Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher, book 13 of the Dresden Files

This was a heavy book with a plot that tied itself in knots - and my mind with it

Harry is dead. Shot with a high powered rifle, his body falling into Lake Michigan. Dead and gone – and his friends have had to spend the last 6 months without him, grieving and dealing with the world.

And the world is not a happy place. The Red Court is dead, one of the most powerful forces in the supernatural world. The power vacuum begs to be filled and dark powers from across the world are rushing in to fill the void, to raise themselves up to be the next great power. In particular, the fomori are staging a massive come back, hitting talents across the US. And for Chicago, dark times are darker by the lack of Harry Dresden. As a Warden of the White Council, and as a wizard who had faced down some of the greatest and darkest powers of the world, his mere presence made sure Chicago was safe. Now he's dead – and the dark things are coming out to play.

Except there has been a celestial irregularity. Someone broke a rule – allowing Harry to return as a ghost. Ghostly Harry lacks most of his powers and can't affect the real world, but he still has a mission – to find out who killed him.

Except Harry also has to see what Chicago has become in his absence. His friends are fighting a desperate battle, wounded by his loss and the war at Chichen Itza, they are fighting a desperate struggle and he can't abandon them. Dark things on the street are committing atrocities he would never have tolerated before – and he can't let that pass. And vast powers are rising over Chicago, over his city – and he can't stand by and ignore that either – not even to catch his murderer.

I feel pretty wrung out reading this one. Exhausted and a little beat up. It's a book with many levels, many layers of nuance and many perspectives. It's a book with a lot of thought, a lot of navel gazing, a lot of philosophy. It's a book that goes to the very depth of the world with some very complicated expressions fop souls and spirit, life and death. It's a book you have to be awake to read

I had to admit, to begin with I was disappointed, especially after SideJobs, I wanted to get back on track to the epic. Needed more Harry running around burning things and kicking arse. I think I especially wanted it because of the way that SideJobs emphasised Harry's power. To have the next book depower him by making him a ghost – and after already being hungry for more Harry power – I was frustrated. I wanted to see the story go down it's old track and instead we have these bright new rails. I admit I had a complete “bah humbug, I hate it” moment pretty early in the book because it wasn't what I wanted/expected

Despite that, it was a good book in its own right, a different kind of book, but a good book regardless. There was a lot of navel gazing, philosophy and deep thinking in this book – and when Uriel turns up you need to make sure your head is fully in the game or you're going to miss and lose a lot. It was, in many ways, a very different book from the rest of the Dresden series. It was a different kind of epic, with a lot of thought and depth which added a lot of texture to the world and made my brain squeak at times. It did still bring the awesome, but in a completely different way.

The new insight into the ghost and spirit world was nice to see and a wonderful take on ghosts. We also got to see a little hint of the grand actors behind the scenes. There was a surpsing amount of depth to the spirit world I didn't expect, with the different kinds of ghosts and how their powers worked. I think there were a few story distractions (Fitz for one) though at the same time I can see how they were needed to properly establish Harry in his role as a ghost rather than as an arsekicking wizard. There were also storylines that brought the epic – the World War 2 beach assault with Harry leading the Lecter ghosts will definitely go down as an epic moment in the series.

I think this book was about reassessment, thought and exploration. Not quite a new start, but a new look on things as people have moved on and grown and we can assess Harry's actions in more detail. It was about twists and twists and needing to think rather than just act and hope power gets you through. It's a battle of wits and thought and nuance – and it's also a mystery in the greatest sense. So many threads – the Fomori, Harry's killer, the spirit world and only intellect to solve them, not the brute force Harry specialises in

There were some things I wasn't too thrilled about, though

There was a lot of Harry second guessing his decisions and blaming himself for things out of his control, believing he'd turned evil and that destroying the Red Court was an evil thing. Some of it is very much in character and a lot of it was very deep thinking on cause and effect, but some of it was frustrating. I suppose it's a sign of good emotional connection to a character that I wanted to reach in and start yelling at Harry “people are dying now? What do you think they were doing when the Red Court were around?! You think more are dying to the Fomor than died to the vampires?!” it frustrated me. There was a lot of self-flagellation. Not all of it unwarranted and none of it out of character, but still, not exactly fun to read

There were also some long flashbacks which were vaguely interesting snapshots of Harry's past, and fairly nice to see, but they didn't add an awful lot to the story and with the book already requiring concentration, the distraction didn't help much, coupled with the side plot of Fitz and his gang and it dragged the story out a little

And, finally, I feel vaguely cheated by the 6 month gap. 6 months pass and all the characters have moved on a bit with their lives and I didn't get to see it. Admittedly many of the gaps were filled in, albeit after the fact, but I was still left with a vague sense of being cheated of those 6 months. Murphy and Molly had changed a lot and what was happening with the Leanansidhe and Bob and Butters and who are these new White Court vampires? I wanted to see it!

Social justicewise - there's the usual issues of inclusion that is a problem though rather less of the "women are delicate flowers I should help and protect while describing their breasts/legs/whatever" that was so prevalent, especially earlier in the series. There is an annoying scene where Thomas gets to feed on Justine by proxy as she engages in some girl/girl action (and Harry looking in deciding Oh yeah, his depressed brother's going to be juuuuust fine. *eye roll*). It vexes further when we remember how completely absent GBLT characters are in the series.

Still, this book was an awesome book, it really was. It was deep, it was nuanced, it made me think and it revealed a lot more about the world. It had a twofolk twist ending that I did not see coming, I really didn't. It's rare that a book surprises me to that degree. It added a depth to an already very well established world and while it didn't have the same EPIC feeling of the past books, it did have a sense of epic forces and powers.

And we have a promise of a lot of awesome to come