Monday, June 30, 2014

Review: "Skin Game" by Jim Butcher

Over the course of the past few books of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, wizard Harry Dresden has had quite the ride, but his assignment in “Skin Game” ($27.95, Ace) might be his most difficult and distasteful.

Harry has spent much of his time of late hiding out on Demonreach Island, learning how to be warden of his prison filled with evil beings and trying to figure out how to get rid of the parasite that’s growing within him. That isolation comes to an end as his boss, Mab, the Winter Queen of Faerie comes to call.

Mab has a job for her Winter Knight that will require him to leave the relative safety of his island and face, not only the dangers of the assignment, but the friends from which he’s largely been separated.

Things get worse for Harry when he realizes that Mab has hired him out to Nicodemus Archleone, host to Anduriel of the Order of the Blackened Denarius – a group of fallen angels bound to silver coins said to be those that Judas Iscariot received for his betrayal of Jesus.

But Harry’s personal enmity for Nicodemus and the Denarians, as well as the other members of the team that has been put together, is nothing compared to the job itself – to break into Hades private vault and steal an item of great power that could be disastrous in Nicodemus’ hands.

Harry, and Mab for that matter, have no intention of allowing that to happen, but that’s where things get really tricky for him.

By book 15 of most series about a single character, I’ve wandered away from the story. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ve ever made it to another book 15, but Butcher has managed to keep things lively for Harry Dresden. I realize I say something similar in almost every review of a Dresden book, but I continue to be impressed.

In “Skin Game,” we see Harry continue his transformation back into the wise-cracking wizard that we’ve come to love. After some very dark moments over the past few books, he seems to be moving more toward coming to terms with his role as the Winter Knight and what it means for him personally and coming to an understanding that he can’t just lock himself away from the world, his friends and his daughter.

Of course, there are some far-reaching implications for the story introduced in this volume. For one, we begin to learn more about just how the mantle of the Winter Knight is affecting Harry and what that might mean for his future. There’s also a surprising twist with the parasite that I certainly won’t spoil for those who haven’t read it. And, in one of my favorite moments, the rise of a most unlikely Knight of the Cross with the best sword ever. That last bit alone is enough to have me already looking forward to Butcher’s next volume.

With “Skin Game,” Butcher continues to prove himself the best writer out there right now in the urban fantasy realm. The books of the Dresden Files are always great fun, but with a bit more depth and staying power than many of the works I read in that subgenre.

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