Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Ghost Story, by Jim Butcher

Dear and gentle readers, as I've mentioned countless times in the previous books the Dresden Files series has gotten to the point it's basically impossible to talk about the books in a meaningful way without spoilers. This is especially true after the events of Changes. As a result, I will be including spoilers in this review. If you wish to avoid these, then please proceed elsewhere for the time being. Anyway, on to the review.

When we last left Harry he had been shot in the gut and had landed in Lake Michigan, a situation not conducive to his continued existence among the living. When we join Harry again he finds himself in a place called Between, cunningly named because it's between the mortal world and What Comes Next. Dresden meets the ghost of Captain Jack Murphy, Karrin Murphy's dad, who is in charge of a supernatural police agency affiliated with Heaven. Captain Murphy informs Harry that there's been an irregularity in his death so he can't go straight on and offers Harry a choice: either he can stay in Between and help the force, or he can go back to the mortal realm as a ghost and figure out who killed him. If Harry goes back to the mortal world it will definitely be an extremely dangerous operation. If he fails, Harry will be trapped forever, or possibly even cease to exist. But if Harry doesn't try, his friends will be in great danger without him. So it hardly seems like a choice to Harry.

Harry arrives to find that six months have gone by and in those six months things have started to come apart. Between the destruction of the Red Court and the disappearance of Harry, two very big fish in very big ponds, the balance of power in the supernatural world has shifted dramatically. Attacks on small-time practitioners and even ordinary humans has increased dramatically. Harry's friends and allies in Chicago have been working desperately to keep things under control, but it's been very much a losing battle for them. If they ever needed Harry's help, now is an excellent time. Unfortunately for Harry, there are only a handful of people who can interact with him at all. It's only through the help of Mortimer the Ectomancer that Harry's even able to make initial contact with his team. Plus, as a ghost Harry won't be able to go wandering around in daylight and it'll be the end of him if he's caught out in the dawn. If Harry's going to find out who killed him it's going to be a difficult operation.

I feel like this book is a definite continuation of the theme in Changes of breaking the setup of the old series and establishing a new setup, especially with Harry being mostly dead for this book. On the one hand, I can appreciate Butcher wanting to make a dramatic change in the series to ratchet the stakes up to even higher levels. Which can be pretty hard to do when the fate of the world has been in the balance numerous times already. But on the other hand I feel like Butcher effectively wiped the board clean and reset it between Changes and Ghost Story and I can't say that I like it. One of the things I came to appreciate about this series was the introduction of elements over time. We met Murphy, we met Toot-toot, we met Billy and the Alphas, Michael and the Knights of the Cross, Thomas, and a whole host of other characters over a series of books. At first it was a little annoying but I realized it was necessary background material to establish a regular cast that could cycle in and out of Harry's adventures. It made the universe feel deeper and more developed.

Additionally, as the books went on, Harry's relationships with his friends, allies, and enemies grew and developed. Harry took losses, but also made definite gains. It felt like progress was being made in Harry's life and he had built and expanded upon. I was getting to the point of feeling that Harry had a base of operations to work from. And then Butcher comes down, knocks the table over, and sets up entirely different pieces. It does result in an important character moment for Harry but otherwise I personally don't like that approach.

Otherwise the book is fine. I was kind of suspecting part of the end because I knew there were at least two more books after this so it seemed very unlikely to me that Harry would stay dead. With Harry being part of the Winter Court now, I think we're going to be moving to a much larger arena with much greater forces in play than we've seen before. (If that was even possible. But hey, magic!) Hopefully the next two books get Harry more involved against the Black Council or whoever the big bads who have been pulling the strings turn out to be. I'm willing to concede this book being mostly a transition if it pays off later.

- Kalpar

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