The Short Version: When last we left our intrepid hero, Harry Dresden… he’d just been shot. Shot dead. That’s too easy of an out, naturally, so Harry wakes up a ghost. Suddenly, he’s relearning the rules and the way things work… and time is running out, because what seemed seconds to him as actually been six months – and there are some nasty forces who have descended on Chicago in his absence. Not to mention all the ghostly spirits who have nursed a grudge against Harry since he killed them. Yikes.
The Review: Jim Butcher pitched the last book – Changes – as the turning point of the series. (SPOILERS abound for the series from here on out. Just a heads up, gang.) Things were, well, changing: not only does Harry wipe out the Red Court entirely, he decides to team up with Mab and (as he often reflects in this book) “cross a line” in order to go save his daughter. The covers were rebooted, the title was one word instead of two… and then he got shot about twenty seconds after he agreed to shack up with Karrin.
As a result, this book is a little bit like the first episode of a new season of a tv series. Like every time Mad Men jumps X months, it takes you about an episode to reevaluate the landscape. Similarly, six months have passed and Chicago is no longer protected by the wild wizard Dresden. As a result, Molly has nearly lost her mind and gone vigilante while Karrin is trying to hold a small group of Dresden-pals together to protect the city. She teamed up with Marcone, for goodness sakes. Things aren’t great. And to top it all off, Harry is dead… but they haven’t found his body so they really don’t know.
Harry comes back, all ghostly, and is thrown into a very new world. Watching him experience this world from, literally, the other side is entertaining – Butcher certainly knows his way around a pop-culture reference and a joke – and a great excuse to reintroduce us to things. Sometimes I do find his reintroductions of certain characters to be annoying – example: we know who Molly and Karrin are at this point and so they don’t have to be reintroduced with descriptive terms and what-not. However, a little more explanation of what the hell was going on with Darkhallow wouldn’t’ve gone amiss. That’s all I’m saying.
Anyway, I think the problem with the book lies in the corner that Butcher immediately puts himself in when he starts the book with Dresden as a ghost. We know that the series is going to last for quite a while yet (last I heard was ~20 books with an “apocalyptic trilogy” added onto that for an ending) so we know Dresden can’t be dead for good – and, I have to be honest, I not only predicted (one aspect of) the reason he wasn’t dead but by the time we got to that point, it felt a little cop-out-y.
What also felt a little lacking – especially since the book apparently took some four months longer than anticipated? – was any real importance in the denouement. With all of the people Dresden has put into the ground, you’d think there would’ve been someone other than the Corpsetaker who would show up. Or what if the book had been a “breakout of Arkham” kind of book, where ghostly Dresden is on the run from the rogue’s gallery? That’s what I wanted it to be… and it wasn’t. That’s not to say it wasn’t good – the look into the reality of ghosts in the Dresdenverse was fascinating and we certainly got a few great peeks into some of our favorite characters in a way we’ve never experienced them before. Mort and Bob, especially, get some really great stuff to do – the interior of Bob’s skull was a favorite moment of mine.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5. Look, it’s a Dresden book. Therefore, unless Mr. Butcher suffers some sort of complete personality reversal, it’s never going to be bad. His writing is some of my favorite genre writing ever. The scenes in Molly’s head were absolutely brilliant for their pop-culture sass and wink to anyone who, like me, is a proud nerd. The problem is, this book felt a bit like a placeholder. An opportunity to, like most season premieres (except, perhaps Mad Men), reintroduce the characters and show us how the playing field has shifted since last we saw our friends and neighbors. Does it do that? Yes. Does it answer a few things left from the first half of the series? Sure does. I’d say that Harry’s maturation in this novel is even bigger than his “crossing the line” development in the last book. Does this book set up some big questions? Yes. Will the ensuing books be… interesting, to say the least? Oh very yes. And so, while this was a sub-par entry in the series… that still keeps it head and hands above the crowd.