When we last saw Harry Dresden, he had lost everything... and was dead. Usually it doesn't get worse than that. But Jim Butcher's "Ghost Story" proves that for a meddling wizard, things can get infinitely worse -- and while the book has some bits that should have been trimmed off, it's still a powerful, bleakly vivid experience.
Harry finds himself scooped up by a sort of heavenly police force, who inform him that there were some irregularities with his death. He's being sent back to Chicago as a powerless ghost to find out who killed him.
But Chicago has changed in the last six months. The Red Court's destruction has allowed other powers -- mainly the Fomor -- to rise instead. Hordes of wraiths and lemurs are following a monstrous shade called the Grey Ghost and a Bob lookalike. Molly has become a half-mad magical vigilante, and a guilt-ridden Murphy is leading a ragtag alliance of local powers.
And making contact with his friends is the least of Harry's problems. Without his magic or his physical body, he has to unravel the identity of the Grey Ghost, thwart a small-time sorcerer, stop a flood of murderous ghosts, and figure out who killed him to start with. But even if he works that out, he's still facing the ultimate unknown...
"Changes" ended with the mother of all cliffhangers, and in a way most of "Ghost Story" is also a cliffhanger -- Butcher keeps you wondering what will happen to Harry and if he's truly imitating the Norwegian blue parrot. And if he isn't all-the-way dead, how the heck can he come back from a shooting/drowning six months afterwards?
So there's a heavy grey cloud of suspense over this book, especially as Harry stumbles through the grim, blood-spattered world that has resulted from HIS ACTIONS. But when Harry drifts back into an active role again, the bleakness begins to lift, and the plot revs up into a slam-bang magical war involving ghosts, Star Trek, and some old enemies of Harry's.
Don't worry, humor fans. Butcher hasn't lost his hilarious knack for the snarky and silly ("It was like The Lord of the Rings and All My Children made a baby with the Macho Man Randy Savage and a Whac-A-Mole machine").
Butcher also puts his hero through the emotional grinder -- Harry is forced to see how his questionable actions have hurt the people he cares for, and have thrown the world into turmoil. This is perhaps the most painful part of the story, seeing Harry grapple with all that he's done.. But Butcher doesn't neglect the supporting characters, like Father Forthill, Morty the ectomancer, Bob, the ever-majestic Uriel and the stalwart shade Sir Stuart.
The book's biggest problem? It feels rather loosely edited -- Harry angsts that he shouldn't have brought Molly to Chichen Itza at least three times, and the flashback to Harry's youth would have made a better short story. Also... WHAT HAPPENED TO THE OTHERS?! I can't wait a year to find out!
"Ghost Story" leaves some threads hanging, but the powerful tale of an undead Harry Dresden trying to set his little world aright is also filled with action, pathos, and sharp bleak urban fantasy.