Skin Game (Dresden Files), Review

Fifteen books in, Harry Dresden is still running strong. Here's our review of the latest Dresden Files book.

As far as urban fantasy goes, the market is full of contenders. You’ve got a plethora of characters fighting the good fight against nasty creatures in our modern world. Why is Harry Dresden any better or different from these other characters? Too often, I see urban fantasy writers create a character that’s a little too perfect. They’ve got more powers than you can even name, like Anita Blake in Laurel K. Hamilton’s books. Anita Blake was a character I really liked in the graphic novels, but when I picked up one of her novels, I was sorely disappointed. It seemed both Anita and her author couldn’t keep her series good for an extended period of time.

Luckily, Harry Dresden does not have that problem. Skin Game is the fifteenth book in this series, and he‘s still going strong. Although he is powerful being (a resourceful wizard with the extra talent of bearing the Winter Mantle), he also works as part of a team. Karrin Murphy is his buddy in the police department, Michael is the ex-Knight of the Sword who resumes his holy job to help Dresden. Harry Dresden also has a wit and sense of humor that makes many tense scenes a delight to read. The commentary is priceless. Harry doesn’t need to just use magic or guns to take down an enemy. Sometimes, he can use his big mouth. In fact, that talent comes in very handy when facing down some impossible foes in the underworld. You want to see some smack talk with a demon? Here it is.

In Skin Game, Harry Dresden is taken out of self-enforced isolation on an island and made against his will to team up with his enemies. It’s part of a debt that needs to be paid, and he’s none too happy about it. The leader of the group is Nicodemus Archleone, a dangerous foe in the past, who intends to pull off the heist of the century. Nicodemus has the crazy plan to steal a one of a kind artifact from a vault, and not just any vault, but right out from Hades’ underworld treasure trove. Yes, we’re talking about that Hades.

There’s a great cast of characters. I love the tough cop Karrin Murphy, who goes along as Dresden’s right hand man…er…woman. There’s some sexual tension there but handled quite well. These characters aren’t pawns in a romance novel. In fact, the author does a great job of creating equally fascinating female and male characters. We have the professional thief Anna Valmont and the righteous Knight of the Sword Michael. Butters, the medical examiner who secretly fixes up Dresden whenever he gets wounded, proves a worthy ally. On the bad guys side, we have the demonic Denarians, Nicodemus and his daughter. They have cult-like status, converting humans to their cause. You even get a glimpse of the tender side of the Denarians, which is a bit of a surprise when you expect manipulative demons.

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I really enjoy Harry Dresden. With a swirl of his rune-enchanted coat, a deft leap, and a joyous shout of “Parkour!” he reminds us that a hero does not need to be the chiseled, gruff-voiced bad boy. He can also be a bit of a goof, always quick to the joke, especially in dire situations, and  he can pine for his old VW called the Blue Beetle (DC humor!).

Amusing commentary and great characters are complemented by intense action scenes.

It all plays out clearly, and the stakes are definitely high. I’d say it would make a good movie adaptation but I know the series has been a TV show already. The whole ending of the book is a nail-biter, from the unlikely group of heroes and villains entering Hades’ domain, to their escape and battle at the end. I can’t say too much without giving anything away, but Jim Butcher does an excellent job keeping some details hidden until the very moment they need to be revealed. This includes a great turning point in a climactic scene that makes you want to go back and read all the dialogue again, just to see if you missed something.

There’s so much going on that might sound silly in a review. There’s a talking skull named Bob, a clearly outmatched nerdy guy who takes up arms against evil. Oh, and Harry Dresden may or may not have something living in his head.

I guess you’ll just have to read it yourself to find out.

I can easily say the story is easy to follow for someone new to Dresden’s life. This is handy because this is Dresden’s 15th book, not counting the side stories. An author can help gain new readers by making it easy to get into a later book. The writing style is crisp and tailored to be entertaining, since we get it all from Harry’s perspective. Jim Butcher does a great job of having wizards, demons, faeries (yeah, those too), angels, and a Greek God in the same world and somehow it works.

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5 out of 5