Skin Game, by Jim Butcher (Dresden Files #15)
A few months ago–I’d forgotten exactly when–I picked up Jim Butcher’s Storm Front. I don’t quite remember where I’ve initially heard about Jim Butcher, but his Dresden Files series has long been on my to-read list. Once I picked up the first book, however, I ended up tearing through the whole series. I think it might have been a week or two of practically nonstop reading through thirteen more books up until the fourteenth, Cold Days.
That’s my problem with great series books. It disrupts my life.
Two days ago, the fifteenth novel was released, called Skin Game.
Since I’ve never talked about this series before, I feel a little introduction is in order. Harry Dresden is a wizard slash detective who calls Chicago his home. Honestly, though, that’s kind of like saying that I’m a girl; it doesn’t really scratch the surface of what Harry is, now, this late into the series. It’s kind of difficult to pin down what he is at any single point in time, but he’s basically a wise-cracking, sometimes-slightly-stupid wizard, set in a world with lots of pop culture references (well, sometimes not too pop, at least for this non-American).
If you like detective novels, urban fantasy, intriguing characters, interesting foreshadowing and worldbuilding, and aforementioned pop culture references–you should pick up this series.
Go ahead. It’s better if you pick it up now, while you only have fifteen novels to power through. Close this browser and carry on, this review will still be around when you…well…when you actually get to the point that you don’t need this review to convince yourself to get Skin Game.
You can still read, of course, and while it won’t be a spoilery review, it does assume you’ve read up to Cold Days.
Skin Game, on the other hand…
I had initially planned to revisit Cold Days before starting on Skin Game, but Life™ got in the way, and then May 27 arrived and I just had to go for it, reminding myself of the big-picture plot points from the last book. Harry’s back on Demonreach island and with increasingly painful migraines. Molly is the Winter Lady. Harry is increasingly concerned about turning into a monster, thanks to the mantle of the Winter Knight, but he’s largely unable to do anything about it. Mab, on the other hand, manipulates him such that he needs to do this one little task for her: help Nicodemus Archleone steal the Holy Grail from Hades.
Or else he dies in three days when the cause of his migraines breaks free from his head.
Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town, so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever.
It’s a smash and grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry.
The last few books have admittedly been giving me a slight dread, what with Dresden turning into the Winter Knight. Lloyd Slate wasn’t really that nice, and throughout the past few books we see how corruptive that mantle is, for Dresden. It is this book, for me, that puts me at ease that Harry is precisely what Harry is. That he doesn’t give up, and if there is one person who can resist that influence, it would be stubborn, mule-headed Harry.
Pacing for Skin Game is great. I find there is good balance between the lulls in action–where the heart of the story is strengthened–and when the “fun” begins. We see a number of old friends (and enemies) again, and bits and pieces of the past continue to surface and inform the present.
Old friends don’t fail to please with their appearances, and new acquaintances are just as intriguing. Hannah Asher, powerful and sultry, admittedly feels a bit stereotypical, but Goodman Grey was intriguing from the start. He raised my hackles and I had as much fun from his back and forth with Harry as the latter’s verbal sparring with Nicodemus. Deirdre was a bit of a surprise–with a little more screen time than previously afforded, she feels more nuanced, more human. We also see a little more of Maggie, which I felt was about time. They have some of my favorite scenes from this book.
The plot twists–there are a few–are enjoyable, and some are unexpected and delightful, and made me think, “why didn’t I see that coming?!” I regretted reading the book on an e-reader, where my powers of “flipping the pages back and speed-reading through some earlier scenes” were hampered.
My one beef with the book would be how Nicodemus and his dysfunctional family seemed to be almost acting out of character. We’ve met the Knights of the Blackened Denarius a few times in the past, and while the additional glimpse into a more relatable villain is welcomed wholeheartedly, it still left me feeling rather bewildered. Granted, this is the first time we see them throughout any significant length of time. The heist, and Harry’s involvement in it, gives us readers a view of the most unguarded moments they might have (and that’s really not a lot. At all). I’m grateful for that glimpse. I just wish there was a bit more meat to it, or a bit more groundwork in it, before it was there in front of us.
What is there, though, is food for thought. And a whole lotta punch.
While I wouldn’t call this my favorite Dresden Files book, it’s one that I have waited for impatiently and enjoyed thoroughly. Dresden does not disappoint, and neither does Jim Butcher.