on 22 October 2011
I must admit that I approached Ghost Story with more than a healthy dose of skepticism. This book had the potential to be as cheesy as that season of Dallas that turned out to be just a dream. Resurrecting your main character from the dead is a tall order. Doing it in a way that stays true to that character and to the Dresden universe that you painstakingly created throughout twelve prior installments of the Dresden files seemed impossible. I shouldn't be surprised that this author pulled it off with a story that is far more intricate and thought provoking than any of his prior "files".
I felt that Harry lost himself in more ways than one in Changes. I guess sometimes you have to die to find yourself again. I don't think I'm spoiling anything by revealing that Harry is a spirit in this novel. It begins about 6 months after his death, and we get an up close and personal look at how Harry's death has affected his friends and family. It's heartbreaking to see their misery and how far some have fallen, and it was very interesting to see how some had risen to the challenge of defending Chicago against insurmountable odds. We see new aspects of all the characters that made me look at everyone in a new way.
While we still are treated to a healthy dose of Harry Dresden wit, this is a more introspective Harry than we have seen before. He spends a lot of time adjusting to his ghostly nature, and recalling his past. Memory plays a huge role in this story and the author does a masterful job of portraying a man coming to terms with who he is and the decisions he's made. The pacing was not as fast as Dresden fans are used to, and sometimes all that introspection got a little repetitive. This is still a five star read for me simply because of the author's stellar character development. Anytime you can have a series that's on book number thirteen and still show me something new about pretty much every character in the book, that is quite an accomplishment.
There's still plenty of action, supernatural politics and memorable lines, but be prepared for some thoughtful moments and enough new revelations to make your head spin. A fantastic addition to the series. I can't wait for the next one.
on 3 August 2011
As you might expect with a book that starts at the end of someone's life, a portion of the story will revolve around what came before. The main part of the novel is focused on what recently happened to Harry, but what I wasn't expecting and was delighted by was the call-backs to very early moments, characters and places that were scattered throughout the book. I'm a fairly big fan of the series and I spotted a few moments of serendipity, but I'm sure there are probably some less obvious Easter eggs for the super fans out there.
After 12 novels and an anthology, I have a fairly good idea of who Harry Dresden is. We already know a fair amount about his difficult and troubled childhood, but in Ghost Story we find out about an event that was an important crossroads from his past. This event shaped Harry, it put him on the path that led him to becoming the man we all know. It could have gone very differently and he could have given in to his darker nature and become the sort of pupil Justin DuMorne always wanted. It was perhaps one of the most important moments from his childhood that we didn't know about, until now. This is just the first of many touches that make this a truly remarkable book and a fantastic series. In the last couple of books there have been lots of pay-offs for long time readers and there were a few more in Ghost Story.
Harry is gone, but the world has not stopped turning, the monsters have not packed up and gone away just because he is no longer in the fight. It was very satisfying to see the long-term effects Harry has had on those around him in the city. But his legacy goes far beyond the people he personally saved, and even though the story is still told from Harry's perspective, there were some scenes where he was just an observer. People spoke about him without knowing he was there which often left Harry surprised by how others saw him. It was quite an eye opening experience that I think will affect him to a small degree in the future.
A good portion of time has elapsed since Harry's sudden departure at the end of Changes. This means we, and Harry, are playing catch up and need to get up to speed on what's happened to his city. His friends have been badly affected by his absence, some more so than others, but they've reached a place where they can still move forward together. Life is much harder without him around, some difficult choices and unsettling decisions have been made, but they were deemed necessary at the time. He might not agree but he has to accept them, because he can't affect events anymore. As expected this makes it incredibly frustrating and painful for Harry to see his friends suffering and have no way of helping them. Once again this novel shows that creating realistic and well rounded characters, that you deeply care about, is one of Butcher's greatest skills as a writer.
As much as Changes was a turning point for the series, Ghost Story is a turning point for Harry and many of the main cast. Events large and small have changed the characters over a dozen books and I loved seeing how they have grown up over the years and evolved. Some of these changes have been painful and irreversible, but it made the story all the more rewarding for the loyal reader.
The stories from this point forward in future novels will not be the same. The series could not have kept going in the same vein indefinitely without trying to top itself with every new book, and it would have become ridiculous. Ghost Story is a sort of interlude for reflection before we start a new chapter in the ongoing series.
