Ghost Story - Jim Butcher

~~Moved from GR~~


Ghost Story (The Dresden Files #13)

by Jim Butcher


Seriously intensive spoilers (enough to get a pagebreak) for the previous book in the series, Changes (but not for this book, Ghost Story).



In case you don't want the spoilers, here are my other reviews for the series. Believe it or not, I've written a review of every single book in the series. I may have addiction issues. Links to the complete set are below. The starred ones are my faves.

[#1] Storm Front    [#2] Fool Moon    [#3] Grave Peril    [#4] Summer Knight*    [#5] Death Masks    [#6] Blood Rites    [#7] Dead Beat*    [#8] Proven Guilty    [#9] White Night    [#10] Small Favor*    [#11] Turn Coat    [#12] Changes    [#13] Ghost Story*    [#14] Cold Days


"I heard you were dead."

"Well, yeah," I said, "but I'm taking it in stride."


In Changes, Harry lost everything: his apartment, his office, his car, his career, his reputation, his lover, his duster, his independence, and finally, his life. Personally, I thought that death before he was forced to fulfill his Faustian bargain to the wicked faerie queen, Mab, was by no means the worst possible ending to the book, or even the series. But even in eternal rest, Harry can't catch a break. Summoned back from Chicagotory six months after his death, he is sent forth to find his own murderer and save his friends.

With each book, Harry has become just a little more of an antihero, willing to sacrifice people less important to him to protect those he cares about. His refusal to abandon principle--but mainly his girlfriend--precipitated a bloody war. He played fast and loose with dangerous magic and handed a deadly weapon to an enemy to protect Murphy. He risked countless unknown people, as well as his friends, to save a little girl. Wardens actually died in his elaborate plot to save his brother, and Harry never seems to even analyze his choice to pay for his brother's life with their deaths. In Changes, Harry took this to a whole new level.

As he said himself, in the most chilling lines in Changes,

"I will make Maggie safe. If the world burns because of that, so be it. Me and the kid will roast some marshmallows."

He was willing to let the world burn to save his daughter. He saved her, and the price was steep. Now he is forced to acknowledge the consequences of his actions, not only in the devastation to the "unimportant" nameless people in the world, but also to his friends and allies. The book is more introspective than any other as Harry faces the consequences of his actions. One discussion actually pulls in the Nietzsche quote, and I'm a sucker for that theme:

"I crossed a line," I said quietly. "Lines, plural. I did things I shouldn't have done. It wasn't right. And I knew it. But . . . I wanted to help the little girl. And I..."
"Sinned?" she suggested, her large eyes eerily serene. "Chose the left-hand path? Fell from grace? Cast the world into madness?"
"Whatever," I said.

"And you think you aren't a monster."

On a brighter note, it's also amusing to watch Harry try to cope after being denuded of his wizardly powers. As a character, he's always reminded me of a golden retriever: clumsy, overeager, and liable to accidentally knock over a priceless vase with a too energetically wagging tail. Now it's as if you put that dog in one of those hamster balls: he's still running around and making trouble, but he's also bouncing off the walls and unable to interact directly with those around him. Above all, this is a book about consequences. As Harry hunts up the members of his old gang and sees how his death has broken or strengthened them, the mood is poignant, heartbreaking, and hilarious, all at once.

One of the unexpected aspects of the book that I appreciated was a series of flashbacks of Harry's memories under Justin DuMorne. Harry has the noir hero's prerequisite dark and tragic past; in his case, he was orphaned and raised by the sadistic DuMorne. Throughout the series, Harry mentions DuMorne only briefly, but this is the first time we have flashbacks to Harry's childhood. Butcher does a fantastic job capturing the child Harry's desperate desire for approbation and affection. There is a heartbreaking, twisted poignancy in the child Harry's admiring description of Justin DuMorne as "cool" because Justin only warns him once about a mistake or bad behavior before using violence to make his point. The disconnect between the actions Harry describes, which show Justin to be cruel and cold, and Harry's eager admiration, is an accurate and haunting portrait of a destructive parental relationship. We also see the moment when Harry learns to use fire, and, as a reward, Justin gives him a gift: a baseball mitt. Given that Harry's lessons in shielding occurred around that age and involved high-speed baseballs, this ending of the scene, Justin's assurance that Harry will "find baseball a rewarding experience" has a sick, twisted, and fantastic irony.

I didn't particularly enjoy the innumerable pop-culture references embedded in the text, and I'm pretty sure I didn't catch most of them. Although fun occasionally, they were somewhat overused in this book. I also have the tendency with all of the Dresden Files books of simply ignoring the aspects that irritate me--usually they are peripheral enough that it doesn't matter. These include the oversexualized descriptions of women, the cringeworthy depictions of Native American culture, and some rather awful African-American stereotypes. This time, I had to add the entire Thomas/Justine scene. I'm just ignoring its existence. I'm happier that way.

My biggest issue came at the end of the book; no spoilers, but it felt to me like a it brushed aside the powerful moral ambiguity that gave so much potency to both Changes and Ghost Story. Even with this, I felt the book deserved a 5 because I have hope it's not a final, tidy "solution" to the questions brought up in the two stories.

Overall, I found the book heartbreaking, poignant, and hilarious, and greatly enjoyed the opportunity to see Harry divested of his power and influence and forced into self-analysis. My favorite aspect of the Dresden novels are the side characters, and it was hard to see them hurt and altered. However, I hope that Butcher explore the issues of responsibility and consequences brought up in the book and not use fate, destiny, or higher powers as an excuse for his characters' actions.