J A Garrett

Curiously nerdy posts.

Book review: Skin Game

So, yeah. I just finished reading Jim Butcher’s latest novel, Skin Game.

Hey, at least he actually uses the gun in the book this time.

I’m not going to go into detail about how much I love The Dresden Files. I’ve said enough on that in my posts where I rank every book in the series. I’m always hyped when a new one comes out. But when I heard Jim describe the premise for this one during a panel at DragonCon last year, my hype meter went off the scale.

He said something to the effect of this:

Basically, Mab loans out Harry’s services as Winter Knight to Nicodemus, who’s planning an Ocean’s 11 style heist into a vault owned by Hades, the lord of the Underworld. When Harry tells Mab “You know he’s going to betray me, right?” she replies with “And I expect you to respond in kind with more clever, creative betrayal.”

Yeah. One book sold. Right there. I mean, I was going to buy it anyway, but still.

For the sake of neatness, though, here’s the official blurb:

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day…

Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful.
He doesn’t know the half of it…

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.

Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance…

Did it live up to the hype? Well, sort of.

What I liked:

The characters. In a series as long as The Dresden Files is, I’m of the opinion that it’s almost impossible to always come up with amazing plots. The stories are just going to start groaning under the tremendous weight of tons and tons of continuity. And that’s if the series is done just right.

So, what keeps the fanboys (like myself, obviously) coming back?

The characters, of course. Naturally, if you like these books, you have to like Harry Dresden himself. But Jim Butcher has made such a huge, rich cast of characters to draw from, that half the fun of these books now is just getting another chance to step into that world and see what all your favorite characters are up to. Sometimes, your favorite won’t pop up for several novels, and that’s annoying. But when they do come back, it’s awesome.

This book featured a lot of characters and references from Death Masks, which is one of my favorite books in the series. Michael, one of my personal favorite characters, features prominently in this one, along with plenty of great Murphy moments. Heck, Butters gets his own Crowning Moment of Awesome, the first since Dead Beat. And of course, Nicodemus is one of the best villains in the series, by far.

It also adds a couple of new ones, including one guy that really piqued my interest: Goodman Grey. I hope he’ll pop up again sooner than later.

The action. Jim Butcher has a way of dissecting and choreographing fight scenes that make him seem like a kung fu master and a mad scientist. He does a fantastic job of having Harry explain why he doesn’t use certain kind of magic for certain situations. Sure, I could counter that fire spell with an ice spell of my own, but the fire would probably just melt the ice, and blow hot steam on me, steaming me to death instead of burning me. Stuff like that makes me smile, because of the level of thought he puts into his action scenes. Some of them may seem over the top and silly, but mindless, they are certainly not.

And honestly, who cares when we get stuff like this?

“Home is where, when you go there and tell people to get out, they have to leave.” Yet another great quote in a long line of Dresden quotes. I love this one so much, for some reason.

The last scene in the Carpenter house. You’ve given my daughter a home.” Really, REALLY touching moment.

What I didn’t like:

The plot. I don’t know what it is, but this book reminded me of A Dance With Dragons in some ways. There was a pretty decent plot in there, but honestly, it feels like this was a filler episode to set up a more epic storyline a few books from now. There were lots of figurative and literal seeds planted, with new characters, developed character arcs, and what have you. But this is a plot that felt more in scale with earlier books.

I mean… you can’t just show us what the Gatekeeper really does in Cold Days, and act like anything less is a big deal at this point. Jim’s at a point where his plots have to escalate, otherwise they will feel like filler. Ridiculously entertaining filler, but filler nonetheless. And this is a story featuring some of my favorite characters in the series, too. I hope the next big plotline starts in earnest soon.

And honestly, it feels like any plotline featuring the Holy Grail is a “we’re running out of ideas” red flag. I felt that way the first time it was ever used. You know, back when Sir Thomas Mallory wrote Le Morte Darthur.

Snorted. I swear he used this verb about 200 times in this book. Not sure why, but it got distracting after a while.


Anyway, despite my just calling it filler, I still give this one *****. It’s right up there with some of the best written books in the series… maybe the top 5. It just has the unfortunate distinction of being book 15, instead of book 6 or 7.

Hope I didn’t spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. Have a good weekend everybody.


One comment on “Book review: Skin Game

  1. addisoncrow
    May 30, 2014

    So you’re on the fence about the Dresden Files as a series? 😛

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This entry was posted on May 30, 2014 by in Book recommendations, Books, Literacy and tagged , , , , , , , .
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