- Audible Audiobook
- Listening Length: 15 hours and 49 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Penguin Audio
- Audible.com Release Date: May 27, 2014
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00JDQ7X8O
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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Skin Game: A Novel of the Dresden Files, Book 15 Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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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.
Long version, regarding the whole series:
Warning: Polysyllabic words & some hinting at the characters who eventually show up in the story arc, spoiler-ish mentionings ahead.
When I first began reading this series, I had already read the Codex Alera, and thought it was pretty good. There was a good bit of obvious borrowing from real historical events in that one, and I feel like it both added credence to the story arc, but simultaneously detracted from the author's creativity. But as my college art professor always half-jokingly said, "Good artists borrow. Great artists steal." Having developed an appreciation for his writing style, I decided to take a dip in this pool of radiance, which at first was not nearly as radiant as it has eventually become. I would like to compare Jim Butcher's writing to fine wine, only getting better with age. But who am I kidding, I drink wine out of boxes, and only really know anything about fine writing, which this definitely is, and I feel qualified to make that judgement call having read over a thousand books as of 2 years ago, and over half of them without pictures.
I would say that his use of esoteric vocabulary is surpassed only by Ayn Rand's, but instead of espousing a thinly veiled message of society-ruining selfishness, bordering on pure evil, which if adopted by large enough numbers of people, would certainly lead to another reign of terror, like that of Robespierre, instead as counterpoint, Butcher delivers a protagonist espousing the opposite of selfishness as a philosophy of life. He imbues his protagonist, Dresden, with a worldview chocked full of Weltschmerz (google “Sheldon Cooper Weltschmerz”, for a video with a concise & mildly comical explanation), who uses his wizardly powers for the good of the many, instead of self-promotion. Quick-witted sarcasm & chivalrous courage in the face of villainous adversaries of varying ilk, running the gamut from trifling werewolves & faeries, to demons & fallen angels, with some vanilla human evildoers to balance the scales, make for some of the most entertaining literature I have ravenously devoured with insatiable hunger, similar to how Toot devours pizza (inside joke).
Initially I found the plots somewhat transparent, formulaic, and predictable, but after the first six-ish books, I realized that regardless of any predictability of pattern, I have become enamored of Butcher's sense of humor, and without his puns, witticisms, and sci-fi references, I find other authors lacking, who are otherwise perfectly good writers. Even the comedy of comedy-genius, Christopher Moore, can no longer satiate my insatiable desire for the comic relief, provided by Butcher's comical comedy stylings, using the supernatural world of Chicago as his tragicomical setting with Harry Dresden as his delivery medium for fantastically biting one-liners, and insults.
Despite the fantastic nature of the universe he has created, populated by pan-pantheonic gods & myths, Butcher still manages to include such geek-necessary concepts as the conservation of mass & energy, as well as momentum, without simply using “magic”, to explain away physically impossible supernatural feats. In other words, he's a fantasy author for those who refuse to, or just can't, suspend disbelief in the literally impossible, and not just the extremely improbable.
And when I say pan-pantheonic, I mean it. Dresden has encountered beings from every western religion, children's story, & superstition I can think of, and then some. This voluminous of a collection of supernatural baddies hasn't been compiled since Jakob & Wilhelm Grimm collected a whole culture’s-worth of them. I'm still waiting on the tooth faerie, but that one might be too far of a stretch, even for grown-up & turned-badass-Harry Potter-meets-Stretch Armstrong, wizard Harry Dresden.
Adding one final note, as a personal “thanks” to the author, I appreciate the Tolkienian choice of staff, instead of wand, even if there is sometimes a “blasting rod,” the weightier focusing tool lends increased gravitas, and in my mind also greater veritas, in spite of the self-contradictory nature of the relationship between science and magic, to the magical aspects of Dresden’s universe, in much the same way a heavier glass bottle makes people think their wine is higher quality. It is in the end, all about perception, just ask Molly.
Please, Mr. Butcher, release the next books as quickly as possible. I beg you. I don't want to forget the nuances of the stories, because I have never been able to read a book more than once, even if just to refresh my memory. If it's more than a few months until the next one, I will end up forgetting.
The plot is essentially a heist. Mab loans Harry to Nicodemus, to assist in breaking into a very special vault, as repayment for his prior aid to her. This means Harry has to help, or Mab loses face – which would be disastrous in her efforts to keep the Outsiders at bay. I enjoyed a lot of the set-up and planning stages of the heist. Those are my favorite parts of heist films like The Italian Job, or Swordfish. What I didn’t like as much is that most of the dialog amounted to threats and posturing. Harry is mostly back to his snarky self, so there is still some humor, but it’s all black.
I was prepared to give the book three stars for being good, but not great. However, the ending was simply brilliant and I loved how all the threads were brought together. Evil turns upon itself, right? And Harry is finally, FINALLY, left in a better place than when the story began. The last 50 pages or so elevated the book to the next level and make me eager for the next installment.
Overall, this still isn’t up to the some of the earlier books, but it was a solid story with an incredible ending. Highly recommended.