Skin Game by Jim Butcher
|Book Name:||Skin Game|
|Publisher(s):||Roc Hardcover (US) Orbit (UK)|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook|
|Release Date:||May 27, 2014|
This review contains some minor spoilers. Read with caution if you have yet to finish the story.
You would expect that after fourteen books a fantasy writer might start to run out of ideas – their writing might start losing originality and flair. However, Skin Game, the fifteenth book in Jim Butcher’s acclaimed series the Dresden Files completely defies this expectation.
This book sees wizard Harry Dresden, the Dresden Files’ voice and chief protagonist, thrust into yet another seemingly hopeless, and endlessly entertaining position. He is coerced by Mab, Queen of the Faerie Winter Court (and technically his employer) into aiding and abetting Nicodemus Archleone – arguably Harry’s most evil and terrifying nemesis – in robbing a vault. And not just any vault; Harry and Nicodemus, along with a crack team of wizards, mercenaries and other ‘creatures’ (you’ll see when you read it, and I promise you won’t be disappointed) are attempting to rob Hades, Lord of the Underworld, of the Holy Grail. Not only this, but there is a mysterious parasite in Harry’s head, and he has three days before it kills him.
As I said, Jim Butcher isn’t lacking in the original ideas department. To add to this, his writing is still frighteningly sharp considering the series’ impressive length. The classic Dresden one-liners, brilliantly terrible humour, and rather endearing pop-culture references (he sneaks James Cameron’s Aliens in there at an indescribably perfect time) are still in abundance. The pace is still quick, the action still impressive, and the series’ increasingly epic feel retains its shine. In addition, Butcher is still able to masterfully tug at the heartstrings when necessary through his strong characterisation, especially when we see Harry have a proper conversation with his daughter for the first time. There are some real tear-jerking moments in Skin Game.
The host of fan favourite characters in the book will appeal to long-term fans of the series as well; the prominence of Murphy, as well as a return to form for Michael, former Knight of the Cross, is a great contrast to Harry’s increasing darkness. There is a scene at Mac’s which I feel we have been missing in the last few books, as well as an appearance by Odin – and for me, Nicodemus and the Denarians are the best villains in the series. As fallen angels with a penchant for the apocalyptic, they’re of course going to bring a level of ‘epic’ to the book, and they have hurt or killed characters who we as readers have really empathised with, so they bring with them a lot of emotional backlog. However, what really makes the Denarians such effective antagonists is their human side – the fact that they have been seduced and corrupted by overwhelming power. A reader needs to relate to the villain, too, and this is all the more poignant because we’ve seen Harry go through the same difficult process of resisting the Denarian corruption. This human side is really explored in Skin Game, particularly as we experience the bond between Nicodemus and Deirdre, but also through some amusing interaction with the Denarians’ mortal henchmen.
An appearance from some other characters like Ebenezar McCoy or Kincaid, or particular Thomas would have been the cherry on the cake, although the badassery of Goodman Grey, and the surprise badassery of Waldo Butters, more than make up for this.
A potential downside of the book is a lack of what really drew me to the series in the first place; fantasy, but as an augment for a ‘noir-ish’ detective story as in the first novels like Storm Front and Fool Moon. Saying that, Skin Game does feel like a more self-contained novel, with a more obvious goal. Harry isn’t just floundering around with things happening to him – he knows the game, he knows his objective. After the massive, interconnected events of the Changes, Ghost Story, Cold Days trilogy which leaned far more towards the Epic Fantasy than the Urban, this book deals with the aftermath; how those events changed things – the characters in particular. We see the emotional and personal developments of characters like Harry, Murphy, Michael, Molly – with the exciting heist plotline as a kind of catalytic backdrop. Then the novel mostly wraps itself up with a strong conclusion, although as always Jim still leaves us with some questions to keep us on tenterhooks.
Overall, I feel this book deserves a glowing review. On top of my glowing admonishments, there is an immensely satisfying twist that forced me to put the book down and appreciate Jim Butcher’s brilliance, and I promise you’ll never look at Parkour in the same way. In addition, I cannot stress enough how impressive it is that the series has maintained its consistently high quality. The only reason Skin Game might not be a 10/10 is because there are other books in the series that have been arguably been more superb, but that wouldn’t be fair! I cannot wait for the next one.