Book Review: Ghost Story (The Dresden Files, #13)

Ghost Story (The Dresden Files, #13)
by Jim Butcher

Ghost StoryIt is perhaps understandable that after several graphic novels, short stories, novelettes, and 12 novels in as many years, Jim Butcher would feel the need to take stock of his hero, supporting characters, and the world he created. As a writer, he might like to spend some time exploring his hero’s thought processes and how he’s grown, changed, and matured over the years and experiences. Figure out where all his characters have come from, where they are now, and where they are going. It would be good to review the world he created, develop the physics and magical landscape, and reconcile inconsistencies. Now would be the time too look at all the loose ends and find a way to weave them together satisfactorily.

This is good for a writer to do so that he can write from conviction, belief in his creation, and a consistent worldview. Most good writers do this. Great writers of series are very organized about it.

To do so, however, and pass it off thinly clothed as a novel in the continuation of the storyline is lazy and cheap. It cheats the reader. This novel is a 500 page narcissistic ramble and excuse for the writer to flesh out some of his personal philosophy. And it occurs, like a bad traffic accident, at a critical point in the overall story arc.

Most of this book is Dresden beating himself up over his past actions and decisions, ruminating on the nature of life, death, and magic, and defying all of the Laws and laws Butcher laid out in previous books. Harry’s whining and self-flagellation gets repetitive, monotonous, and boring. He whines so much that I had to check that this wasn’t a Thomas Covenant book.  Butcher uses Harry to mull over personal philosophies that are at odds with much of what Harry has expressed as his personal beliefs in the past. The intrusion of these monologues disturbs the flow of the story significantly.

For instance, late in the book in the middle of a critical action sequence, Butcher has Dresden spend two full pages explaining to himself why he is crazy. This is bad on two accounts. One – it is in the middle of an action sequence and lasts so long and is so rambling that the reader loses track of what the action is, where it is happening, and why it is happening (sort of like this sentence). Two – it is the third or forth or in some cases the fifth or more time Harry has gone over this same material.

Fer chrissakes Harry, quit moaning about how bad your life has been and about how the whole world is going to hell in a hand basket all because you a) can not control your anger, b) make stupid, uninformed decisions, or c) do not think your actions through.

Another thing that bothers me about this novel is how Butcher has treated the secondary and tertiary characters. In an attempt to flesh them out and expand the cast, he introduced inexplicable changes in appearance, personality and abilities. For example, a minor character in some of the early books is a major character here. He was portrayed a dumpy, balding man in his late forties. He had a small single talent for communicating with the dead and made his living as a medium. In <i>Ghost Story</i>, he has lost weight, buffed up physically and emotionally, and has a sizeable magical talent he’s somehow hidden from the Wardens for 40 years. Similar transformations occur in other minor characters.

There were so many things Butcher could have done, so many ways to go … and this is what he chose? This was such a disappointment. Butcher has many times expressed that the Dresden series was not what he wanted to write, that it wasn’t his “serious” work. But he has gathered a loyal following and owes them more that this.

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