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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Skin Game by Jim Butcher (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order Skin Game HERE 
Read the first two chapters HERE & HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Ghost Story 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Welcome To The Jungle  

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jim Butcher is the bestselling author of The Dresden Files, which has been adapted into a SyFy television show and a series of comic book adaptations produced by Dynamite Entertainment. He is also the author of The Codex Alera epic fantasy saga. In addition to writing,  Jim Butcher is a martial arts enthusiast and live-action gamer. He currently lives in Independence, Missouri with his family.

OFFICIAL BOOK 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….

CLASSIFICATION: The Dresden Files is an urban fantasy series that boasts of a fun mix of fast-paced supernatural action, humor and a dash of mystery/thrills. 

FORMAT/INFO: Skin Game is 454 pages long divided over fifty-one chapters. As usual, narration is in the first-person, exclusively via the private investigator/wizard Harry Dresden. Skin Game is the fifteenth volume in The Dresden Files and it’s highly recommended that new readers start at the beginning of the series since this book has a lot of revelations and builds up on the characters and plot arcs introduced in the preceding books.

May 27, 2014 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Skin Game via Roc. The UK edition (see below) will also be published on May 27, 2014 via Orbit Books. The cover art is done by Chris McGrath.

ANALYSIS: Writing this review is bit hard, as on the first read, Skin Game is pretty much awesome and after my not-so-fun rewarding experience of Cold Days, this was a fun read. After a second detailed re-read, the book still held out and was as much fun the first time around.

Here's what this book is about: Since Harry was forced to take the mantle of Winter Knight; he's been subjugated by Mab's wishes and intentions. Of course he's not going to bend to her whim as was demonstrated in Cold Days. Now Mab has him in a bigger quagmire when she loans out his services to Nicodemus and his Denarian followers. Harry is now at odds since he has to follow Mab's order and his conscience is revolting against the very thought of being in the same room as Shiro's murderer. Nicodemus has plans to raid Hades' vault and grab the most famous chalice in recorded history. Harry is back but has never had to take part in a heist and one in which his conspirators might just be more tempted to bag him rather than Christ's cup. Harry's in a bind and almost without any allies...

Now if you are reading this book, you know what to expect in a Harry Dresden story, Jim Butcher piles up the comedy (Parkour), terrific action sequences, crafty plot twists and some neat character reappearances. Firstly why I think this book rocks so much is because of Nicodemus and the Denarians. As far as the villains of this series go, Nicodemus and bunch are pretty much at the top of the sociopathic heap. What makes Nicodemus IMHO so intriguing is that he's a willing partner with Anduriel and so far has been the one guy who rivals Harry in his determination! Johnny Marcone is another fascinating rival for Harry but he's the subject for another book review.

Nicodemus and the Denarians are possibly one of the best creations that sprung from Jim Butcher's imagination. These folks kill, murder, and torture but ultimately they are all heading towards an unseen goal that Harry hasn't been able to decipher. Whenever they have appeared in the series, those books (Death Masks, Small Favor) have been fantastic. Lots of carnage, horrific deaths and rather cruel twists to our heroes but as with every hero (he/she) needs a formidable antagonist to make the story a memorable one. Nicodemus does that in spades for Harry, so far his despicable actions have made him a universally hated figure and with this book, he will go a few steps further.

In the last book, there were revelations about the Outsiders, the Winter court and what is happening on the outer fringes of our dimension/plane of existence. These were some huge revelations that shook up the story told so far. This book doesn't have that many revelations; to be fair it has almost next to none when compared with those of Cold Days. Then why would I say that this book was better than Cold Days?

Simply put this book has all that magic (literal and figurative) that the earlier books (White Night, Changes, Dead Beat, Small Favor, etc.) epic battles, shocking twists, snarky humor, and horrific events that make them all such gripping reads. This book does all that and marks a return to form by the granddaddy of urban fantasy. There have been various events that we have been waiting for:
- Will we get to see a new knight of the cross?
- What happens to Molly after Cold Days?
- Will Karrin and Harry ever get it on?
- Whatever happened to Lasciel and her coin?
- Will Harry survive the Winter knight mantle?
- And many more…

Some of those questions get glorious (and I mean Glorious) answers. There are a few new characters introduced in this one that I hope make a reappearance in the future (such as antagonist badass Goodman Grey) and plus with all the previous Denarian stories, there is the re-appearance of the characters whose lives were affected previously. This might be easy to figure out but you might get one character right and another one wrong. RAFO what I'm talking about when the book gets released. With the last couple of books the comedic aspect of the books was toned down as the plots didn't quite gel with it. This book however marks a fine return in that aspect & fans will definitely be glad for it (Parkour). Plus with the book's climax, fans will definitely be salivating for Peace Talks (the 16th entry in the Dresden Files) & the author has said that "it probably will be one of the more supernaturally violent books to date!"

With some of the past few books, amid the appearance of angels and questions related to Faith & Divine will. The books have taken a strong jump into Christian theology with regards to its mythos. With this book, that trend continues and it can get confusing as to whether the author is implying that this theological tract is the only correct one in this universe. In his most recent AMA, he did talk about getting the church stuff right & mentioned that he has had "a childhood with a much, much higher than median exposure to theological thought". Now whether he's going down the C. S. Lewis route, remains to be seen but I genuinely hope that the series maintains its previous ambiguity as in the case within the real world. 

Skin Game has a heist plot that runs along the line of most heist stories but what strongly differentiates this one is Jim Butcher. Jim’s characteristic writing skills have made The Dresden Files such a publishing phenomenon. Skin Game continues in that rich vein and if you are a Dresden fan then you will love it. If you aren’t a fan then this book won’t do much to change your mind. This volume didn’t have any deficiencies in my mind but then again I didn’t enjoy Cold Days and many others liked it.

CONCLUSION: Epic, simply epic is the adjective I would use to describe Skin Game, the fifteenth volume was a bit delayed but fans can rejoice as the book more than makes up for the wait. Jim Butcher is back, boys and girls and Skin Game will have you rejoicing and gallivanting like none other. Also if you were wondering why the word "Parkour" was mentioned in my review, that's another thing you'll have to wait until the 27th to find out.


Nicole said...

Well, now I just want to read it RIGHT NOW! Great review!

The Reader said...

Thanks Nicole, Skin Game is definitely one of my favorite Dresden books.


glacial said...

One of my favorite parts of this book was the meeting with Maggie, as well as the teaser with the new spirit. I can't wait to see how Jim develops both of these characters in future books!

I will do my best to wait patiently for peace talks.... Hopefully I will not read the next one in a day as well since it means a long wait for the next book.

Jenny said...

I read this book not having read any of the others in the series and I LOVED it!! Off to read the 1st 14 so I can catch up on what I missed and fill in the holes. Wow! Why didn't I notice this series earlier?

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