First of all, if you have not read any of the Dresden Files books, Ghost Story is not the place to start. Unlike many of the previous books in the series, you will miss much more than just nuance if you jump right in at this point. Further, before we go much further in this review, we’ll have to assume that you’ve read the previous novel, Changes. If not, then consider what lies ahead to be mined with spoilers. Consider yourself warned.
—END OF CHANGES SPOILER-FREE ZONE—
Okay, so here’s the deal…
The last novel, Changes, ended with the assassination of Harry Dresden, his body falling off of his brother’s boat after taking a bullet to the head.
Thanks for the cliffhanger ending, Butcher. You sadistic, son-of-a…
[We interrupt this review as the author leaves to imbibe a medicinal lager to combat the flashback of said cliffhanger]
Anyway, Harry is back from the Great Beyond to deal with unfinished business–namely, he must solve his own murder in order to protect three of his friends from some unknown harm. Only this time he’s nothing but spirit–no magic, no physical form, and no clue where to start. As he hunts for his killer, he gets drawn into the war against the Fomor that have arrived to fill the void of power left by his eradication of the Red Court–and sees firsthand the consequences of his balls-to-the-wall assault to save his daughter in Changes.
Ghost Story is another slam dunk for Butcher’s blockbuster series. It’s got all the charm and tense-bordering-on-epic action of those that have come before. Even in death, Harry Dresden can’t escape the beatings that the supernatural world has in store for him–beatings that our favorite wizard must meet without a physical presence or the aid of his powerful magics. As usual, he takes his lumps with plenty of quips and the knowledge that somebody has to save to the world and he’s going to be the one with the stones to stand up and do it.
In many ways, Ghost Story is a transitional book. This is both its strength and its weakness. In it, we find a much more introspective Harry; with the conceit that spirits such as he are powered by their memories coupled with the impotence imposed by his incorporeal form, he is often left alone to contemplate the previous actions in his life. As a result we get some interesting flashbacks into Harry’s childhood with Justin DuMorne and the events that shaped the older Dresden. Plus, we get another perspective on the events in Changes. Unfortunately, one side effect of this introspection is that the fact of Dresden’s responsibility for what happens to his apprentice, Molly, and his justifications for his other actions, seem a bit belabored. While this is true to character, it becomes a bit repetitious for the reader. Furthermore, in many ways, Ghost Story reads like a breath taken between the end of the war against the Red Court and the beginning of that against the Fomor. While the central question of Harry’s murder is answered, there are still many unanswered questions from the previous works. There is no new information on the “Black Council” or their dealings and very little on the Fomor themselves. Pieces are being placed for the conflict to come.
Ghost Story is, in many ways, a typical Dresden novel: action-packed, supernatural fun. The story is interesting, the writing is top-notch, and Butcher digs deep into the psyche of his already-interesting main character. But, nevertheless, the novel is strangely unsatisfying. This dissatisfaction isn’t due to any fault of the storyteller, but only due to the recognition that there is far more story to tell.