Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Review: Ghost Story (The Dresden Files #13) - Jim Butcher

It was probably sometime around when I was reading the 4th or 5th DRESDEN file book that I decided that Jim Butcher was my favourite author. A top spot he solidified when I read and completed his CODEX ALERA series a few years later.

If waiting a year between each new release presents me like a junkie wanting a hit, then finally getting my hands on the latest book is like feeding that addiction in full. It makes you feel giddy and light-headed. I’m a book addict, and that’s no lie. I go to the bookstore even when I don’t have anything in mind to buy to just walk around and BE THERE. So if regular books are an addiction, then a new Dresden file book by Butcher is like the finest of the fine. Bibliophilic nerdvana. (<---inventy phrases is my specialty!)

So that’s kind of my headspace as I go into reading the latest Dresdencrack (as we call it). Now before you go any further with this review, due to events in the last book CHANGES it would be next to impossible to review GHOST STORY without some rather major spoilers for the previous book. So if you haven’t’ read that book and don’t want to be spoiled for a few major events in it, don’t go further. I WON’T however be spoiling any major events from GHOST STORY so if you have read CHANGES then by all means read on.

GHOST STORY picks up the story thread where it last left off in CHANGES. The Red Court Vampires are all (or at least very close to all) dead after the war between them and the White Council of Wizards at Chichen Itza. Using a spell that the Red Court was going to use on Harry to kill his entire bloodline and reversing it on them has destroyed the court VIA their own blood link. Susan Rodriguez is dead, at Harry’s hand so she wouldn’t fully turn into a red court vampire and their young daughter Maggie Dresden is now safe. Harry however, is dead since he was shot in the waning pages of CHANGES by a sniper. Not the best place to have to start, but hey this is Harry Dresden right? 

As things begin Harry finds out he is a ghost and has no magic to speak of and there is seemingly an entire city worth of entities and ghostly beings he’s pissed off, and one of them is out to make sure he doesn’t even exist as a spirit. Rough odds, but with the help of Morty the Ectomancer Harry starts to try to piece together the events that lead up to his death and find out just who shot him. His old crew is really worse for the wear after his death and the creatures that stayed away before (having been scared of Harry) no longer have anything to fear. So the Chicago six months after Harry’s death is a much different place requiring his old friends to have become something new, something scarier and entirely more lethal. Not to mention colder of thought and cautious across the board. But just what then is the cost to their souls and who they are?

Butcher has assembled a VERY interesting book here. While it has a number of the trappings of the old-style casebooks entries in the series, albeit from the ghostly angle, it strides off in a fresh direction as well. One of transition and of fresh beginnings with new realizations and points of view. This is the book where everything that changed in CHANGES is shown in its new light. Harry’s enemies are harsher, and his friends are different. Harry himself has to adapt to life as a spirit and what he can and can’t do. Butcher does a significantly admirable job of explaining things like Why Harry doesn’t sink into the ground and go right through the earth, or how various spirits interact with the real world and why, or even how spirits themselves differ from one another and why. What Butcher does best is when he has these expository moments in the book Harry deals with them like a true pop-culture junkie...You'll see. ;)

Harry’s journey in this one is a bit of a character defining one for the most part. There are revelations that Harry comes to as a spirit (forcing him to not be able to act in certain situations) that he just couldn’t as a mortal simply because he’d normally go rushing in to every situation and screw the consequences. Well, we get a kind of birds eye view of what thoughts enter Harry’s head when he’s not able to do that. He comes to some very telling conclusions because of that, and I for one feel he’s better for it.

Murphy, Molly, the Wolves, and even Butters are different here than they had been before. Not in a bad way, but in a changed way as only they could be after the events in the last book. Harry’s death and the subsequent vacuum left in Chicago had certain effects and those characters have all been irreparably changed, Molly seemingly has gone to the deepest of deep ends while still essentially being Molly, and since she is one of my very favourite characters it’s really great to see her character deepen so much. Even people like Harry’s Fae godmother Leanansidhe have more of an introspective look at themselves in this one and I was pleased to see that. Lastly, we get three separate looks into Harry’s past all of which really give us our first glimpses of the teenager who eventually became the wizard we all know and love.

Butcher’s prose is as good as it ever has been (if not better in spots) and the pace is as relentless as it can be. And actually considering the story he’s telling in this one I’m kind of stunned the pace is just as relentless as it is. It is clearly a skill Butcher has honed over the years to make compulsively readable books, even at 13 books into the series  this one will keep you saying “Just one more chapter, just one more chapter….” before bed, and the all of the sudden it’s 3AM.

This book is pretty much everything you could want from a Dresden book, it has more awesome pop culture references (some subtle, some not so subtle) than you can shake a stick at (or a staff….see what I did there?). Choice lines like:

“Is he fast like Jackie Chan, or fast like The Flash?”


“How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?”

It has a riveting story where you really don’t know what’s going to happen next. It has Harry up against all odds and sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing and pretty much just being real. It has oodles of emotion, and I will freely admit to getting glossy eyed a few times early in the book when his old friends find out his spirit is around, and once later on I actually cried real tears. Like the kind of tears that sneak up on you and you don’t know you’re shedding them till they are running down your face. Manly tears, but tears nonetheless. For a book where Harry is a ghost it is also still action packed! Whether that be in the form of magical battles or gun battles, this one has everything. Of course nothing on the scale of the war in CHANGES, but if there’s one thing Butcher can really do is his action sequences. They are always above the board awesome.

Look, if you are reading this then you probably don’t need me to tell you how good Jim Butcher is and how his skill ranks up there with the best of authors. You also probably don’t need me to tell you how good the Dresden Files are. What I will tell you is that GHOST  STORY is absolutely a triumph and Butcher has created one of his best volumes in the series to date…not for awesome factors like Sue in DEAD BEAT, or the train sequence with Marcone and the Denarians in DEATH MASKS, but because this book is a little more introspective and a little more character driven. There are quiet moments in the book where I thought how deftly Butcher can handle conversations, and other moments when Harry’s internal monologue with himself is compelling. One of Butcher’s most accomplished works GHOST STORY will feed your book addiction and your Dresden addiction all in one go!

Now, only a year to wait for COLD DAYS.

Phew, a long wait, but like every year…it’ll be worth it.


  1. Great review! Could have done without the Nightcrawler spoiler, but I'm sure I'll get over it and still laugh out loud when I read the passage myself (tonight! tonight! Only a few hours to go! *gibber*)

  2. Sorry about the Nightcrawler bit. There's more to it than I mentioned though so no worries. I took it out of the review now though as you're right, as small as it was it probably should have been there. Sorry UoW.

    Hope you enjoy it, it's a blast of Dresdencrack.



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