The last three books before Ghost Story were building towards something epic, which we saw in Changes, where events came to a head and Ghost Story deals with the fallout, global and local. Over the last few books Harry has continued gaining power as well as acquiring new abilities and allies. One thing that became apparent in Ghost Story was that his approach to dealing with people and conflict has changed. He isn't a shoot first, ask questions later guy, but he has moved a little more in that direction of late. Being rendered powerless brought this to light and I believe that in the future we will see a different Harry, one changed in his approach, because up to now he has always been fairly short sighted.
If he sees someone getting beaten up he will just wade in, no questions asked. That's not enough anymore. Harry is playing a very different sort of game now. He's been the fulcrum of too many events, he's friendly or involved with too many significant powers to fade into the background. He's a major player now, whether or not he likes it or wants to be. The stakes are much higher, the consequences much more far reaching and he's now responsible for a lot of other people. He hates the Merlin for being a big picture guy, for being someone will sit and do nothing while a few people suffer because in the long run it may save hundreds. I don't think Harry will quite be that cold and calculating, but I think he will be someone who treads more carefully and who thinks about the big picture and the long-term effects of his actions.
What all of this added up to for me was another extremely emotional and a very rich reading experience. Butcher rewards his readers, he trust them and doesn't try to short change them, but he also doesn't tie up everything in a neat bow at the end of any novel. Actions have consequences, characters die and don't come back, good people turn bad, the bad can be redeemed and deals with devils don't come cheap. The world is made of grey, but Harry is someone who does his best to see it in black and white. He doesn't always succeed in his missions, despite his best attempt, as we see a few times in Ghost Story, but that will never stop him trying. That's just who he is and that's why he's had such a huge impact on so many people.
The Dresden Files is a consistently gripping and extremely well written and addictive series. I think it is the best urban fantasy series being published and I am always desperate to read the next volume and just need to know what happens next. I've been living with these characters for over ten years, and have read more adventures about them than any other series of novels on my bookshelf. I keep coming back for so many reasons, the characters are fascinating and well rounded, the stories are amazing, pacy and gripping, they're incredibly inventive and Butcher does a great job of taking myths and folklore and turning them into something completely his own. These aspects and many others add up to make a great series.
Butcher's success and loyal fan base is well deserved and the books have actually been getting better, richer and more rewarding. Changes was the end of one major chapter, and Ghost Story is the start of what comes next, but the story of Harry Dresden is far from over and I can't wait to see happens next. If you're not reading this series and you enjoy urban fantasy then you're missing out on something brilliant.
on 30 August 2011
Harry Dresden, Wizard ,Private Investigator R.I.P.
Harry Dresden, Ghost ,Private Investigator - open for business.
This is the thirteenth Harry Dresden novel, but its the last book that was really unlucky for him as he died. The title of the book says it all. This is a ghost story. Harrys Ghost is sent back to find out who killed him.
Harry as a ghost is a novel perspective, both for harry and for the reader. He is less prepared, unsure of his abilities, every situation a challenge. The same goes for the threats, each one is new and the normal rules of engagement do not apply. This book effectively hits the reset button on everything we know about Harry's capabilities and about the capabilities of his foes. Its not about him wielding more and more impressive magic, or taking up the mantle of the Winter Knight. Its about Harry, his relationship with his friends and the effect he has on people through his previous actions.
Though it doesnt actually do the Dickensian 'ghost of christmas past' - there is a strong element of taking perspective of his past actions, not the powers wielded but the decisions he made. The story is a backdrop for a moral examination of Harry, something the other books dont really do. He has bounced from one crisis to another doing what he has to do to survive concentrating on the immediate not the big picture. Theres a moral cost to each decision, That cost is laid out here. Not the cost to harry himself , but the cost to his friends and his family.
This doesnt sound too captivating you are thinking, compared to all out wizard war or taking on the red Vampire Court. Whats the attraction? Well its definitely not the same sort of Dresden book as we have read recently. The big attraction is the suspense, not the action. The action is there , less epic in scope perhaps but still catchy. 'New' ghost Harry is very similar to 'New' PI harry from the earliest books. The teeth gritting suspense of course comes from the whole Harry as a murdered ghost situation. Is this a reboot for a new series of ghost PI stories? Who killed him? Sorry - you will have to read the book.
