Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

a review by Nalini Haynes

Warning: this review will spoil the end of the previous Harry Dresden novel, Changes, and has a [predictable] spoiler for Ghost Story.

There are special characters on the keyboard to describe an author who finishes a book the way Jim Butcher finished Changes. Harry Dresden, my favourite American wizard, was shot, fell in the water and was drowning at the close of the book. Butcher then took extra time to write the sequel.

Harry Dresden, think Columbo and Jim De Griz combined (but without the ego), is a modern day wizard living in Chicago acting as both detective to ‘muggles’ and policeman to the supernatural. Except in Ghost Story he’s dead. Harry goes to an in-between place where he meets Murphy’s deceased dad. Captain Murphy tells Harry that if he does not return to the real world and discover his killer, three of Harry’s friends will suffer. Ever the chivalrous knight, Harry risks being permanently trapped in the real world in order to help his friends although he is incapable of manifesting himself except to Mort Lindquist, the necromancer. Having recruited an extremely reluctant Mort, Harry contacts his erstwhile friends who are extremely suspicious of Mort and anything supernatural purporting to be Harry. This makes for entertaining interplay of characters before a drive-by shooting gets Harry back on track.

Mab, queen of the Fae, sends the Leanansidhe, Harry’s godmother, to represent her interests. Mab is not pleased that Harry, her new Winter Knight, was killed. There was a power vacuum created by the death of the Red Court (courtesy of Harry in Changes). The Red Court were one of the three species of vampire, and their demise resulted in supernaturals jockeying for position. Molly Carpenter, Harry’s apprentice, has become the Rag Lady, a vicious serial killer who is no longer trusted by her friends.

Butcher is currently writing Dresden novels in a story arc so that there are still threads left hanging at the end of Ghost Story, providing hints to the direction of the next book. The plot carries the reader well although the ending was ultimately predictable, leaving room for more novels in the series.

There are a number of fan services in appearances of characters like the Alphas (the werewolf gang), the Leanansidhe who challenges Harry’s teaching methods, Father Forthill and more. I enjoy Harry’s chivalry that is well flavoured with hormones. As always Butcher sprinkles generous helpings of pop culture references including a Star Wars vs Star Trek theme in Ghost Story that I found particularly entertaining. I did miss the Za Lord’s Guard though; they were notably absent in Ghost Story.

I was a little disappointed that this wasn’t the end of Harry though. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed the series, but it isn’t as fresh as it was in the beginning. The story arc is a little late coming, but could be the saving of the series. I hope Butcher ends this series soon, before it gets tired. I’d like to see Harry go out with a bang not a whimper.

I have to add one gripe though: the covers. I like collecting books in sets, especially if they’re in a long running set that takes years to collect. Sadly I came to the Dresden Files late, so I have most of the set in a particular paperback cover. The last four books I have in hard cover, which is nice – I’ll take HC over paperback any day! But, and here’s the but, of the four hardcover books I have, they have two different cover styles. I really like the covers for Turncoat and Changes. The covers for Side Jobs and Ghost Story are a new format. They’re still good, but the covers for Turncoat and Changes are distinctive and suit the Dresden Files in a unique way. Book designers need to understand the Tao of Collecting.

Ghost Story is part of the Dresden Files, an urban fantasy series recommended for fans of Buffy & Angel, Dirk Gently, Heroes, Misfits, Being Human and so on. The Dresden Files are definitely for both sexes. This series has action, sometimes romance, always an awareness of what it is to be a healthy male (even when dead apparently), magic, politics, humour, pop culture references…

This review was previously published in Dark Matter issue 5, and as such has been back-dated on the website.