Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Book Review: 'Ghost Story' by Jim Butcher

Review by Glorificus (Nom de plume)
Ghost Story by Jim Butcher, 2011. ROC, 477 pages, hardcover
Although you won't find the Dresden Files in the mystery section of the library or bookstore, this particular installment is all about one thing: discovering who murdered Harry Dresden, a professional wizard (he has an ad in the Yellow Pages) who lives/d in Chicago.
Ghost Story is the 14th book in Mr. Butcher's series. Found in the sci-fi/fantasy section, wizard Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is the protagonist and there are vampires (Red, White, and Black Courts), fae (Summer and Winter Courts), werewolves, the White God, priests, more wizards, Fomorians, changelings, Odin, the Erlking and his court, demons, Swords of the Cross, a Temple Foo dog, archangels, necromancers; lots of humans and a cat named Mister.

In previous installments Harry saved the day and his client in various ways using magic as well as deduction and plain old slogging. Also, if pressed, he would just blow things up. This often worked surprising well, as did the mere threat of Harry.
The preceding book, Changes, did just that. It ended with Harry getting ready for a much-anticipated date but being shot and falling into Lake Superior.
Ghose Story begins with Harry waking up in a pseudo-Chicago, where he meets other ghosts, some of people he knew and some he knew of. He is given a choice between going on to wherever, or going back and finding his killer within three days. If he does not succeed in this, three people he loves (who are not named) will be harmed.
Of course Harry goes back. However, as a ghost he can't actually touch/move anything. He can go through walls, but it hurts, which is why ghosts moan. He immediately heads for a ectomancer (someone who can talk to ghosts).
After a series of adventures which only Harry could be involved in the truth comes out.
Of left field.
On the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise. (Actually, it's a mental construct.)
Since Harry's dead, Mr. Butcher wrote it in a way different from previous Dresden Files. Instead of Harry just blasting away, he has to figure out some sort of workaround to have someone or something else physically make something happen. Also, being this removed from direct action makes Harry think more fully about the ramifications of what he is doing.
One of Harry's first big challenges is just getting people to believe he's not dead. Except the people who were convinced he didn't die, because no body was recovered.
Being on the other side, as it were, Harry receives a completely new perspective on his life and death. He never realized, since he was always fighting some usually supernatural threat, that there were many supernatural entities that avoided Chicago because he was there.
Those entities have stopped avoiding Chicago.
His allies and friends have joined together to fight the invasion, because Harry had shown them working together makes them stronger and is their only defense against evil. Individually, they could only have gotten themselves killed. Together, they can have some significant success, although they are usually overmatched. So Harry feels some guilt over them needing to take his place.
A big plus to Ghost Story is seeing vignettes from Harry's past that had been alluded to in the previous books. Harry is an orphan, who was adopted by an evil wizard and that backstory is fleshed out more.
Although this book is a necessary part of the whole saga and I enjoyed it, I'm not encouraging anyone to read it without having read (and liked) the previous books. I do strongly encourage people to read the whole series, beginning with Storm Front. I personally HATE reading books out of order and this would be like launching a canoe from Maine to go to Antarctica.
Without a paddle.
The Dresdenverse is complicated and many-textured as Mr. Butcher creates a meaty and often heart-breaking world. Storm Front and Fool Moon set up the series, and by Grave Peril that world is rocking.
However, even though the books are filled with many imaginary creatures, there is a very strong thread of humanity throughout. The series is rife with betrayals and greed and kindness and family and horror and jealousy and madness and love and humor. The concept of free will is crucial.
Mr. Butcher has a plan for 8 to 10 more Dresden Files books before capping off the series with a Big Apocalyptic Trilogy, as well as occasional short stories. He also has another best-selling series, the Codex Alera, which was written on a bet based on two well-known ideas, The Lost Roman Legion and Pokemon. It's really very good.
I'm hoping there are some other Dresden fans around, or that I can help convert people to the series.

Editor's note: This review was originally published at the Daily Kos, which notes that its "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified." The original page can be found here. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.