Indigo's Reviews > Ghost Story

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher
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's review
Oct 17, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: angels, chicago, girl-power, faerie, horror, magic, new-york, mystery, nookbook, supernatural-detective, urban-fantasy, werewolves
Recommended for: urban fantasy fans, Harry Potter withdrawal cases

** spoiler alert ** There were several things, mostly external, that kept me from diving in headfirst and completely immersing myself in the thirteenth Dresden Files novel.

Firstly? It is book 13 of 20; so the "gee whiz, jeepers, gosh! How's our hero gonna make it out of this one" urgency is absent for me. It just is. With six books to go, it is simply a foregone conclusion that either Harry comes out on top again (for certain values of on top), or the series timehops and the last six books are about things that happened to Harry's dad...or about Harry's other living relative. For me, that distanced me from the action some, as I don't think Butcher wants to be that cheap of a writer, nor to have legions of wrathful fans seriously considering Miserying him. I spent most of the book looking for things i knew had to be there to keep Harry intact until the end of the book and his inevitable restoration [who said all gunshot wounds were fatal?], and waiting to see which of his supporting cast would show up when.

Second, due to recent criticisms of the author, i found myself reading with a less avid fangirl eye, and more of a critical one. He relies heavily on pop culture references. Harrys speech patterns are fairly rigid, and his descriptions vary between "far too little detail" and "almost too much." A firmer editor could even that out a little, though some of it is genuinely that Mr. Butcher is telling these stories first person, and that means we are subjected only to what the character would share with his audience. Makes for a frustrating read when we know Harry is capable of giving the reader more detail, but for whatever reason Harry feels more like wisecracking and making pop culture references and gross jokes.

Lastly and most uncomfortably conflicted reason preventing full immersion? Charges of racism and sexism against the author. I'm of the mind that while some racist element may be present, it is not intentional.

The problematic word "spook" for example. Never once is it used in a context that would imply its definition as a derogatory to describe people of color was intended. The other meanings of the word, "ghost" or "dangerous spy type" are the only usages in the book. That said, those usages are appropriate as applied to the genre of Film Noir meets Fantasy around which these books have been constructed.

Listens to Wind aka "Injun Joe" is a passing mention by Harry in this book, and i have never been certain whether the Native American character allowed the nickname ironically, or given the longevity of wizardkind, he was intended to dawn upon the reader as the inspiration for the Twain character. One cannot be certain in stories where the world is so much like the real one, but different in subtly powerful ways.

Carlos Ramirez also gets a passing mention. Martha Washington does not, this time. Both are characters of color and among the most powerful allies Dresden has.

There is one scene in the book wherein Harry goes into gang territory, and briefly reflects on the colors worn on one's body and one's skin. The impression i came away with was that Harry wasnt happy about racial tensions in the area, but could not dwell on them due to his current situation and the danger to his friends and to Chicago.

I do notice though, that Mr. Butcher has sprinkled people of color as background characters. Fitz' gang seemed multiethnic to me, though Fitz was the only one who got much real description. Mr. Butcher is also careful not to populate his bad guys and mooks with people of color.

So my original thoughts remain. The Wizard has other stuff on his mind and race is pretty much backburnered as a mortal issue when big supernatural games are being played on the field of Chicago. So the writer writes him that way.

Just as, while a bit classless, the often romantically hapless Dresden tends to ogle women, often in the same breath as acknowledging them as formidable in other ways, up to and including being superior to him in hand to hand combat, firearms, politics, martial arts, and different schools of magic.

Harry's characterization remains typical. He is still the wisecracking smartass beanpole whose modus operandi is "smash first, think later...maybe."

Butcher spun the rest of magimundane Chicago on its ear, though, and that, for Harry and his friends is where the story finds its heart. We get to see Harry cope or fail to cope with being completely out of his element, in a sitch where his bash and smash stylistic was useless. We get to see him forced to take things slowly and more, we see him forced to think since his usual implements of violence are no longer viable. This results in a lot of him dwelling gloomily and ruminating morosely about his regrets and choices. We see him mourning for lost chances. But we also see Harry seeing how the world copes without him, and to his surprise what a difference his presence made. More than once i was reminded of "It's A Wonderful Life".

Getting Marcone and Gard out of town was a little contrived to me for a man as control freak as John... and given the villain chosen, I am not so sure he wouldve been a major factor anyway.

There were subtle clues that Harry lived...Mab's presence well toward summer. The pine needles. The weather changing as the story progressed...Some of Molly's reactions, lain like breadcrumbs, making no sense until the end.

We also get to see how some of the supernatural and mundane in the know coped -- both with Harry's death and the hole he left which the White Council didnt see fit to fill.

Murphy went all Dark Action Girl, to borrow a term. Bitter, angry, guilty and in denial, but still able to bridle those less noble emotions and use them to serve and protect, even without her badge. Probably losing it she couldve handled....just not losing it and her best friend and potential paramour on the same day.

Molly....a tragedy on multiple levels. Young and fragile, determined to prove her mettle, and doing so with heart, if not a lot of style or common sense. And her part in events...doubly painful! But we saw her grow tougher and stronger.

Always good to see Butters again...he and Lindquist, both self aware enough to know they werent really cut from hero cloth, but full of decency enough to step up when needed. Harry gained a new respect for both men...mortals he had written off as mostly out of their depth.

New characters: we got Fitz, potentially, and teenage Daniel Carpenter. We got Childs and some Vikings working for Marcone. Too soon to say how i feel about any of them, mostly. Daniel seems to be taking on the brash angry smash guy role now, which means we probably will see more of the new, thinky Harry.

Butcher also had a lot of fun writing the mindscapes. The fun side of thinking is imagining...and between Harrys memories, Bob's personality under Butters, and Molly's mindscape he got to take us readers on a wild ride which included a literal flight of fancy.

There are scant few cliffhangers to be had, but the ones there are are enough to make me wish the new book was weeks away rather than a year. What was the outcome of the battle of the Bobs?

The author also took care to close loops left hanging open by the last book. Mouse is accounted for, as is Maggie. We discover what became of Thomas.

All in all, a satisfying read.

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