Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Dresden Files: Skin Game review


    I've been a big fan of the Dresden Files since the original novel, Storm Front, came out way back in 2000. Which means, roughly, I've been a fan of the series for fourteen years. Jim Butcher's style has influenced both my writing as well as aspirations for being an author.

    Yet, I've never gotten around to writing a review of his books. I can't tell you why this is the case but it's true. I suspect it's because the series was so important to me, ironically, I didn't think I could review it objectively. Well, I've developed a mixture of feelings to the series as its progressed so I'm going to review them all.

    Eventually.

    Skin Game is the first I'm going to review as it's the most recent volume in the series. It's also the fifteenth novel in the series. If I manage to somehow get my Red Room series anywhere near that number, I'll be the luckiest man in publishing.

    Anyway, the premise of Skin Game is that Harry Dresden (Private Eye Wizard) is recruited by Mab, the Queen of the Fae, to help old enemy Nicodemus (Demon ne'er do well) to steal the Holy Grail from the Greek God Hades. Harry would rather not do this but extenuating circumstances mean he has to cooperate up until the point they acquire the Grail. Then it's open season on whoever has the prize.

    After an increasing movement away from its Noir roots with the books since Changes, we return to something at least in the same ballpark with a heist story. Nicodemus has assembled ten or twelve (perhaps ELEVEN if you count creatively) criminals for his mad scheme.

    I appreciate the creativity Jim Butcher has in trying to figure out where to hide the Holy Grail. Hades is depicted differently here than in most media, giving him a much more nuanced personality. I liked that since I feel you should only alter myths if you have a reason for it.

    The actual heist plays out more or less as you'd expect, though Jim Butcher is smart enough to throw a bunch of twists in toward the end. It's a game of cat and mouse between Nicodemus and Harry, only the mouse is the one from Tom and Jerry. The new characters introduced during the heist are interesting to and we also get some insight into old favorites who choose to show up.

    The biggest surprise of them all, however, is the developments between Harry and Murphy. Without spoiling, we finally get a resolution on their long running "will they or won't they" dance which has been running since Storm Front. We also get an explanation for why Murphy has held off so long in becoming a Knight of the Cross. Sadly, the resolution to that plot line was profoundly unsatisfying to me and my least favorite part of the book.

    Skin Game is a very fun novel and one I heartily enjoyed reading. Sadly, it's not a book without flaws. As a big fan of Karrin Murphy and Molly Carpenter, I was disappointed to see both women sidelined in favor of male characters Butters and a surprise return to action.

    Given both characters are male, I wanted to see the women of the Dresden Files kick ass and instead got a bit of a bro-fest. Given we were left with a cliffhanger regarding Molly, her small role in the book was doubly-disappointing. Worse, Karrin Murphy gets put through the proverbial ringer in this book and we don't get to see her rise from it the way we do in other books.

    Very disappointing.

    Despite this, I would recommend picking up Skin Game.  It's a nice antidote to the high stakes drama of previous books and takes things back to a street-level (only BIGGER) level I enjoyed. If Jim Butcher can throw these sorts of books in-between the ones with global world-changing events, I'll be most pleased.

8/10

2 comments:

  1. Despite modern misconceptions, *eyes Disney* Hades was one of, if not the most fair of all the Greek Gods. Even Athena could lose her cool when confronted with the ugly truth and bested in a contest of skill. Hades only punished people who tried to cheat the system.

    Also, if you look at the story of Persephone from the view of an agricultural society, it shows that most people don't understand the story. In an agricultural society winter is the worst season but summer is the second due to weather, work, and those are the months that wars were waged. The best seasons were fall and spring. Fall due to the harvest and animal culling provided food and there was less work to do. Spring because the starvation of winter was over. So the best times were when Persephone returned from the underworld or was about to go back.

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    1. Great observation, Michael! Yeah, kudos to Jim for getting it right.

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