Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

Hey! This here's Barrie Summy's monthly book review club.

For next month my book club is reading One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. And that was my choice. But there's another reader inside me, too. And that reader likes to read fun books that are quick and consumable and exciting and pulpy and fun. Also, did I mention, fun?

That reader discovered Harry Dresden a few years ago. What's not to love? In Jim Butcher's contemporary urban fantasy series, Chicago looks much as it does today. Except that, in the Yellow Pages, there's a single listing for a "Professional Wizard." That's Harry Dresden, and he's an old-school private investigator who solves problems with little help from modern technology (electronics don't do so well around magic).

The novels might start like classic noir detective stories but soon the missing artifact or other de rigueur case turns out to have an occult twist. To sum up the awesomeness here, so far we have:
1) Funny series novels set in Chicago
2) Classic mystery set-up
3) Magic.

What's not to love? That's harder to put my finger on. But I found that I don't want to read two Dresden novels back-to-back. Butcher's voice grates on me after that and little . . . flaws? stylistic choices? character idiosyncrasies? . . . in the writing begin to call attention to themselves and draw me out of the story.

So I read the books one-at-a-time, with space between, because I really like to enjoy each one. These stories have it all: wizards, magical politics, faeries, goblins, trolls, zombies, vampires, werewolves, angels, priests, fighting, battles, war, romance, you name it and it's probably somewhere in this world. As an added bonus, the main characters are geeks.

Another benefit to the slow-read approach is that I didn't catch up to the author for a long time.

But when I finished Ghost Story (Book 13, naturally) last week, I was stuck. The next novel isn't due until next summer! And only one per year after that! Alas.

If the above description captures your interest, let me underscore that/reassure you in two ways: Butcher's writing improves as the series progresses, and the novels are better than the short-lived Sci Fi Channel series loosely based on the books.

If you've tried just one or two of the novels but haven't gotten hooked, I'd recommend perseverance. I was shocked - shocked! - at what happened in Changes (Book 12). It sent me scrambling for Side Jobs, an anthology of short stories and a novelette set between various novels in the series, as well as a novella set immediately after Changes. Then I rushed right into Ghost Story, which left me hanging deliciously.

I'm looking forward to book 14 - and it's worth noting that the author does have a planned story arc for the entire series, including an ending - but I think the first 11 novels, fun as they were, were worth reading as prelude alone for all the changes in books 12 and 13.

Recommended light holiday reading.

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pattinase (abbott) said...

The ambivalence is this review tells me maybe it's not the book for me. My book group read ONE HUNDRED YEARS a few years ago and I found that difficult going. Only one member out of ten enjoyed it. Hope you do.

Rose said...

Great review! I'm not much of a fantasy lover, but you have me intrigued. I've heard Chicago politics described in many ways, but never as "magical":)

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean about reading the same author back-to-back. I think there's only one author I can do that with. The idea of a funny series set in Chicago is intriguing - don't usually think of it as funny. lol!

Sarah Laurence said...

One Hundred Years of Solitude is a favorite book of mine, but you are right about it not being a quick read. It is still exciting and fun with a touch of realistic/spiritual magic. Harry Dresden sounds less appealing to me as I’m not into zombies etc. Still, good review!

Sarahlynn said...

Pattinase, I've just finished reading Beowulf at the Beach: What to love and what to skip in literature's 50 greatest hits and loved that. In the author's opinion, One Hundred Years of Solitude is the best book of all time! So that sets my expectations pretty high. We'll see next month...

Rose, hah! I agree that Chicago politics are far from magical.

Kathy, I love Chicago. Love it but don't necessarily want to live there . . .

Sarah, I am very uninterested in the current zombie craze, but I do like books about magic. Fortunately, the main characters in this series are wizards, fairies, werewolves, and the odd vampire. The zombies were just a walk on in one book. So to speak. ;-) (One of the things I like about Butcher's world is that the characters are never exclusively their magic/supernatural identity.)