Friday, December 4, 2015

REVIEW | Skin Game by Jim Butcher
Skin Game by Jim Butcher
Publication Year: 2014
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: The Dresden Files #15
Awards: Nominated for a Hugo
Format: Audio (from Library)
Narrator: James Marsters

Why?: I'm caught up! I'm caught up! ......  Sooooo.... where's the next book?

If you can't tell from the cover - huge vault door and Harry in the middle of a cascade of flaming hundred dollar bills - Skin Game is a heist novel.  A HEIST novel.  Harry has been ordered, in his capacity as Winter Knight, to assist one of the fallen, Nicodemus Archleone with a plan to steal some things from the vault of Hades.   And that's not just a euphemism or fancy name - we're talking the vault of the honest to god brother to Zeus, lord of the underworld, Hades.  To make matters worse Nicodemus is kind of an arch enemy of Dresden's but he  must follow Queen Mab's orders.  So how's he going to help Nicodemus with his robbery while not actually helping him?  Read to see!  Hint:  things get real complicated (and real explodey) real fast.

***NOTE:  There may be a few spoilers in this review for previous books in the series. Dresden Files is increasingly a long arc story so if you haven't read any of the previous books you may want to stop reading now.  I will also be revealing some spoilers for Skin Game, specifically in regards to Harry's love life so if you don't want to know don't read the "Murphy Files" section at the bottom. ***

After the intense trilogy of Changes-Ghost Story-Cold Days, Skin Game is a more business as usual Dresden Files book.  There are lots of ramifications from the events of the three previous books and continuing story lines but the main thrust of Skin Game is a heist, which is begun and resolved in this book and the fate of the world only hangs in the balance maybe once or twice.  Mostly.  The stakes are still high enough to keep the tension up, but it is not quite the stress fest of the previous three books.

And it's a heist!  A heist!  Who doesn't love a heist?  On the crew along with Harry are Murphy and Michael Carpenter (at Harry's invite), a very mysterious and sinister gentleman who only wears gray called, appropriately Mr. Gray, Hannah Ascher, a wizardess who is very good with fire (better than Harry!), Binder who appeared a couple books ago and who specializes in summoning and directing goons from the NeverNever, and Anna Valmont,  a human mortal who is really good at cracking safes.  Nicodemus' and his creepy and dangerous daughter Deirdre round things out. Oh and there's also another mysterious member of the crew that gets revealed half way through the planning of the heist.  So of all the characters, Mr. Gray and Hannah Ascher are the only two we haven't met before.  It's a good crew with most being either friendly to Harry or not so friendly to Harry.  Absolutely everybody has secrets in order to keep things interesting.  Basically, it's a lot of fun with a fantastic ending.  And we get to meet Hades who might be my new favorite character after Murphy.  I hope he comes back.  Plot gets a gold star!

More and more Butcher is weaving in elements from his past books and he does so really really well. Little things from earlier books end up becoming major plot points in later books which is making me paranoid about every little thing that happens - "that seems insignificant but what's it going to mean three books from now??"  The inclusion of past happenings and characters into the book can be frustrating as I have a goldfish's memory but ultimately it is what makes this series so brilliant.  It feels like a fully realized, connected and entirely possible world.  It provides it with way more depth than an urban fantasy about a wizard detective has any right to have.  I love it!

The other thing that makes these books so addictive and awesome are Harry's friends.  This book takes place about a year after the finish of Cold Days.  All that time Harry has been living out on an island in the middle of Lake Michigan which is the only place that can keep the "tumor" that was discovered in his head in Cold Days from exploding and taking his brain with it.  Harry has thus spent a lot of time alone and is feeling a little insecure...well insecure for Harry.  He wonders why his brother and Murphy haven't come out to visit him more and he has had very little contact with Molly now that she's the Winter Lady.  In fact, Molly is barely in this book.  She appears briefly in a dream and then swoops in at the end. She is settling in well to her new job as the Winter Lady, perhaps a little too well and she has not yet told her parents of her change in status.  It's clear Harry is worried about her.  Michael eventually soothes Harry's hurt feelings about the lack of visits to his island and we see why Michael is such a good friend for Harry to have.  However, he is also a good representation of what happens to folks who are Harry's friends.  Harry also makes some progress in resolving his feelings about his daughter and how to approach her.  It will definitely be interesting to see where that leads.

And of course there are some developments with Murphy which equally thrilled and infuriated me.  But more about that below as it is likely to be lengthy, a bit obsessive and not for everyone:). I do want to mention how disgusted I was about the fact that Butters is deemed worthy to carry one of the  swords of truth and Murphy isn't.  Come on now.  Murphy is a big damn hero and frankly has more integrity then Harry and Butters put together. Sheesh and Pshaw. Thankfully this book was fun enough that I could get over it.  At least for now.

FINAL VERDICT:  An exciting and refreshing "stand alone" heist story in the Dresden Files universe.  Fans of the series will certainly enjoy it. I am chomping at the bit for book 16 even though it sounds like it will be Murphy lite.  3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Murphy Files or Special Notes on Harry's Love Life

Hoo boy do things between Murphy and Dresden get interesting in this book and not entirely in a good way for folks who want to see them together. It's quite the roller coaster.  First Harry has a sexy dream about Murphy! Yay!  But at the end of that dream Murphy turns against him and tries to kill him.  Harry ends up interpreting that as a plot point later in the book with no association with Murphy at all but it's just the kind of thing that Butcher will bring back in a later book as one of the clues that Murphy is possessed by evil or some such. Grrr.

Then he has a conversation, his own sub-conscious, where it is basically made pretty clear that Dresden isn't really sure whether he wants Murphy or Molly and he's just going with Murphy right now because it feels less icky. Grrrr.

Then Murphy declares her love for Harry and by doing so breaks one of the special swords and then gets the ever-living crap beaten out of her.  Butcher then takes time in the aftermath of this to have Michael point out to Harry that he doesn't seem that worried or concerned about Murphy.  He goes so far as to suggest that if Harry really had feelings for Murphy he wouldn't be so blase' about her state of injury. Harry just kind of responds with a "are you talking to me" confused face and then moves swiftly on.  So again. Grr...

So if you are keeping track that is three Grrrrs to one Yay and yet at the end of the book when Harry goes to visit Murphy in the hospital, as soon as he is alone with her it's adorable smoochfest 2014.  Say what?  WHAT THE HELL IS JIM BUTCHER UP TO WITH THESE TWO??? ****pants**** Okay, I'm all right now.  Just thoroughly and completely confused and very suspicious that Butcher has some truly horrible things in store for Murphy and Dresden.  I'm all right with Dresden getting knocked around but no more for Murphy. No more I tell ya! Pretty please?  Sigh......

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