Review: Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

Ghost Story by Jim ButcherWhen we last left the mighty wizard detective Harry Dresden, he wasn’t doing well. In fact, he had been murdered by an unknown assassin.

But being dead doesn’t stop him when his friends are in danger. Except now he has no body, and no magic to help him. And there are also several dark spirits roaming the Chicago shadows who owe Harry some payback of their own.

To save his friends — and his own soul — Harry will have to pull off the ultimate trick without any magic…


Ghost Story is the thirteenth book of the Dresden Files. Owing to the fact that some readers may not have hitherto read any of the previous books, here is a quick summary of the series: it’s a grown-up Harry Potter.

The books are grown-up in more than just the sense that the main players are adults. The Dresden Files books are filled with violence, death, destruction, sexual references and innuendo as well as humour. They also attempt to tackle larger issues than those broached in Harry Potter; more on that later, though.

This review necessarily looks at events in previous books in some detail. Thus, readers who have not read the previous books and would like to avoid spoilers should proceed with caution. There will not be too much more information below than can be determined by reading synopsises on the books, and only what is required to properly review Ghost Story.

Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is a wizard. In fact, he’s the only wizard to advertise as such in the phone book. He finds things for people; a kind of detective, and an unwilling supernatural monster hunter.

Harry Dresden also has a dark past. It’s not quite as trite as it sounds – orphaned at a young age, he was adopted by a member of the White Council (the official order of wizards and enforcers of wizardly law), who went insane and became a powerful warlock. In order to escape his wrath, Dresden was forced to kill his mentor. This act stained him in the eyes of the White Council, and possibly left a deeper mark on him as well.

In the previous book, Dresden discovered he had a daughter with his girlfriend. Both were in mortal peril from the Red Court, a vicious and brutal species of vampire who had long been at odds with Dresden and his desire to protect the inhabitants of Chicago. Unfortunately, in a horrible accident, Dresden broke his spine and was unable to go to their aid. Desperate, he called on the lesser of the evils he knew and allied himself with Queen Mab, a faerie of unimaginable power, and the ruler of air and darkness. With the power of the faerie, he was able to heal himself, destroy the Red Court utterly and rescue his daughter.

The price of Dresden’s victory was the murder of his lover by his own hands. Returning home broken in spirit and drained in body, Dresden was mysteriously assassinated.

Ghost Story follows a fairly predictable and well-worn path for this particular series. In the briefest of summaries, Dresden gets himself in to a situation that he can’t possibly get out of and then tricks, cheats, cons, bluffs, fights and blusters his way out of it. On the whole, the plot is fairly predictable. Once the pattern is recognised, the fun is in the journey – how Harry gets in to and out of his predicament – and witnessing the escalating scale of the events as they unfold.

The predicament certainly is a doozy this time. How does one get out of being dead? Of course, it is obvious that Dresden will. How, though?

The story contains quite a lot of the usual fare of fighting, monsters and things blowing up. Ghost Story does also take more of a turn for the introspective this time. Dresden is a ghost, and memories are the source of his power and the whole of his substance. Given full recall and clarity in his post-mortal state, Dresden explores some of the events that shaped him in his earlier years; specifically, his time with and estrangement from his erstwhile mentor and eventual rogue wizard. These events are mentioned, though not elaborated on as they are in Ghost Story, in earlier books.

There is also, later in the book, a tendency for Jim Butcher to philosophise on the nature and purpose of free will and other such concepts. The trend was several books ago with the introduction of the Fallen, angels cast out of heaven and working to overthrow its power. It seems that far more time is spent discussing these issues than in previous books. On one hand, it is refreshing that broader, wider and more overarching issues are being discussed and played with. This certainly sets the Dresden books apart from many of their peers – the willingness to actually tackle and confront the big issues.

The other side of the coin is that owing to the manner in which the “sermons”, for want of a better word, are delivered it is possible to feel like one is being preached at while reading the closing chapters of Ghost Story. The density of philosophising is much greater in Ghost Story than in previous Dresden Files titles, and is not really brought in to the story until the closing chapters where it suddenly all comes out in a rush. As stated previously, discussions of intellectual and spiritual issues are certainly welcome. They should be woven more in to the very fabric of the story to not seem tacked on, forced and zealous.

Jim Butcher includes of some (occasionally hilarious) pop culture references. Of particular note on this occasion is a well-timed reference to the 1980s cult movie War Games. Star Trek and Star Wars references also abound along with the Justice League. While these references provide an added dimension of humour to the proceedings, the uninitiated may find them slightly arduous and incomprehensible given the frequency with which they appear. Nerds and geeks will definitely get better mileage on this front.

Ghost Story is certainly not Shakespeare, nor is it H. G. Wells or J. R. R. Tolkien. Then again, most people will not approach it as such. Ghost Story is more like a blockbuster film; big explosions and a fast paced story to keep the excitement and interest going. Even better, Jim Butcher doesn’t shy away from the “adult” issues and provides some substance to the action, and interesting on going, over arching plotlines. Ghost Story, and indeed the Dresden Files series, is worth reading if you like scary monsters, huge explosions, running fights, deception, plot twists and turns and nothing too heavy.

  • Genre: Horror-Urban Fiction-Comedy
  • Demographic: Young Adult and up
  • Rating Out of Five: 4
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Find At: The Book Depository
  • Published: July, 2011

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