Ghost Story

By: Jim Butcher

Series: The Dresden Files

Book Number: 13

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Spoiler Disclaimer


After being shot through the chest and falling into the icy waters of Lake Michigan, Harry Dresden regains consciousness as a ghost. He's done many things in his adventurous life as a wizard, but being dead is a new one. Caught in a place between the worlds of the living and the dead, Harry learns that he must investigate and find his own murderer or three of his friends will face unspeakable consequences. Not one to leave his friends to a terrible fate, he agrees to this bargain in order save them and move on to what comes next. However, trying to accomplish this as a ghost, without access to his powers and with almost no one being able to see or hear him, will prove a challenge. Not to mention, the Chicago he returns to is not the one he left behind. A powerful new group known as the Fomor has risen up to fill the vacuum left behind by his defeat of the Red Court vampires. There are also malevolent specters who still have a beef with Harry, and now with him on an equal playing field, they're looking for revenge. It will take all of Harry's ingenuity to succeed in his mission, keep his friends safe, and avoid becoming a lost soul for all eternity.


Ghost Story is the thirteenth full-length book in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series. The previous book, Changes, ended on a cliffhanger with Harry, it appeared, having been murdered. As this book opens, his death is confirmed, as Harry begins to navigate the afterlife with the help of a couple of familiar characters who've also passed on. He's offered a unique opportunity to go back to Chicago as a ghost and hunt down his own killer. It's presented as a choice between this task and stepping into the hereafter, but when Harry is told that three of his friends will come to great harm if he doesn't go back, it becomes less of a choice for the always loyal wizard detective and more of an imperative. With time passing differently in the afterlife than the mortal realm, ghost Harry is returned to his old stomping grounds six months after his death only to find that his total defeat of the Red Court vampires has led to a power vacuum in which all manner of supernaturals have cropped up trying to take over the world. While Chicago isn't quite as bad as many other places, without its resident wizard to keep things under control, it has become difficult, forcing Harry's young apprentice, Molly, and all the rest of his friends to band together to fight all the things that go bump in the night. Harry's first order of business is finding a way to communicate with his friends, which he accomplishes through ectomancer Mortimer Lindquist. Once they've been convinced that it's actually him, they're able to get to work, but there's a ghostly conspiracy afoot in which an old defeated foe of Harry's is trying to find a new body to inhabit in order to rise to power again. Of course, Harry can't allow that to happen, so with the help of all his old friends and a few new ghostly ones as well, he sets out to defeat his enemy once more, while also trying to figure out who murdered him so that no one he loves gets hurt.

With Harry being a ghost throughout the entire novel, it brings a whole new dimension to his character. For the most part, he doesn't have the same powers that he had as a mortal wizard, so he spends a lot of time using his brain rather than his magic. However, initially he's reduced to depending on others. As a wizard, he knows some things about the ghostly realm, but since that isn't his area of expertise, he doesn't know as much as someone like Morty. There's also a huge difference between theory and practice, so actually being a ghost is an entirely new experience for him. Given the rather contentious nature of their past relationship, Morty initially doesn't want to have anything to do with Harry, although he eventually comes around. He does play host to a plethora of other spirits, though, one of whom, Sir Stuart, decides to take Harry under his wing. With Stuart's and Morty's help, Harry manages to figure out how to navigate this new normal and gradually learns that he has more power than he thought. That power comes in handy when it becomes apparent that an old nemesis of Harry's he'd previously killed is still "alive and well" in the spirit realm and building their own power in an attempt to resurrect themselves. Harry must draw on everything he's learned in his short tenure as a ghost to help defeat their enemy with a huge assist from his friends, and in doing so, solve the mystery of who killed him. As I mentioned, having Harry be a ghost was a completely different dynamic than what we've seen in all the previous books. He's still Harry personality-wise, and he's still very smart, but he's lacking most of his innate wizard powers. I still love Harry no matter what, but there was a part of me that couldn't help feeling like he was a wraith in his own story, kind of just floating along and not being as proactive as we normally see him. I admit this is because he simply couldn't be under the circumstances, but I did find it a little frustrating and it prevented the story from being quite as exciting as most of the others in the series so far.

Most of the usual supporting characters are present in the story and some of them act as stand-ins for Harry in his absence. Many of his allies have formed a community watch of sorts, where they're looking out for Chicago and continuing his fight against the supernatural baddies. Not surprisingly, Karrin Murphy is leading the group and looking after Mister, although she doesn't end up factoring in quite as strongly as some of the other characters. Same goes for the three remaining wolves, Will, Marci, and Andi. They show up a few times, but don't play big roles. Abby, who is now helping head up the Paranet, a group of low-level magic practitioners, appears again. The Carpenter's oldest son, Daniel, who is also Molly's brother, is fighting amongst their ranks and he takes on a heavy-hitter in one pivotal scene. We're introduced to a kid named Fitz, who, along with several other teens, are being held in thrall to a sorcerer in an Oliver Twist style scenario. Fitz is a sensitive who can hear Harry, although not see him, so Harry helps him, as does Father Forthill, whose taking up of the boy's cause proves more dangerous than expected. I've also mentioned Sir Stuart and all the other ghostly entities Harry meets on the other side. Harry's fairy godmother, Lea, helps out in her own way. Thomas only appears in one short scene at the end, along with the love of his life, Justine. I'm happy that it appears Justine has finally found a work-around for the problem that's been keeping them apart. Harry briefly gets to see his daughter, Maggie, and I'm thrilled with where she ended up, along with Mouse.

However, I'd have to say that the real stand-outs in this installment were Molly, Butters, Bob, and Morty. Molly is in rather rough shape, both physically and emotionally, following the battle of Chichen Itza, which, along with Harry's death, has changed her. However, she's still an ever-evolving characters who is even more powerful now than before, leaving me deeply impressed with her strength and fortitude. Butters uses his ingenuity to communicate with Harry, and we learn something new about Bob that leads to an interesting battle for him. We also get to see him in a humanoid form for the first time. But it was Morty, the ectomancer we last saw bilking people out of money but who's apparently grown a great deal since then, who really helped save the day and showed that he's a pretty powerful magic practitioner in his own right.

Overall, I enjoyed Ghost Story, although perhaps not quite as much as many of the other more recent books. Most Dresden stories start out a little slow, then build to bigger and bigger battles until Harry finally saves everyone from whatever big bad is threatening them by engaging in a huge climactic battle. To some extent, this story followed that same pattern, but I still couldn't help feeling like it was a little slower paced than most. I think maybe it's because of how Harry doesn't have full use of his powers, so there isn't as much he can do. Ultimately the defeat of the villain ends up being a group effort rather than Harry riding to the rescue. I'm fine with that, but because Harry is wandering around the spirit realm, while his friends are still in the mortal realm, there aren't as many interactions between them, leaving their storylines feeling somewhat separate from one another. Instead he picks up a few new sidekicks in Fitz, Sir Stuart, and other spirits. Also since memory plays a pretty important role in the ghostly sphere and because he has little else to do in the light of day, Harry takes several walks down memory lane that I had mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it was nice to learn more about him as a young wizard, but on the other, those parts seemed to slow the pace even more. However, I do have to give Jim Butcher kudos for the plot twist that left me a bit stunned when Harry's killer is finally revealed. I never would have guessed that in a million years. I was also impressed with Molly whose final scenes were pretty impressive. She has different talents than Harry and with each story she grows stronger and stronger. It was a treat to see her fearlessly take action against the villain. So while Ghost Story had a few downsides to it, it was still a good story with much to appreciate.


Jim Butcher