- Series: Dresden Files (Book 15)
- Hardcover: 464 pages
- Publisher: Roc; First Edition edition (May 27, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0451464397
- ISBN-13: 978-0451464392
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3,622 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #241,959 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Skin Game (Dresden Files) Hardcover – May 27, 2014
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Harry Dresden, having finally succumbed to Mab and become the Winter Knight, is hiding out. The spirit of the island can help keep his debilitating headaches at bay, and keep Mab off his back. She shows up with a job for him—help Nicodemus Archleone steal the Holy Grail from Hades. As if that wasn’t enough, it’s Mab, so nothing is straightforward. Harry, having a good sense for survival, is quite sure Nicodemus is going to do his best to prevent anyone from surviving the experience and that Mab has motives she’s not mentioning. Harry brings in Murphy as backup, Michael Carpenter plays his usual stabilizing role, and the rest of Nicodemus’ team is, though reprehensible, quite an entertaining bunch of supernatural criminals. Harry is incredibly well suited to the heist, especially the back-stabbing, convoluted, conspiratorial heist that Skin Game turns into—and it’s clear that all of this plotting is leading to another, even more epic confrontation. To top it off, a few loose ends—including a surprising solution to Harry’s headaches—get tied back into the story. This should be just what fans of the Dresden Files series would hope for. HIgh Demand Backstory: Butcher is generally regarded as the reigning king of urban fantasy, so librarians will find it impossible to keep fans away from his latest novel. --Regina Schroeder
Praise for the Dresden Files
“Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer starring Philip Marlowe.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Fans of Laurell K. Hamilton and Tanya Huff will love this series.”—Midwest Book Review
“Superlative.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“One of the most enjoyable marriages of the fantasy and mystery genres on the shelves.”—Cinescape
“Butcher...spins an excellent noirish detective yarn in a well-crafted, supernaturally-charged setting. The supporting cast is again fantastic, and Harry’s wit continues to fly in the face of a peril-fraught plot.”—Booklist (starred review)
“What’s not to like about this series?...It takes the best elements of urban fantasy, mixes it with some good old-fashioned noir mystery, tosses in a dash of romance and a lot of high-octane action, shakes, stirs, and serves.”—SF Site
“A tricky plot complete with against-the-clock pacing, firefights, explosions, and plenty of magic. Longtime series fans as well as newcomers drawn by the SciFi Channel’s TV series based on the novels should find this supernatural mystery a real winner.”—Library Journal
“What would you get if you crossed Spenser with Merlin? Probably you would come up with someone very like Harry Dresden, wizard, tough guy and star of [the Dresden Files].”—The Washington Times
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Alright, that joke isn’t really set up to elicit a lot of laughs, but this book does have plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Skin Game is the fifteenth book in Jim Butcher’s fantastic Dresden Files series, and this review is going to assume that you have already read the first fourteen books. If not, you should get on that.
Since this novel is the 15th out of a proposed series of about 20 books, you can expect this number to hold a certain degree of significance in the life of Harry Dresden. Much like in the 10th book, Small Favor, Queen Mab wants Harry to do something despicable for her, and he doesn’t really have a choice in the matter. In this case, he's robbing the Lord of the Underworld for some of the Church's most powerful artifacts--and he is allied with Nicodemus Archleone, the baddest of the Denarians and Harry's greatest archenemy.
Harry Dresden has had a rough time of it so far, and the books thus far have had their ups and downs; lots of fist-in-the-air moments juxtaposed with some cringe-worthy scenes of forced, awkward dialogue. Skin Game is a return to some of Butcher’s best characters, and it is easily one of the better books in the series.
I loved this book for many reasons, but the greatest one is this: Harry is back.
While the last few books have been weighed down pretty heavily by the established lore of Dresden’s world, Skin Game introduces some fresh faces to bring back Harry’s dry wit and light-heartedness that have been so notably absent. He is less mopey about being the Winter Knight, or at least less vocal about it, and he is just as affably awkward around beautiful women as he was at the start of the series. After having dated Susan Rodriguez, resisted the advances of Lara Raith, and thoroughly sexed the Queen of Air and Darkness, you’d think Harry would be able to cope with alluring fun bags and shapely thighs. Nevertheless, this lack of character development was actually a bonus, because it made him more like the Dresden of old, the young renegade wizard who didn’t carry the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Still, that doesn’t mean that we’re wiping the slate clean. Harry has been a pretty awful friend for the past couple books, and that karmic justice is catching up to him now. He can’t keep up the lone-wolf protector routine forever, and Butcher brings some of these issues to the fore here.
In addition, Harry has been the Winter Knight for a while now, and it shows in this book. It isn’t always explicitly shown, but the kinds of injuries he sustains and ignores, the kinds of comments he makes without realizing, all indicate a deeper dependence on the mantle. Several of these moments gave me chills (pun intended), because like it or not, Harry Dresden the gumshoe private investigator is disappearing on us, slowly being replaced by something colder and darker.
Harry is also considerably cleverer than in previous books; he’s no longer the fire-slinging brute who stumbles upon victory by sheer luck. A wizard can overcome almost any obstacle given proper time to plan, and Harry finally seems to be following his own advice, devising plans that make his contract suicide after Chichén Itzá look like child’s play.
While Dresden still cracks off plenty of Star Wars references, Skin Game adds a slew of new fandoms to his repertoire, so be on the lookout for some Monty Python and Lord of the Rings as well, to name a couple.