The ending is more of a relief than an epic conclusion. The main storyline follows the normal pacing and conclusion format, but thats a story within the story. As the main (or secondary) story is harry and his ghostly status. Id say this is why some people have had mixed opinions about the book. Its a break from style. Arguably its a stock taking piece that allows a change of pace and sets us up for another set of epic novels to follow. Its not a bad thing to do - and when you are on book 13 - you may want to take a slight pause before embarking on another - mega arc. To me thats what this book is - a pause before what looks to be another significant phase change.
Harrys timeline and associated character list is getting quite large now. With Harry dead his friends have had a hard time coping with the chaos left behind as a result of the power vacuum left after the conclusion of 'Changes'. Several old characters we havent seen for a while return here as Harrys cabal draw together to lend each other support. Theres a much greater than normal reliance on other characters to advance the story. Characters that I think Jim Butcher wants to use more, but whom havent necessarily been right for recent books. This book looks to be intended to harden up and mature some of the secondary characters for use later on.
Conclusion : - This has an unusual feel for a recent Dresden book. Its a lot more similar to the early Dresden files than the more recent books. Some people might find this unsatisfying as it doesnt feed our inner apocalypse junkie. Its probably not the best Dresden novel. But it is a good read and builds further lore on the foundations of earlier novels. Its more suspense oriented than recent books and thats unexpected , but not unwelcome. I personally couldnt put it down and stayed up late to finish it - something I havent done recently. So from that point of view its a gripping read.
on 8 September 2011
You would think that as a ghost he couldn't be beaten up as much as in the other books.
This is perhaps one of the more complex Dresden books, and it ties in a lot of threads from the previous books, so you should read up on them first before starting this one.
It is a great book, and if you like the previous books, you will like this one as well.
on 29 November 2011
Having decided to give this series a go right around the time Ghost Story was released I have pretty much read each installment back to back. As you can imagine this was a major plus for me when I became instantly hooked after book one. The flip side of this coin however is that now I have to let go of these characters after having been with them for a significant amount of time and as Harry is prone to say. "It hurts". (Yes, I know. This is not the final chapter of the series.)
Ghost Story has some solid character development especially with regards to Harry's introspection during the plot's developments and Butcher shows grace in his ability to reach back into the events of Harry's past and shine new perspective on elements of the story. However, Ghost Story does end on somewhat of a cliffhanger. Even though other characters have a chance to make an appearance, blossom and become more refined, long standing developments and undercurrents that have been present for many volumes have yet to be addressed.
In truth I wouldn't be so harsh as to say that this was such a colossal problem as I'm pretty sure Butcher has several more installments in the works. My concern though is that with this type of voluminous series I'm just worried that the payoff for certain long term incomplete aspects, that are significant for me within the Dresden Files, will not be as rewarding as the promise in the journey or god forbid never make an appearance at all. I have yet to see some of those aspects bear fruit and I am just hoping that, when all is said and hopefully done, the juice will be worth the squeeze. This is all conjecture however and I am willing to give Butcher the benefit of the doubt. The only other issue is actually having to wait for the next installment (heh).
Fingers crossed that this fantastic series is given the chance to reach completion (and that I'm around to see it!).
Changes and Ghost Story have done much to breathe new life into the series. If you have read the previous DF installments you will probably read Ghost Story regardless of what any review tells you (hence, the relative brevity).
PS- My apologies for the vague hypothesis but I didn't want to get too specific and possibly spoil anything.
on 7 September 2011
As the headstone for Harry's newly occupied grave says - he died trying to do the right thing. Always his main problem - he is the type of hero who hurls out Star Wars quotes in the middle of a magical battle, he's hopeless/clueless with all women, in trying to make things better he inavriably makes them worse but he is an amazing wizard. Except now of course he's dead. So through some cosmic loophole he is sent back as a shade of his former self (minus the wizarding magic) in order to find his killer. A noble quest - however getting sidetracked trying to save everyone else including new ghostly addition Sir Stuart does leave him in his usual type of trouble. Throw into the mix the fact that his apprentice Molly seems to have lost some of the screws that held her brain together, Murphy has gone seriously Rambo and his creepy fairy godmother Lea is taking a bit of an interest as well and you have a compelling if not slightly confusing novel.
I'm the first to admit that there were times when reading this that I had little clue as to what was happening, especially trying to remember what happened in the previous novel, but I was gripped completely. Without trying to give too much away what I like most about all thbis series is that Butcher really knows how to leave you with a cliffhanger. Especially in Ghost Story it actually made me squeek out loud in a 'nooo you can't end there' kind of way. Looking forward to the next book already - just hurry up and write it!
on 6 August 2011
At last Butcher's faithful readers, who have been left on tenterhooks since the ending of Changes, finally get to find out what's happened to Harry. Long story short? Well, he's dead...
