5.0 out of 5 stars
"Harry Dresden, hung upon a tree. Afraid to face his des-tin-y."
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on 3 August 2011
Who needs sleep when you're curled up with a new Harry Dresden novel? Who needs to run errands or meet family obligations? Who needs bathroom breaks? Heck with all that. Is GHOST STORY the best one yet in this franchise? I haven't a clue; a lot of them have been so compulsively readable. But if you think death has proved to be the panacea to Harry's bundle of woes, recogitate that. If you're caught up to what Chicago's sole self-advertising wizard has been up to lately, then you know he hasn't been up to much, on account of his having been assassinated and whatnot (in CHANGES). So crack open GHOST STORY, and cue the afterlife waystation which recalls a shadowy version of Chicago.
I think GHOST STORY is a tour de force, yes, I said it. I am pulling out all the clichés, because I think this book deserves all the good props it garners. Like the rest of Harry's adventures, GHOST STORY is a highly-charged occult thriller, a satisfying urban noir fantasy. It's gotten to that point now where if Harry Dresden were to revisit the screen, the scope of television simply won't suffice, isn't big enough. Jim Butcher, in the course of thirteen novels (counting this one) and an assortment of short stories, has crafted an impressively detailed, fully fleshed-out world in which Harry can stride big and be self-flaggelating (not as dirty as it sounds) and make wisecracks. It would take a big-budget motion picture to properly convey the wide-screen, surround sound spectacle of the sheer epic crap that Butcher has put Harry thru. That, or HBO which did us a big solid with GAME OF THRONES. My point being, GHOST STORY is a tour de force.
Six months after his death Harry Dresden finds himself back in wintry Chicago (never mind that it's the month of May). Harry's back but he isn't alive. And now he has to adjust to being incorporeal and bereft of his magic. No eternal rest for Harry, not yet. In the past six months, the city had gone south alarmingly fast, the Windy City having become a much coveted and fought over bit of real estate. Harry Dresden drops a few X-Men references in this one, and that's about right. In its dark tone, in its dystopian bleakness, GHOST STORY reminds me more than a bit of the classic X-Men "Days of Future Past" arc.
In CHANGES Harry, to save his eight-year-old daughter, had willingly crossed the line. He obliterated the vampiric Red Court. Except that this then left a gaping power vacuum, and there's no dearth of malevolent supernatural agencies eager to fill the void. More, Harry's passing had left the Windy City vulnerable. Powers of various persuasions had always been leery of encroaching in territory safeguarded by a ridiculously insane wizard who somehow kept beating the odds. But no more. Now the residents of Chicago are fair game to all sorts of spooky manifestations and predations. And, on a personal level, unless Harry finds his own murderer, three of his closest friends are fated to endure unspeakable torment.
Jim Butcher not only upends the status quo, he pretty much gives it a wedgie and takes its wallet. It has the effect of injecting fresh life into the series, not that the series had gotten stale or anything. But Butcher escalates things. Six months have wrought grim changes not only in Harry's city but in his friends. In Harry's absence, they've been fighting a losing battle, trying to keep Chicago safe and free. Without going into details, I'll say that Harry's death had impacted Karrin Murphy and Harry's apprentice, Molly Carpenter, the most. Okay, I will say that Molly has become this very alienated, very scary person. She's developed into an even more intriguing character.
Harry Dresden's dramatis personae is a sprawling, well-realized one, and GHOST STORY presents a lot of cameos, so I hope you're up to snuff on the roster. The pace is relentless, and yet Harry finds time for introspection and for wallowing in guilt. As usual, the action is staged thrillingly, and this despite Harry's intangible condition. In fact, one of the more interesting swerves is that Harry, for huge chunks of the story, is relegated to the sidelines because of his inability to physically influence the material world. Butcher throws in the effortless character work. The characters are so brilliantly written that you can't help but care for what happens to them, especially Harry, Molly, and Murphy. But Butcher even makes you invest in secondary characters like the cowardly ectomancer Mort Lindquist and the gutsy little medical examiner Waldo Butters (who's always been one of my favorites). One thing I've always loved about this series is that the writer doesn't think twice about re-introducing some old plot thread or character or artifact, and he does it in such an organic way. Harry's world feels very real, as if even after you've put the book down, things still keep on happening off-screen. The callbacks aside, the book also treats us to fascinating flashback chapters concerning Harry's past.
It's so damn hard not to drop in spoilers, because there's so much worth mentioning. I will say that just because Harry is now a haunt doesn't mean he can't draw you in emotionally. He is one of the most likable protagonists in fiction literature. As far as the mystery of who killed him, I will say that I didn't see it coming. The big reveal had me going "Whaaat?!" So, yeah. GHOST STORY, better than bathroom breaks.
Oh, and it's pretty funny that, even without a body, Harry still finds a way to get the living crap beaten out of him.
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