I did not receive an ARC of this book. I didn’t even pre-order it and wait to read it after a good night’s rest. I stayed up until midnight, and then until 3 a.m. (because apparently midnight on EST isn’t good enough for Amazon), just so I could start as soon as possible. Then I stayed up until sleep sucker-punched me into unconsciousness; and when I woke up, I started reading again. And you know what?
It was worth it.
After more than fifteen months of waiting, Jim Butcher has provided me with a book that improves upon the best aspects of past Dresden stories. Am I biased for being a long-time fan of the series? Probably. But fifteen books in, this story isn’t really for newcomers, is it? This review is for all of those readers who, like me, have questioned whether Harry Dresden was worth following for another six years or more, whether Jim Butcher had lost interest in his flagship character after more than a decade and a half of writing about him.
I like to think this book is a tribute to the fans. It has pulpy fight scenes and distractingly beautiful women, and the build-up to the heist of Hades is something to behold. Harry is becoming more aware of the community of allies that he has created, and he is becoming wise in his years. Dresden makes up for a lot of debts he has accumulated over the years, and it feels like we finally get some closure to things that have bothered Harry for ages now.
If you’ve read this far, you’re good people. I like good people, and I liked this book. You can do the math.
So here’s Harry, having another bad day… He’s stranded as warden on the island penal colony of Demonreach and oh yeah, Harry has this parasite in his head that is giving him migraines of the killing kind. But no worries. As he’s Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, his boss Mab is willing to help him get rid of it. Is there a catch to this offer? Of course. Before you know it, Mab has him up ‘fecal matter’ creek without a paddle because to pay off an old debt, she loans out his services to Nicodemus and his Denarian followers.
You remember Nicodemus Archelone, last seen in “Small Favor”? Well, this time he’s out to break into one of Hades’s vaults in the Underworld and grab the most famous chalice in recorded history. And Nicodemus, one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, has assembled an Ocean’s Eleven-type group of supernatural villains to bring off this caper. A group that consists of Deirdre, his psychotic daughter; Binder the Summoner, last seen in “Turn Coat;” a warlock named Hannah Ascher; a shape-shifter named Goodman Grey… and of course, our reluctant Harry.
As usual with anything that Harry’s involved with, the job is anything but straightforward. But Dresden does a great job trying to stay one step ahead of Nicodemus. And this time, and that’s what I liked most about “Skin Game,” not only is Harry once again alive and in Chicago but he’s working with Karrin again. And Michael, the Knight of the Sword, who is now foster parent to Harry's daughter, also makes an appearance, as well as my favorite side-kick, ME Waldo Butters, who gets involved with Bob the Skull in a weird way. But that’s all I’ll say about them. And of course there are other appearances, but I’ll leave you to find these out for yourself.
So you’ve got breakneck action and a large assortment of creepy monsters as they try to bring off this heist caper; Harry struggling with his conscience as he’s revolted by the thought of having to work together with Shiro's murderer; and a bunch of sociopaths who seem to be even more interested in killing off Harry than their common goal. And of course, there’s another game afoot that no one is talking about… Meanwhile, in this installment in the series, Harry finally addresses some of the fallout of his actions in “Changes,” as well as his role in assuming the mantle of Winter Knight. All of which makes “Skin Game” a pretty awesome and fun, rollercoaster-type read.
The only minor quibble I had, is that you had all these big revelations in the previous book, but they aren’t really followed up in this one. Of course, they still loom in the background like the dark clouds of a building thunderstorm, and they do get mentioned now and then, mostly towards the end, but this made “Skin Game” sort of seem like a side adventure. A great one, mind you! Anyway, the great thing about this series is that while most other writers have long gone formulaic by this point, this isn’t happening to Butcher. Here’s Dresden #15, and Harry is still developing as the series continues and although his core personality hasn’t really changed, he’s markedly different from his first appearance in “Storm Front.” Can’t wait for Dresden #16 “Peace Talks” to be published!
The final verdict: “Skin Game” is lots of fun, the kind of caper-story that has Harry doing what Harry does best: trying to stay one step ahead of the Bad Guy, while simultaneously, not just being the guy who’s painted into a corner, but more akin to Wile E Coyote who’s standing on a pinky toe at the edge of a crevice… So to conclude: “Skin Game” is highly recommended for Harry Dresden fans, or any fan of urban fantasy for that matter.
Most great series start with a clearly planned development arc, and begin to founder after the planned arc is done. Usually they either slide away into mediocrity, or the author has to reboot the character somehow, or start on "the next generation".
Until this book, I wasn't sure which path the Dresden series was taking. There were elements of the reboot, elements of the nextgen thing, elements of sticking with the older formula.
But finishing Skin Game, I'm amazed to find he's steered a really interesting course, really mixing these approaches and adding in some of the real, heartfelt character development that has always been a big part of why I love the series.
One particular speech of Harry's, in the most unlikely of circumstances for such a thing, captures the experience of fatherhood in a deeply poetic way that left me nearly in tears - right before an equally satisfying big supernatural battle.
By all means, read this book - but do yourself a favor and read the whole series. Especially if partway through the second book you begin to think Harry is just a jerk who will never figure out what's important in life, because it's at that nadir where the genius of the series begins to show. Harry not only grows up, his story becomes about his evolution as a person even in the midst of his extraordinary life.