Of course, nothing is ever so simple in the world of Harry Dresden, so just as Butcher leaves the reader grinning at the appearance of a character we haven't seen since book 2, our favourite wizard is off to solve his own murder, in ghostly style.
The protagonist being incorporeal (and invisible/inaudible to most of the ther characters) certainly helps to make this installment a different kettle of fish to the previous stories. And as Harry adjusts to his new state of being, so to are we forced to adjust to the new state of the Dresdenverse.
The old familiar characters are all present and correct, but now forced into different, harsher roles in a world left darker for Harry's loss. The book marks a definite shift in the series, from a sequence of supernatural mysteries into something slightly more apocalyptic.
This admittedly lends the novel a slight air of setup, making the main plot, involving an equally dead villain from a previous book, feel slightly reduced compared to some of the other recent installments. It's a tribute to Butcher that even his setups are vastly superior to other similar stories out there, and for dedicated DF addicts, there is more than enough to enjoy here.
on 12 September 2011
Jim Butcher never lets you down, Ghost Story: A Dresden Files novel is as good as any of the previous novels. Dresden a figure I had grown to love despite his mannerisms, left as dead at the end of the previous book. I had written JB off as a writer in my good graces. Promped by friends to continue the series, I bought a used copy, and to my surprise have not put it down. An excellent continuation to a series. Rated 5 stars, for good reason, happy reading!!
As I nearly always do when reviewing Dresden Files novels I will start with a warning. If Ghost Story is the first Dresden novel you've contemplated buying then don't. Go back to the first novel, Storm Front (Dresden Case Files), and work your way from there. Trying to engage with the Dresden universe for the first time via Ghost Story, Changes (Dresden Files) or any of the last five or six books would be like trying to join a very involved debate halfway through and with no idea what the original subject was. The Dresden Files are great but need to be tackled in order from the beginninhg.
If you're already a fan of Harry, Murphy, Mouse, Molly, Thomas, Butters, Queen Mab and myriad of characters who populate the universe that Jim Butcher has crafted over 13 novels then you'll enjoy Ghost Story as much as I did. I'd doubt however, that you'll be totally blown away by it.
Sure, it resolves the shock ending of Changes and I will admit that the ultimate answer to the question of who shot Harry and more importantly why is one I did not see coming at all. The whole 'Harry-as-a-Ghost' concept also shakes up proceeding considerably and gives the book a somewhat unique feel within the series as a whole. Plus it keeps you guessing right up to the end about how the hell Harry will get out of the predicament of being deceased, or whether he will at all. Add in the usual fine character work, some decent action and the opportunity for some hitheto secondary characters such as Morty and Butters to come to the fore and you have a solid entry in the series.
What it doesn't do however, is reach the heights that series is capable of. After the series changing events of 'Changes' this latest adventure feels a bit like Jim Butcher catching his breath. Whilst the whole 'Harry's Dead' thing is a good hook it feels like Butcher is using it partially as a smokescreen to distract readers from the fact that not a lot really happens over the course of Ghost Story. The primary threat Harry and his friends encounter is a dangerous but not a particularly significant one. Its more about how they'll defeat it rather than will they. The fact that Butcher has to pad out the narrative with a significant number of flashbacks to young Harry (none of which add much to our understanding of Dresden after 13 novels) and a whole subplot involving a Fagin-esque sorceror tells you how thin the main plot thread actually is.
The real purpose of Ghost Story seems to be setting up a number of new, larger story arcs for Harry and other characters. With the destruction of the Red Court in Changes Harry was left without a primary foe to fight. It would seem that the Fomor, glimpsed in Side Jobs: Stories from the Dresden Filesand much discussed here but relegated to a background role, are to be that new foe. At the same time the book allows key characters such as Murphy and Molly to be given make-overs that shift the dynamics between them and Harry, introduces new ones such as Fitz and his crew who seem set to become Harry's equivalent of the Baker Street Irregulars, and it allows the author to address if not tie up few loose ends such as Harry's recruitment as Mab's Winter Knight.
All of which is fascinating to long standing fans of the series such as me, but doesn't make for the most high-octane entry in the series. Ghost Story feels simultaneously like a throwback to earlier Dresden Files, with their comparatively self-contained tales, and somewhat like a filler episode before the next epic battle commences. Having become used to earth shattering, grand adventures and complicated plot threads stretched out over multiple novels, it all seems like a bit of an anti-climax.
