Ghost Story (Dresden Files, No. 13)
Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels have come out, as regular as clockwork, in early April of each year. But this year, one of the series’s pivotal novels, Ghost Story, was pushed back four months, landing it in late July. The author’s stated reason was that he needed more time to work on the story. So did the extra time help or hinder a book that Butcher’s fans have been jittering over for more than a year?
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“When we last left the mighty wizard detective Harry Dresden, he wasn’t doing well. In fact, he had been murdered by an unknown assassin.
But being dead doesn’t stop him when his friends are in danger. Except now he has nobody, and no magic to help him. And there are also several dark spirits roaming the Chicago shadows who owe Harry some payback of their own.
To save his friends-and his own soul-Harry will have to pull off the ultimate trick without any magic…”
Okay, before we go any further, let me make one thing clear: I don’t think I can discuss this book properly without wandering into spoiler territory. Therefore, if you haven’t read the book yet and don’t want to find out anything about the plot, stop reading now. You’ve been warned, so don’t come grumbling to me if you keep reading and find out more than you bargained for!
As far as the actual details go, this novel is trademark Harry Dresden. There are magical battles, villains, and unexpected heroics. It’s pretty much what you expect from a Dresden book. The usual suspects appear—Murphy, Butters, Molly, Father Forthill, and Bob—and a host of minor characters flesh out the action.
And it’s the minutiae of these well-loved characters that triggers some of the most poignant moments. Murphy refuses to believe that Dresden is dead until confronted with his shade, and the instant of her hope being broken is painful to witness. Molly has come out of the events of Changes as a different person, one who has borne more than she could handle and is slowly crumbling under the strain. Father Forthill, ever the optimist, walks deliberately into a dangerous situation in the hopes of avoiding bloodshed. These are all people whom readers have come to know, and the fallout of the previous novel’s events have touched them all in ways that make your heart hurt.
There were some characters that were conspicuous by their absence, though. Harry’s brother Thomas only appears for a couple of pages near the very end. Molly’s parents, Michael and Charity Carpenter, never make an appearance. “Gentleman” John Marcone is mentioned in passing but doesn’t play a part. In a novel that defines the direction of much of what will come after, it was odd not to see them.
As I said, in the details this novel is a good one. Unfortunately, taken as a whole, my reaction was lukewarm at best. In more than one respect, this novel felt like a large fake-out. (And this is your last chance to metaphorically stick your fingers in your ears and say “LALALALALALALALALALA” if you don’t want to know anything significant!)
The main set-up is that during Dresden’s six month absence, Chicago has been invaded by the Fomor, nasty creatures that kill indiscriminately and that are jockeying to take the place of the Red Court as a power. However, after building them up as the Big Bad Evil in Dresden’s town, they are largely ignored except for a few of their human minions. The focus shifts to a sorcerer using kids as his muscle (shades of Fagin here) and stays there for a while, only to shift again to a villain from books past. Intersperse all of this with Dresden’s dealings with Monty the ectomancer and there’s not a lot of cohesion in this novel.
And the novel itself really didn’t need to happen. Essentially, the entire thrust of the novel is to get Dresden to a point where a certain character can say the exact right sentence to him at the exact right moment. That’s it. And Dresden didn’t need to be dead for that to have happened. Once I got to the end of the book and saw where everything had led, I couldn’t help but feel that the entire “right sentence at the right time” idea could have been accomplished in a single chapter. I also couldn’t help but feel like Dresden’s death was simply to get him out of Chicago long enough for things to deteriorate to a certain level.
Most of what should have come from Dresden’s death didn’t happen. The book is billed as “Dresden without magic”, and yet he regains a limited degree of power before the book’s halfway point. He could have been forced to witness the consequences of his actions without the ability to influence them, and yet he finds a way to communicate with everyone and even to lead many of the events that take place. I had thought that this novel would be the Dresden Files version of It’s a Wonderful Life, but it didn’t live up to that potential.
If I gave stars in my reviews, I’d have to give this one two and a half stars out of five. Ghost Story is a set of glowingly vivid details set against a humdrum backdrop. If you’re a fan of the Dresden Files series, I’d still recommend it, but be aware that it might not meet your expectations.
Also by this author: Changes, Dead Beat, Mean Streets (novella), Proven Guilty, Small Favor, Turn Coat, White Night
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on August 15, 2011.