Reading a Dresden Files book is akin to punching yourself in the face until you’ve got a bloody nose and are missing several teeth, all the while grinning like a madman because you love the pain.
I mean that in an entirely good way. Not in a…oh, nevermind. Let’s just get on with the review.
Ghost Story is the latest in the Harry Dresden series, coming on the heels of Changes–one of, if not the most emotionally wrenching books Butcher has written. Ghost Story takes that tortured momentum and ramps it up even further.
Spoilers if you haven’t read Changes!
After fighting a vicious battle to save his daughter, Harry succeeds, but is killed right at the end of the book. Hence the title, Ghost Story. As in, Harry’s existence within it is entirely ephemeral.
As is the case with many Dresden File stories, Harry is quickly buried under a pile of seemingly impossible tasks, with enemies on all sides who would love nothing more than to leave him as an ectoplasmic smear on reality. Foremost, he’s tasked by a mysterious supernatural agency to return to Chicago (as a ghost) and solve the mystery of his own murder. On returning to his hometown, he quickly is embroiled in a supernatural gang war his old allies have been fighting since his death. However, Harry doesn’t have access his magic or many other resources he once relied on. In fact, it’s enough of a challenge just to interact with people on the physical plane, much less figuring out how to take down the latest big baddie threatening all that is good in the world.
Ghost Story is brutal. Harry is forced to see how various actions and choices he’s made have changed people–and not for the better, in many instances. Despite his noble intentions, he’s stirred up a lot of muck that others are now having to wade through, and the results are often not pretty. Butcher gives clear insight into Harry’s emotional debates so you know that, even when his methods aren’t the best, he’s trying to do what’s right–a characteristic that has undoubtedly increased the number of readers rooting for him throughout the series.
Despite increasingly dark circumstances, the story never quite loses sight of the hope it offers that things might, just might, turn out…well, not “okay” but at least on firmer footing than it started. It’s a solid evolution for Harry’s character, as well as many of the others around him, including Molly, Murphy, Butters, and, yes, even Bob. Many cliffhangers of Changes are wrapped up well, though Ghost Story brings its own new mysteries that readers can look forward to in future entries.
If you haven’t picked up a Dresden File book before, Ghost Story is not one to jump in on. An enormous amount of backstory is invested here, and Butcher plays it to its fullest impact. Starting from the beginning and working your way up to Ghost Story might seem a daunting reading effort, but it’s well worth it. Plus, with the unforgiving action and tension that fills many of the pages, you’ll get through them much faster than you might expect.