This seemed like an appropriate book for me to review today. I got this as another e-book from the library. This was actually the second time I’ve read this book – the first was a hard copy from the library just after the book came out. So I’ve read this book for free twice.
I checked it out again for 2 reasons. 1. The twist toward the end is one that makes you want to re-read and see how much you missed because you didn’t know it was happening. 2. I wanted to read it after my 2nd epidural. My 1st, as I’ve already written in my review of Me Before You, was hell, and I went in prepared this time. I wanted a book that took me to another world, and Jim Butcher does that so well.
I review it today for the same reasons. Not the epidural, but wanting to be somewhere far away. I have been reading books with illness elements that I can barely wade through, like I’m walking through mud while crying to get to the end. I’m reading far, far faster than I’m reviewing (I have 6 reviews yet to write) and I think part of the reason is the fear that as I continue to write I will have to expose those reading wounds to you all. Before we get there, I just want to be in another world for a moment.
This is a book in a fantasy series, The Dresden Files, and it’s book #16. Yes, I have read 16 books of this series – and read the 16th one twice. Jim Butcher, you’ve got 17 books worth of my lifetime out of me. I actually generally stay away from fantasy, and certainly from long series (I’m not even sure Jim Butcher has any end in sight for The Dresden Files). I took interest in the first book, Storm Front, only because it was more of a paranormal mystery. When the series begins, Harry Dresden is a wizard for hire in the yellow pages, offering services of private investigations and the like, and he also assists the Chicago PD with unusual murders (i.e. crimes caused by monsters). It was like Harry Potter meets murder mysteries, and damn, it was good. I highly recommend it.
As the series progresses, the murder mystery falls away (I can’t even remember the last book I read where Harry had a client) and the fantasy takes more shape, yet Jim Butcher manages to hold his character development steady. Dresden is a little self-involved, arrogant, and courageous to the point of stupidity. He is fiercely loyal and protective. While he allows sexual urges to take over, he respects women in a way that I so wish more male characters in fiction of all genres would – but especially in the fantasy genre, where gaming and abuse toward women all seem wound up together. Butcher has managed to create a main character so steadfast and likable that no matter how the story line changes the shape of the novels they essentially feel connected and the same, like you have sincerely read one continuous story over the span of 16 books. For that, I give Butcher much credit; it would be so easy to spin off and feel disconnected as you hop from one book to the next, engrossing yourself in a fantasy world you never planned to enter, but I only feel as though I keep continuing the journey I was on when I left off.
Skin Game seems to have more action beats than the average Dresden Files book. Sometimes I felt it had too many, sweeping from one scene to the next without much commentary. Story wise, however, it was one of my favorites of the series. Dresden has been wrapped up in owing favors to the wrong people and is forced to assist in the robbing of Hades’ vault, where Hades has collected a number of artifacts including crucial religious elements. (I love reading a good heist plan. Have you guys read The Man in the Rockefeller Suit? He was a real con man, though. I’ve digressed.) He works with other wizards, police, demons, and angels to accomplish the task.
The book takes place over a 48-hour period, which is one of the shortest periods of time covered by a Dresden Files book. He is racing the clock and working with the bad guys to accomplish goals, while asking questions such as – is it better to fight all the devils at once, or at least have one of the devils you know on your team fighting with you? How do you define good and evil? What is power, who determines what it is, and what happens when (if possible) it runs out? What is justice and who is it for? These questions do not only apply to raiding a mythological God’s vault.
Butcher allows mythology, fantasy, religion, and mystery to intertwine in a way that should feel convoluted or overdone. But it doesn’t. His writing remains simple and streamlined, with twists that feel natural and true to his characters and plot. His themes overlap and come together in comprehensive ways rather than fighting for their own space in the story.
As I said above, I read this one twice partially because of the ending, which I won’t spoil. But I will say this. There are double agents afoot, and reading the book knowing who they are ahead of time, seeing how Butcher set you up, was quite as enjoyable as I imagined it being.
Further, I like that Butcher allows each book to be a stand-alone (though I think you do appreciate them more in the context of the series). If you wanted, you could pick up Skin Game without having read any other Dresden Files book and have an understanding of what was occurring. He gives brief descriptions of what’s relevant without having to fully summarize 15 other books for the reader.
Butcher’s writing is somewhat a meaning of personal taste. He likes to write puns, and his characters are sarcastic in the most nerdy of ways. I am quite the nerd, so I find myself laughing out loud at the little jokes throughout. I appreciate that no matter how difficult the mission, a tone of comedy hovers around it. However, you may be the type who finds it juvenile or annoying. There are, I will admit, a few dumb moments. He has this ticking time bomb in his head, and when I discovered what it was, I almost put the book down then and there. But altogether, it was a solid read, and I’m so glad I didn’t.
Butcher’s books have transitioned. He’s gone from paranormal murder mysteries to a war of vampires to the war of demons and fairies, and yet – I haven’t felt like I was reading a different genre at any point in time. I’ve stayed side by side with Harry through all of it. And even though I hate fairies, even though that first murder mystery and that first time a vampire entered the series all feel so far away, I’ll still keep reading, because I feel an odd kinship with Harry Dresden. You could pick up Skin Game, or you could start with Storm Front and see what it looked like when Dresden was a lowly wizard for hire – they’re equally solid reads. Either way, I’m going anxiously await #17 (and try not hassle Butcher about its release date).