#CBR4 Maneuver #37 – Ghost Story
Profile: Modern Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
Summary: Taken from the back cover, ::REDACTED::
The rear cover summary is a major spoiler for the end of Changes (Dresden #12) and has been redacted.
After Action Report:
I have to give this to Jim Butcher: he knows how to drag a series past its expiration date. Changes, book twelve in this somewhat mammoth sequence, took some major risks and really shook up the Dresden formula. And ended with a hell of a cliffhanger. It was/is such a big cliffhanger that I can’t actually talk about the plot of Ghost Story at all without spoiling everything. So where does Butcher take this embarrassment of storytelling riches? Straight back into the ground. Or do I mean grind?
Butcher had such a great opportunity to do something different with Ghost Story. The protagonist had been shoved conveniently off camera, and at just the perfect pivotal moment that his absence would actually have a major impact on the shape of the supernatural world. The status quo had been shattered, with all the nice power vacuum implications therein. And the supporting cast had really come into their own, putting up a sizable fight with the big bad at the end of Changes, even without Harry’s help. The setting, the book title, even the metaplot was begging for a one off novel that could focus on the people who are normally sidelined to Harry’s megalomaniacal hero complex. It could have been soooooo good!
But it isn’t. Instead we have a return to the tried and true storytelling tropes that made The Dresden Files enjoyable, but ultimately second-tier. Thankfully, I am not so constrained. So rather than attempting to review this book with one hand tied behind my back by the threat of spoilers, I’m going to sketch out a version of what this novel could have been…
In the wake of the cataclysmic finale of Changes, the Chicago gang make their way back home, knowing they’ve totally broken the order of the world they live in. As things start to get back to normal in the mundane world, it suddenly becomes clear that Harry is missing. Nobody’s seen him and the White Council/Wardens are trying to get in touch with him through his friends. The wizarding higher-ups are already starting to notice an uptrend in public supernatural events, and some of their most isolated operatives have gone silent.
Fast forward six months to the scenario laid out in Ghost Story. Molly Carpenter is our PoV protagonist and she’s running a little ragged, between the threats to Chicago’s magical community and the increasing strain put upon her by her new teacher. Suddenly, the gang is contacted by someone, or something, who claims to be Harry Dresden, and all hell breaks loose in the city’s spectral population.
My somewhat longwinded point is that Ghost Story could have been so much better if it had been told from Molly’s, or even Karrin’s perspective. The double mystery of the might-be-Harry and the riotous ghost population could have been a great look into ‘life without Dresden.’ As an added bonus, Butcher could have kept the resolution to Changes’ cliffhanger in his pocket for a few more chapters, instead of blowing it two pages in. AND I would have been able to review the damn book!
Too his credit, Butcher did experiment a bit with this concept in a short story printed in the Side Jobs collection. Aftermath featured Karrin as the protagonist working without her Dresden-shaped safety net a few days after the conclusion of Changes. Still, any author who gives up such an amazing opportunity to reenergize his flagging fan base probably doesn’t deserve to keep it.
Short version: If you like the Dresden Files as a series, here’s one more. But if you’re getting a little sick of the megalomaniacal, chauvinistic and somewhat dense male lead, and his formulaic storylines, you’re shit out of luck.