Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

I've reviewed the last few of Butcher's "Dresden Files" books -- see my posts on the collection Side Jobs and the novels Changes, Turn Coat and Small Favor -- and those posts have said most of what I want to say about this series. It's entertaining in a particularly popcorn-y manner, relying on big set-piece magical battles and the main character's author-emphasized Shiny Aura of Infallibility to tell stories that are both quite a lot of fun and deeply generic. (Those two things often do come together, of course.)

Some folks may dispute that Shiny Aura -- and this book, along with the predecessor, is something of an extended exercise by Butcher in putting a few scuffs on that aura -- but, even here, Harry Dresden is the One Man with higher morality than anyone else in the world, willing to do anything to save "people" from "being hurt," not to mention his "friends," who are eternally in danger from which only he can save them. (Alas, Alack!) And the scuffs are really quite few and quite minor -- Harry still has a Superman-level force field of Righteousness around him, and Butcher's not going to be able to shift that at this point in the series.

Anyway, Dresden begins Ghost Story dead (not for tax reasons, either), and spends it as a bodiless ghost, wandering the streets of his fictional Chicago to find the man who killed him (the answer is, I'm afraid, far too tied up in that Shiny Aura stuff) and to save everyone from everything, as always. In the end, the one thing he really wants to do fails, but he will be back -- not as dead as he thought he was -- in a future book. And maybe he will have to compromise with other powers in his world, but I doubt it -- it looks like Butcher has found a way to give him even more power, and make him look even more righteous in standing up to those other powers in the name of what is true and right because Harry Dresden says it is.

Again, this is popcorn, and I'm looking at it as if it were Strindberg, which is a category error. The Dresden books are deeply entertaining as long as the reader can ignore larger questions (also including the usual urban fantasy problem: how can there be so many superpowered non-humans in the world and no one knows about it?) and relax into the story. While reading Ghost Story, that's easy. Afterwards...well, that depends on the paths your mind tends to run down. If you've spent twenty years picking apart stories to see what makes them tick, Ghost Story may not be quite as satisfying in retrospect.

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