Allow me to sum up my feelings to the ending of Changes, the book previous to Ghost Story, in the Harry Dresden series.
“F*** YOU, JIM BUTCHER! F*** YOU!”
I don’t think it can be argued that the ending of the book made a certain impact on me.
Ghost Story…considerably less so.
Ghost Story picks up where the last story left off, with (and I don’t want to hear complaints about spoilers about a book that’s been out for over year) Harry Dresden getting shot and dying. But, since we got another Harry Dresden book, we know that’s obviously not the end of the story. Well, I knew it wasn’t the end of the story because I read that Jim Butcher got a seven figure advance for four or five more in the Dresden series but regardless, Harry might be dead but the story isn’t over.
On it’s own I don’t think that Ghost Story is his best work and, honestly, its because of the approach that he takes with telling this story. As it says on the jacket, Harry’s dead and stuck between our world and whatever comes after, stuck in that place populated by ghosts and other unquiet dead. As such, he can’t interact with our world (much).
The problems this caused for me are two-fold. First, Harry is a very action driven character and, well, he can’t do a lot. For much of the book Harry is pretty passive due to his current state of affairs. This basically left me with what felt like a lot of Harry’s exposition and watching a lot of other people do stuff. I might like some of the characters, really like some of them, but I read the book for Harry Dresden. Even where there are situations where he could, possibly act, he doesn’t due to the newness of his situation (being dead). We only start to see Harry be Harry in this fashion toward the very end of the book. As another review put it, it’s Harry Dresden with a different set of powers.
The second part of this issue is the exposition. Honestly, the amount of self-induced head-shrinkery (yes, that’s a real word, damn it) that goes on is vast. Additionally, there felt like certain revelations that weren’t so much as revealed as they were plot points that were just thrown at you. By a cannon. Made of other cannons. We learn in this book who kills Harry and, honestly, not only is it given away in the first third of the book, the actual set up of the murder is forcibly fed to us; there’s no gradual discovery, no slow build, it’s simply “This is it. Like it?” The answer to that is no, I didn’t.
Do I think this is his worst work? No. For as much as it started things off, I think Storm Front wasn’t that great and certainly the worse of the two when compared to Ghost Story. But I do wish we could have gotten more. I can’t go into what “more” entails without giving things away (which I’ll do further below), but it definitely needed more Action Harry and less Mental Anguish Harry.
This is not to say that there weren’t parts of it I really enjoyed. There are certain characters who showed up that I really liked, especially some changes that have happened to said characters. There were also a few scenes toward the end that I really enjoyed, one of which made me tear up a little. However, after the epic-ness that was Changes, Ghost Story felt like a three-year old blowing a raspberry compared to the previous book’s thunderstorm.
A friend of mine pointed out that if you took Ghost Story and thought of it as a continuation of the story in Changes, then it wasn’t that bad. This is true, it does work better then, but in order to really appreciate that point, it would have to actually be part of Changes. As a story on its own, Ghost Story falls flat for me.
Here there be spoilers.
As I said above, Harry can’t interact with the real world and that was bothersome to me. It was kind of interesting to see Harry working through proxies, such as Butters (who has grown on me with each passing book he’s been in), Father Forthill, and Fitz (someone new), and in fact the work of proxies is a prevailing theme in this book, but I read this for what Harry does himself. Now, the argument could be made that Harry does do things, he just does it through other people, to which I answer, “Meh.” The fact he tells this person to do that thing doesn’t have the same impact as him doing it, at least not for me.
The amount of time we spend in Harry’s head among his thoughts was also “meh”. The number of times he is filled with self-doubt, guilt, or recrimination about what happened in Changes started to bug me. When the “how many other men’s daughters died because of what I did” line showed up for the second or third time I started to get annoyed. Beyond that, the amount of time Harry spent going, “Oh, hey, I have to actually use my brain! Herp de derp!”, like this was some kind of new concept, made me want to shake him whilst screaming, “You’ve been reduced to a being of pure thought and emotion, you ninny, of course you have to think!”
Finally, my main gripe comes across with how some things were just forced to us. The revelation that it was Kincaid who shot him, something that was fed to us within the first third of the book, felt awkward. I mean, it’s not a particularly difficult revelation to come to, right?, when you consider who among the players we’ve seen that could do it, but Harry’s whole reasoning it out made it seem less like a real mystery and more like he’s just dense.
The revelation of who actually killed him, which would be himself (by, again, using a proxy), was similarly forced on us. I would’ve preferred it to have been a slower discovery, make it seem like more of a mystery, instead of just shoveling it down on us.
The thing that gets me is that we saw hints of a truly awesome story, a story that I would be interested in: the story of those six months when Harry wasn’t around. Yes, I know, I said I read Harry Dresden for, well, Harry Dresden, but it sounds like those six months were filled with interesting developments and changes for the characters left behind and that, right there, is my bread and butter. I love character development, it’s one of my favorite things about any media. My favorite moment in all of Farscape is when Jon sells himself to Scorpius in order to free D’Argo’s son (and a boatload of other slaves) and the look on D’Argo’s face when he realizes this, especially when Zahn says to him, “See how you’ve misjudged him?” That right there, the undoing of D’Argo’s previous opinion of Jon and the re-alignment of a new understanding (and the friendship that then built between the characters), was awesome to see. Jim Butcher hints at or tells us about things that I would love to have seen, not just heard about after the fact and I think that adds to my frustration with this book. There was a lot of telling, but not a lot of showing.
For all the things I didn’t like about the book there were some moments in it that I thought were truly great or emotionally poignant. Mister’s reaction to Harry’s ghostly presence, not to mention the whole scene where Harry finds out who is guarding his daughter, made me tear up. I thought Molly really grew as a character and seeing her come into her own was great and seeing a little emotional weakness in Murphy was also nice. Butters being more than an answer man was also a nice touch.
Unfortunately, these were just drops of awesome in a bucket full of “Eh, ok.” for me. Like I said above, not his greatest but not his worst either.