Saturday, September 10, 2011

Review of Ghost Story (Butcher)

Book 50: GHOST STORY (The Dresden Files, Book 13) by Jim Butcher, isbn 9780451463791, 481 pages, Roc, $27.95

The Premise: (from the plot description) 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 no body, 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...

My Rating: 4 stars

My Thoughts: The latest Harry Dresden book was eagerly awaited, and I tore through it in just a couple of days. I have learned this lesson when it comes to Dresden: I am incapable of savoring him. I devour. Then sometimes I can go back and take things slower. This time, for instance, I found myself able to re-listen to the book on cd (this time narrated by John Glover) just a few short weeks after reading it.

Overall, I loved the book. Without spoiling the major plot points I think it's safe to say that of course nothing is as it seems. Harry thinks he's coming back to find his murderer and save three of his friends from vaguely-worded premonitions of doom (and the kicker is, he doesn't know which three friends) but when has a Dresden plot ever been as simple as that? Not since the third or fourth book, at least. So yes, there are bigger issues, and bigger machinations, at work in the background, and Harry working through the mystery while being incorporeal is pretty much the least of his problems.

Because Harry is stuck as a ghost/shade, the book has a slightly different feel to it: Harry can't just blunder in, make a mistake, and fix it later. At least, that's what we're told repeatedly: that he can't physically affect anything so he has time to slow down and not blunder right in ... except that I counted at least 3 times where he did exactly that, once to nearly disastrous results. He may be slower about making the blunders, but he's still Harry and he still manages to make things worse before he can make them better.

But, and this is an upside to the book, because Harry is stuck as a ghost, he is also far more dependant on his supporting cast than he ever has been before, and so more of them get more screen-time than some of them have had in ages. Tertiary character Mort Lindqist gets a major step-up, Butters gets some great moments, Father Forthill plays a major role, Daniel Carpenter gets to show that he is made of the same mettle as his father ... in fact, these four move the action along far more than usual co-stars Karin Murphy, Molly Carpenter, Thomas Raith and Gentleman John  Marcone. And that is a nice change of pace.  Of course, Karin and Molly are not completely ignored -- a large part of the subplot of the book centers on how these two women, who both love Harry in their own way, are suffering from his death. And they get some of the most poignant, heart-wrenching moments in the book.  But still, cast-wise this might be the most inclusive of any of the Dresden Files. Only a few beloved (or behated) characters go unseen/unmentioned. (I mean, seriously, where the hell are Toot-Toot and the Za Guard?)

There are some things I didn't like about the book, particularly in how often Harry repeats information he's already shared with us three times, as if we can't be expected to remember those details throughout the book.  I think on this score Butcher has underestimated most of his readership. Even someone accidentally picking this book up without ever having read a Dresden book wouldn't need to be beat over the head with why Harry did what he did in CHANGES as many times as Butcher has Harry retell the story with basically the same details every time. Another quibble is the characters who do go unmentioned (in addition to Toot, we also don't see or hear anything about a couple of other people/beings one would expect Harry to be curious about as he's checking in/up on those he's left behind).  But overall, these are quibbles rather than major problems, at least for this reader.

I know there are people out there also crying "foul" that this book seems to end with another cliff-hanger. At first I felt that way too, but after relistening to the book, I realized that no, it's not really a cliffhanger. We know exactly where Harry stands (or floats, as the case may be ... you didn't really think I was going to spoil the end of the book, did you?) and we have a hint as to how Butcher is going to move into the next phase of Harry's story. Butcher's always been clear that CHANGES was pretty much the halfway point, and there's still plenty of Dresden Files to be revealed. However, we're beyond the point where the books can work as stand-alones. The mythology is too dense, the core mysteries of Harry's past and present too involved, for any remaining book to be read (or written) completely without links to past and future books.

So, from me: four stars and a recommendation that if you've never read a Dresden Files book, you start at the beginning. It's worth it.

And a final question: what is it about dead wizards named Harry and train stations, anyway?

No comments: