Jim Butcher, Ghost Story [Library of Babel]

One of the problems with a long-running series is that it accretes backstory as you go (unless, of course, you go the Rex Stout route and just pretend that time doesn't pass for the characters, even when you have the client in a later book being the son of a character from one of the earlier volumes...). This is particularly troublesome for the sort of series in which the characters become more experienced and powerful as they go along. After several books, it starts to become difficult to find credible threats for your protagonist to face.

For the 13th volume of the Dresden Files, Jim Butcher found a unique solution to this problem: he killed Harry off. Hence the title-- Harry was shot by a sniper at the end of the last book, and spends this whole book as a ghost, sent back to track down his killer. Being a ghost, he has an extremely limited ability to interact with the everyday world, and being new to the whole ghost thing, he has to learn how to navigate and defend himself as a ghost.

It's a bold call, and allows Butcher to do some interesting things. It also adds an element of suspense that would otherwise be lacking at this point, since Harry is tangling with people who are pretty small-time compared to recent volumes. Only a small amount of suspense, mind, because it's well known that this won't be the last book in the series, so despite the somewhat valedictory feel of a lot of Harry's interactions with other characters, it's clear that the book will have to end in a way that allows Harry's story to continue.

But the ghost-story device does liven up the middle part of the book. And while the changes in Chicago since Harry's death aren't pretty, they do shake things up in an interesting way. I'm not hugely enthusiastic about the ending, but it does serve to turn the page to the next set of Dresden books, which ought to be very different than the previous volumes.

If you haven't read the previous twelve books, of course, this won't make a lick of sense. But if you have read some or all of the earlier books, and were wondering if the continuation is any good, yeah, it's pretty reasonable. Like all of Butcher's books, it's a fast-moving and easy read, and I'll happily read the next one.

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I quit about midway through the second or third book - the one with the vampire court party. When Harry loses the christian knight dude's sword, it was just too much - as in too much Xander, too little Buffy. Does this basic framework of the books change? It made the first half to two-thirds of the books pretty lame.

By Buddhacat (not verified) on 31 Jul 2011 #permalink

Augh, curse you for bringing this up. I really want to read this but I'm waiting until after I take the MCAT, and I'd been doing a really good job of forgetting it existed until now.

@Buddhacat - I liked the books from the start, but I definitely would say the later ones are better. Dresden definitely gets more competent, if that's what you're asking. He's not a David Eddings-esque demigod by any stretch of the imagination, but as he keeps going, he does get to be more of a heavy hitter. Also, the wizard to PI ratio does go up, so I guess you could say the framework changes a bit.


Well, I've started Jim Butcher by reading his Codex Alera books first. They definitely are better written then his first Dresden novells. Jim Butcher's writing definitely got better with time. His characters got more depth and history.

I don't really like urban fantasy because it just seems too improbable. It's OK to imagine a completely different world where magic works.

However, I can't keep myself from thinking about how magic and technology would work in the modern world together. Just imagine that you can use magic to rotate generators - instant solution to energy problems. Or vice-versa: how magicians would be able to use mains power for their spells.

There are precious few books that explore it. Jim Butcher's Codex Alera is one of them - in the end a simple invention of catapults firing magical explosives helps to turn tide of a crucial battle, a bit before the end a giant lens made of magically compressed air wins a war.

Also Charles Stross books are good in that regard. For example, protagonists there use lasers to build pentagrams and specially designed PDAs to perform magic.

By Alex Besogonov (not verified) on 31 Jul 2011 #permalink


One of the things that I like abut the series is that the characters, especially Dresden, evolve over time. Dresden gets more powerful and smarter about how he uses that power as time goes on. At the same time, there are shifts in his personality that are slow enough to make sense.

I didn't really like the first book (I'm not even sure why I picked up the second one) but I've mostly liked them more and more as the series has progressed.