVIEW | Ghost Story by Jim Butcher
Ghost Story by Jim Butcher
Publication Year: 2011
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Dresden Files #13
Awards: NA
Format: Audiobook on CD from Library
Narrator: John Glover

I did something I rarely do with books that I KNOW I’m going to read; I delved into some of the reviews for this book on Goodreads before reading it.  I think I was nervous about it – Harry being dead?  How was that going to work?  And a lot of folks really didn’t like it. Thankfully I was not one of those people! I don’t know how much of my liking for the book was in reaction to the more emo and Happenings-of-Import tone of Changes which I wasn’t crazy about.  Ghost Story, even with Harry dead, had more of the action-packed, devil-may-care tone of your usual Dresden book.

It’s important to know however, that while it returns the series to more business as usual, it is also an immediate continuation of Changes.  It is the middle book in a trilogy of connected books that ends with Cold Days.  It’s like the massive three episode arc that happens in the middle of many tv show seasons.   I tend to love those deep dive mid-season trilogies and my enjoyment of the strategy here is also great.  In Ghost Story, Harry is having to face up to his actions in Changes and all the repercussions: there is a power vacuum with the destruction of the Red Court of vampires which is causing lots of problems, and he is not around to help his friends deal with it.  The book also has some flavor of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, with Harry realizing just how important he was to his friends, to Chicago and to the world.  The more mundane purpose of the story is for Harry to work out who murdered him at the end of Changes – the answer to that mystery is a big “Dun, Dun, Duuuuun” moment. 

The best thing about this book for me was the exploration of what life is like for the spirits of Chicago - it’s like a whole new world is opened up.  It places limitations on Harry which he is not used to having, including being unable to do magic at least in any way that effects the physical world.  Figuring things out and being creative when the chips are down is one of Harry’s strengths so it’s a blast to watch him work it all out.  I also liked his ghost mentor, Sir Stuart Winchester and the re-appearance of the little medium Mort, who turns out to be stronger and more heroic than he appears.  The pacing is back to normal (I thought it was uneven in Changes) with the usual impossible deadlines and frenzied action that makes me turn the pages (metaphorically speaking since I was listening to it) needing to know how Harry and the gang will save the world this time. 

The love wasn’t universal of course.  While I liked the overall answer to the question “Who shot Dresden?”, I thought the why of it, particularly what gets a certain heavenly creature involved, was pretty Deus Ex Machina (perhaps appropriate considering the apperance of an angel...).  It felt like it was shoe-horned in there because Harry wouldn’t have taken the actions he did without some prompting.  The book also got pretty repetitive in places.  If I had to listen to Harry think about how sensitive Molly is and how thoughtless it was of him to involve her in the fight at Chichen Itza one more time, I was going to get super annoyed. As it was, I was only mildly annoyed. And since this book is all about regrets, it makes sense.  Finally, while this isn’t particularly a complaint nor even specifically limited to this book, a new foe is introduced, the Fomor, and pretty much nothing whatsoever is done with them in this book nor the two books that follow.  I’m sure they will get their chance to shine later in the series but I get all anxious when characters, plots, or major players are introduced and then they don't go anywhere.

And the Murphy Files?  Murphy is struggling not just with Harry’s death/disappearance but also with the loss of her job/identity.  Of course no one is the least sympathetic to this, they just talk about how hard she has become.  In addition, our last view of Murphy is her breaking down with grief at Harry’s death and Harry, because he feels helpless, just says oh well, let me make sure everyone else is okay and then I’ll happily pass on from this mortal coil.  I appreciate how mentally and physically strong Murphy is and how Dresden respects her strength and doesn’t coddle her but for a man who had been contemplating a relationship with her, Dresden is awfully blasé about her pain.  He should at least want to comfort her even if he doesn’t think she needs it.  File this under “what the hell is Butcher playing at with these two?” A file that is about to get very thick indeed in the next couple books. 

Finally, a note about the audio.  This version was narrated by John Glover, not James Marsters who had done all the other books.  Glover is good but Marsters is better and I was happy to see that just this year they’ve released an updated audio with Marsters for continuity’s sake. 

FINAL VERDICT:  A solid installment with a creative premise that I think was handled really well.  3.5 out of 5 stars.

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