Ghost Story, by Jim Butcher (Dresden #13)

  • TITLE: Ghost Story (The Dresden Files #13)
  • AUTHOR: Jim Butcher
  • PUBLISHER: Orbit (UK)
  • PUBLICATION DATE: July 26th 2011

I went into Ghost Story expecting to hate it.

I’m not a fan of shocking storylines, and Harry Dresden’s death at the end of Changes? That’s way up there in the sort of thing I don’t like. I’m pretty squeamish when it comes to death and I’m even more squeamish seeing the hurtful aftermath left in the wake of someone’s departure. I don’t like seeing people upset. I really, really hate it. And that’s pretty much why I thought I would hate Ghost Story. Naturally, I should have trusted Butcher more, but, after a hit-and-miss couple of books (Small Favour, I’m looking at you) and Harry’s grating wise crack behaviour, my trust failed me and I began Dresden 13 with tongue in cheek.

I’m stubborn and it took me 40% of the book to realise that I was totally wrong. I kept sitting there, tongue lodged in cheek, just waiting for Butcher to do something I didn’t like, whether with the subject matter, or the characters. But, I was wrong. I was very, very wrong about Ghost Story.

Perhaps one of the best things about this book, is that because of Harry’s limitations—being dead and all—he’s more a narrator, an overseer, and everyone else is there doing the job, for the most part.

The absolute best thing about this book was Molly. I’ve been a fan of Molly from the very beginning, and besides Thomas—who doesn’t like Thomas?—she is my favourite Dresden Files character. There are times I think Butcher’s writing of her leaves much to be desired—much like with Ms Plot Device, aka, Susan Rodriguez—but overall, especially in this instalment, he does pretty well by Molly. I would have liked more, I would have liked him to really, really push her character and make her as great as she one day will be, but I suppose there are still better than half a dozen Dresden Files books planned in Butcher’s jotter, so maybe I’m being premature.

There were parts of Ghost Story that were downright silly to me, but I can hardly call Butcher out on them, when it’s clear it’s a matter of preference and approach. Despite the styling issues, his plotting and craft is as tight as usual, and once I dropped the snobbish approach, I found that Ghost Story ranked way up there with my all-time favourite Dresden Files novels.

Obviously, the reader knows, from the get-to, that in all likelihood Harry’s death is a grey area and is likely to be temporary—if it’s even as cut and dry as that at all. It was obvious who was responsible for his death, especially as the point was belaboured without reason in Changes, so it smelled of a setup immediately. That’s not a problem, the problem is, that if I go back and read that chapter, or hell, even that scene, in Changes and there is no hint, not even a single line to support What Actually Happened, then I think Butcher has to take a knock on the plotting scoreboard. Without that line, that hint, the events that did transpire seem forced and entirely staged in all the worst ways. I’ve not revisited Changes, but I intend to—even if just to see.

The very worst part of the book was the ending—it felt obvious and cheap and staged and it brought down the mood at the end. I’m not referring to Molly’s epic psychic battle, not at all. That was cool. She’s a geek and the imagination soaks up what you grow up with. It worked. It was cheesy, funny, and epic as hell, and it worked,

Basically I’ve come to realise with Butcher, that I love his plot, his world, his everything—bar how he writes women (I’ve got a lot to say about this in my upcoming review of Side Jobs, actually, in light of the short novella Aftermath, which is written from Murphy’s POV). I felt he betrayed Murphy a little at points in the book, but maybe that’s just me. After Butcher using Susan as a plot device, his portrayal of Murphy in Ghost Story felt a lot like that—a device to keep Harry separate from the group, so that the story could unfold as it was meant to. Murphy didn’t ring true, for me. She’s been grieving, they took away her badge and I get that, anyone could change, but Murphy? I feel like he betrayed her core. Something was off. But, maybe I’m being premature and Butcher will play on that change in Cold Days.

Ghost Story was a pleasure to read, but it did feel like filler to tide us over until Cold Days.  I’ve read reviews saying that book thirteen does little for the Story, and I have to say that’s true. A whole lot of not very much seems to really happen towards the grand scheme of things. It was a slowing of pace, and it was enjoyable, but lacking if we think about it as being not just a Harry Dresden book,  but as a late number in the entire series. Ghost Story needed to work harder to push the story along, and it didn’t really.

But, it was a very good book, and it deserves to be noted as one of the better books in the series. It was fun, enjoyable, and surprisingly deep in places. Definitely a good read.

4.5/5

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