That’s a hell of a way to start a book.
Needless to say, Jim Butcher’s latest Dresden offering, Ghost Story (Dresden Files, No. 13) vastly differs from any previous Dresden novel. Limited in his form as a ghost, Harry Dresden is sent back to Chicago to save friends from certain doom. He cannot interact with the living very well, so he heads for the only person who could possibly help him — one-time antagonist Mortimer Lindquist, world class ectomancer (which, for those of you unfortunate enough to miss Ghost Busters as a kid, means that he sees dead people).
Unfortunately, Harry is soon informed that he has been dead for six months and much has changed. After his (spoiler alert!) destruction of the Red Court, a vast power vacuum has emerged and there is a struggle in the underworld to control what was once controlled by the Red King. Old creatures have crawled up from the depths and begun to take over, leaving humanity at the perilous brink of destruction.
Harry convinces Mort, after helping him fight off a powerful surprise attack at Mort’s house, to visit Karrin Murphy and convince her that Harry is back (sorta). Mort reluctantly agrees and off they go.
At this point in the novel I started to get bored. I like a quest as much as anybody, but when all that seemed to be happening through the first half of the book is Harry wandering around convincing people it was really his ghost, I grew tired quickly. Anxious for something to happen to drive the story forward. And the pacing of the book drags in the middle, which left me wondering if the novel was ever going to start. Considering how insane Changes: A Novel of the Dresden Files was, I expected Ghost Story to be a tad vanilla in comparison. This, though, is vanilla strained through a mesh filter then bleached just to be certain.
Then mixed with starch.
After a (needless, in my opinion) side quest (damn it, I’m starting to sound like I’m plotting a D&D game) helping some kid who just murdered someone (never claimed that Harry has a real sense of responsibility, something even the author points out throughout the book) escape from an abusive wizard (which you knew was going to piss Harry off, given his background), the story finally begins to pick up steam as Harry realizes that this strange new enemy who is after Mort is none other than an old nemesis he killed long ago and is back in ghost form as well. He has to stop this old enemy from accomplishing what she started off doing a long time ago (hint: remember Sue?).
…damn it, I hated this novel.
I’ve never hated a Jim Butcher book before. I’ve been displeased with what he puts some of his characters through, or some of the things they do in response to others’ actions. But I’ve never looked at a Butcher book (especially a Dresden novel) and ask “I spent how much on this?” The story pacing was brutally slow, so bad that I was beginning to think that I hadn’t expected the Spanish Inquisition this time. I felt that I was being tortured as I delved through the pages, wondering when the hell the story was going to start.
Harry, as a ghost who must think his way through many of his problems (no more blowing them up), seems to have an easier time thinking now that he’s been deprived of his magic. This is slightly out of character for him, though he has shown no small amounts of cunning in the past.
It paints a slow picture of Dresden as being a beast when you see his former apprentice, Molly, struggling to fight against the crushing weight of the enemy and you realize that Dresden did not think his grand scheme through (as I said, cunning doesn’t always translate to intelligent). Molly, after Dresden dies, is left to the ever loving mercies of Lea, the fey godmother to Harry Dresden (and world class bitch), she of the Winter Court. Murphy, who had been in denial about his death (they never found his body, which totally pissed me off, which I will explain later), is crushed to discover that the man she looked up to, admired, and possibly had feelings for was well and truly dead (well, sorta). His friends, who have been struggling to protect Chicago since his death, are frayed to the edges of sanity and yet the enemy still keeps coming.
Now, Butcher does play on the emotional strings a bit at the end, when Harry gets to see that all his friends are okay. This scene in particular actually affected me more than anything else in the book. But then…
…Butcher deux ex machinas the damned book!!
There had to have been a better way to pull off the ending of this book, yet Butcher went and did the worst thing possible. It annoyed me to no end (I actually typed “annoyed me to know end”, which goes to show just how annoyed I truly was) that Butcher did this to the end. A lot of people are going to be pissed at me for saying so, but doing to Harry what Butcher did was beyond crappy (though it does extend the series a bit longer).
It’s written, nothing we can do about it now except hope that the author doesn’t go off and rewrite his own rules to his universe.
Borrow it. If you buy it, you’re going to be mad at yourself for ripping out the pages and throwing the book against the wall afterwards.
–reviewed by Jason