So not a mis-fire but also not up there with the best of the Dresden Files. It does however, whet the appetite for what's to come for Harry, his friends and his frenemies. Roll on the next volume.
on 14 October 2013
Life as Chicago's first [and only] professional wizard was difficult enough but in Ghost Story Harry Dresden quickly learns that his afterlife is going to be no picnic either. Following the dramatic conclusion of Jim Butcher's previous novel, Changes, where, after finally triumphing over the Red Court and saving his daughter's life, Harry was shot in the back by an unknown and very accurate assailant, Ghost Story [the clue's in the name really] catches up with Harry the Shade.
From Harry's point of view, no time at all has passed between him being shot and his meeting with Murphy's ex-partner [ex as in dead, killed by a loup-garou in a previous novel] Carmichael who, with a bunch of other ex-cops, patrols a version of Chicago that is a sort of half-way house between the real world and whichever variety of afterlife citizens are destined for. The dead cop squad is led by Captain Jack Murphy [yep, Murphy's not-so-dearly departed dad], who offers Dresden a choice - go back to real-world Chicago and track down his killer or move on and leave three of Dresden's friends to come to serious harm. It's a no-brainer really.
Once back [albeit in ghost form] in the land of the living, Dresden discovers that time has moved a lot faster for his friends than for him and that in his absence the world has turned even more bonkers than usual. Without knowing who exactly he has to protect, Dresden sets off to identify his killer, save his friends and save the rest of the world while he's at it - and all this without access to his magic.
Ghost Story is quite a change from the rest of the Dresden Files series. It would have been hard to top the Mexico-set extreme action of Changes and Jim Butcher wises avoids attempting anything so epic. There is action of course and plenty of monster mashing but it's all rather muted in tone. Being dead is, of course, a bit of a downer and Dresden does seem to be suffering ennui throughout most of the story. He does attempt a bit of his signature wise-cracking but it's not quite so effective since people have trouble seeing and/or hearing him. Fortunately Harry Dresden is a resourceful sort who doesn't let his mortality status get in the way of an investigation and the plot at the heart of Ghost Story is every bit as twisting and intriguing as those featured in Dresden's previous cases.
Given that ghostly Dresden must necessarily play a lesser role than normal in the paranormal butt-kicking that goes on in Ghost Story, the central supporting cast of the Dresden Files here get a larger turn in the spotlight. With Murphy having been fired from the police force for helping out Dresden on one too many occasions, she has had time to shave her head, become even more of a badass and form a group of vigilantes to fill the gap that Dresden left. With the Red Court out of the picture, a power vacuum has opened up and a great number of evildoers are anxious to fill that particular void. Luckily, Murphy has help in the form of Billy and the werewolves, Daniel Carpenter, Father Forthill, Marcone and his mafia-esque gang, various White Court vampires, and Butters the trusty pathologist. There's also Molly, Dresden's one time apprentice and now a crazy scourge of Chicago known as the Rag Lady [insert joke here]. Better than all of this though is the fact that Ghost Story involves twice as much Bob action as normal.
As well as the more regular characters, Ghost Story provides an insight into some lesser known allies of Dresden. Morty the necromancer proves surprisingly invaluable and even more surprisingly noble while Harry's old mentor, private investigator Nick Christian, gets to appear in person rather than just being referenced [although he did actually appear in "Restoration of Faith", a Dresden short story included in Side Jobs]. Of the new characters, Sir Stuart and Fitz are particularly strong and both add an interesting dimension to Dresden's quest.
While the main story involves Dresden's search for his killer as well as his attempts to stop evil from flooding the streets of Chicago, Ghost Story is also notable for the insight that it gives to Dresden's past. Although some of his recollections had been hinted at and mentioned in earlier novels, Ghost Story provides the fullest account of his childhood and of his troubled relationship with Justin DuMorne.
Ghost Story is another excellent instalment in the Dresden Files series. Jim Butcher is still on top form when it comes to creating scrapes for Harry Dresden and Co., and it's heartening to hear than there are still a number of books to come in the series [apparently there will be twenty case files in total]. While this wouldn't be the place to start for those new to the Dresden Files [start way back with Storm Front in fact], Ghost Story is a "must read" volume for those that have been hanging on since Changes to see what happens to Harry Dresden and one that certainly doesn't disappoint.