Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden had just gotten his daughter back, and killed all the Red Court vampires who were behind her abduction. But just when it seemed as though his life might be his own again, he was shot and died in front of the boat that was going to be his new home, after his apartment had been torched, But is death the end for Harry?

Harry ends up in the afterlife, ready to move on, but it seems life isn't done with him yet. He winds up in a nearly-deserted, twisted echo of Chicago, and is informed that if he doesn't find out exactly who killed him, three of his friends are fated to die in a nasty and horrible way. And Harry, ready to rest as he is, finds that he still can't bear to leave his friends behind like that, and so he reluctantly agrees to go back and save his friends. But since he's dead, and his body is missing, Harry will have to go back as a Ghost- immaterial, formless and unable to be seen or sensed by any of his friends.

And that isn't the only shock that Harry gets. It seems that while only a short time has passed subjectively for him in the afterlife, six months have gone by on Earth, and Chicago has gone to crap in that time. While his friend Murph is trying to keep the city safe from a pantheon of supernatural menaces, helped by Harry's werewolf friends, and Harry's apprentice, Molly, has been taking on too much and nearly turning herself inside out to become a menace feared by the other Supernatural menaces just so she can protect people. But that's not really Molly's strength, and she is becoming more and more cut-off from her friends, family and former allies because of her obsessive need to try to fulfill Harry's role.

And this is one magical cataclysm that Harry is very much responsible for. Because when he killed the entire Red Court by a family curse that started with their newest full member (his ex-girlfriend, Susan), he also created a power vacuum where they once were, and now the supernatural menaces fighting over their former place in the world is creating turmoil that even the normal humans can sense.

And that's not all that Harry has to worry about. For among the dead spirits that haunt Chicago are those that would just love to get their hands on him and take him down... and in his ghostly form, Harry has no magic to fight with. None at all. But, as he finds, there are compensations for being a ghost. The question is, can Harry repair the situation that he created through his own ignorance without any access to his magic or the friends he usually relies on? What happened to his body, and what will happen to him if he does manage to solve the problem? Will Harry somehow be granted a whole new life, or will he decide to go on to whatever afterlife really awaits him? The outcome is by no means certain, but can ghostly Harry prevail?

I honestly thought that the last book was somehow going to be the end of the series, but when Ghost Story was announced, I was very happy, because I loves me some Harry Dresden. But I have to hand it to Butcher, he pulled off a great story where I wasn't sure there could even be a story. It was amazing to see how much had changed in the relatively short time since Harry had been away, making this story, in effect, something of an "It's a Wonderful Life" for Harry, as he sees how his presence has changed and enriched Chicago.

But never let it be said that the afterlife is dull. Despite being dead and bodiless, Harry finds ways to interact with all his old friends, and even finds a way to kill other evil spirits gunning for him. He also gets some compensatory powers of being able to walk through walls and teleport short distances. But even though the book starts out slow, the ending of the book speeds up to Harry's more usual to deal with speeds, and you can see why the slow beginning made it a much better book in the end. I was also surprised on two fronts: who really killed Harry (and why), and the source of the unnatural cold that is gripping Chicago, even when it should be the end of Spring by the calendar.

This is not a good first book to read for the series, since so many of its characters are introduced in earlier books in the series. It's also not the usual "Hits the ground at Grand Prix speeds and never stops" pacing the books usually enjoy, but I feel there will be a definite change in tone in the series to come, given the ending of this book. It makes me want to read even more now, and I am sure Harry's fans will feel the same. Highly recommended.

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