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Book Review- “Skin Game”

 

 

skingame_lg I discovered Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series right around the release of the fifth book, “Death Masks,” in 2003. So I’ve been reading the series for over a decade now and while some entries have been better than others I’ve always been entertained. There hasn’t been an adventure of Chicago’s only Wizard for hire, Harry Dresden that I’ve not had fun with and that’s a big feat for a series that’s been around so long.

The usual plot recipe of a Dresden Files book is a blend of private detective fiction and fantasy that reads like an episode of Joss Whedon’s “Angel” series meets Harry Potter. So more often than not Harry Dresden is out investigating some strange mystery in Chicago that leads to an apocalyptic threat, but what makes the books so interesting is the character of Harry and the complex cast of enemies and allies that Butcher has built up around him over the years. So sure the weird and action packed mysteries are fun frosting, but the cake of the series and what keeps me coming back are the characters and the long term plot threads that Butcher has weaved around them.

From time to time those plots will pay off in big ways, but perhaps the biggest pay out was 2010’s “Changes,” which remains the high point of the series for me. Since then, there has been great moments that have added to the series and moved it along in new and interesting directions like 2012’s “Cold Days,” but I’m happy to report that the latest Dresden Files novel, “Skin Game” has some fantastic moments of character pay out   for long term fans of the series that add to the ongoing narratives and push the long term plot forward in interesting ways  (I’m not going to say what, but there are events in this book that I’ve been hoping to see for almost a decade) and a different and interesting plot that I’ don’t believe we’ve seen in this series. So for my money “Skin Game” is the best Dresden Files novel since “Changes.”

Like the other books in the series “Skin Game” is about the intersection between crime and the weird modern day fantasy world of2014.pm.jim.butcher Chicago, but instead of playing detective this time Harry is cast in a very different role, law breaker. That’s because in addition to being a wizard Harry also serves as the Winter Knight for Mab, the Faerie Queen of Winter, and at the beginning of the book she tasks Harry with assisting his old enemy the demonic Knight of Blackened Denarius, Nicodemus Archelone, in a heist. So “Skin Game” is part caper novel. We get to watch a heist crew come together and plot a robbery of a vault located in the mythical Greek underworld.  Also because Mab has forced Harry into working with Nicodemus “Skin Game” is  a con novel.  You get to watch Nicodemus and Harry plot and carry out subtle moves against each other as they work for an opportunity to destroy each other.

So “Skin Game” is an exciting and action packed novel, but as expected it’s also full of great characters. You get to spend time with some old favorites like former police detective Karrin Murphy, who Harry enlists to watch his back as the planning for the heist goes down. There’s also fun stuff with a group of other established characters, but I’m not going to spoil who they are. Their entry into “Skin Game” is a pretty fun reveal.

Nicodemus’ heist crew is also full of interesting characters both new and returning. I especially liked the team’s resident shape shifter Goodmen Grey, who makes his debut in this novel. And of course Nicodemus himself is also an interesting character. I hate his guts, but that’s the point. He’s a fantastic villain and I want to see him taken down.

On top of great characters, exciting action, and twisting double crosses you also get the pay off I mentioned earlier and it involves several occurring characters. I don’t want to say too much more about those moments except they come at the perfect time. The way Butcher set up and delivered those moments of payout had me cheering.

So if you’re a long time fan of the Dresden Files series you’ll love “Skin Game.” It’s a different kind of Harry Dresden story, which makes it fresh and exciting and it’s full of payoff moments that will leave you excited for the characters and their adventures to come.

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Book Review- “Cold Days”

Cold Days cover_lgWow! Has it really been 10 years since I first discovered the Dresden Files series of books by Jim Butcher? It really seems like it’s been shorter, but I just checked and yeah I started reading the books right around 2003 when the fifth entry had been released. I read the first two and thought they were just okay, but the third installment in the series “Grave Peril” hooked me. After that the books were consistently entertaining. So much so that they were something I looked forward to reading every spring when they came out.

The series hit a major high in 2010 with “Changes,” the 12th book in the series. “Changes” was a book that paid off so many plot threads and also was true to it’s title. I tried to keep that in perspective when I read the next book in the series, “Ghost Story,” but something about that book just felt off. So I was worried that the series might be losing steam and direction. Well having just finished the latest book in the series “Cold Days” (the 14th book in the series) I’m happy to report that the Dresden Files is still a series that is exciting, and a ton of fun to read.

In “Cold Days” wizard Harry Dresden is trying to get his life back together after having it blown apart in “Changes” and sort of dying in “Ghost Story.” Unfortunately for him the Queen of the Winter court of the Sidhe (AKA Faerie Folk) has other plans. In “Changes” Harry agreed to be her enforcer, the Winter Knight and she plans to make him live up to that obligation.

So “Cold Days” opens with Harry rehabilitating from injuries and adjusting to life in Mab’s fortress. It makes for a few slow chapters, but then Mab gives her enforcer a mission and that’s when the book takes off because that’s when Harry returns to Chicago and the family and friends he left behind.

Harry Dresden is a fun, identifiable, and very cool character, but one of the things that makes his adventures so entertaining is the eclectic cast of characters in his life. Butcher is aware of this and gives them all a chance to come back into Harry’s life in a big way. When they enter the narrative in “Cold Days” it’s in bold and usually heroic ways that will make long time fans of the series clap and cheer. I especially loved the return of my favorite character in the series, former police detective Karrin Murphy.

It was also a lot of fun to see Harry interacting with these characters. I’m especially interested in the dynamic between Harry and Murphy andJim-Butcher-2010-profile_book-jacket-205x300 they got several satisfying moments together. One dynamic that I found myself appreciating more was the one between Harry and his vampire half brother Thomas. I always liked Thomas, but there was something about his scenes with Harry that felt more genuine in “Cold Days.” Their dynamic reminded me of the great bond between another pair of monster fighting brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester of “Supernatural” fame.

I don’t want to get too much into plot because there are lots of twists and turns and Harry’s mission from Mab is complicated by the strange going ons on the island of Demon Reach, which has appeared in several previous novels. Harry uncovers some cool revelations there that make me excited for the book going forward. It also gives “Cold Days” a pretty impressive scope and scale. Harry doesn’t just need to solve a mystery in this book or put down a bad guy. The fate of Chicago and perhaps the world is on the line.

That of course means we get some pretty impressive action scenes. I don’t want to say too much about them for fear of spoiling their surprises, but some of them do rival the craziness of “Changes.” I can tell you that there were many moments in “Cold Days” where I stopped and chuckled at the unexpected and awesome insanity that I had just read.

So all in all, “Cold Days” is a return to form for the Dresden Files series. It reminded me why these books have been such fun and comforting reads over the years, and it added enough new elements to the series to make me excited about where Butcher is going to go next. That’s a pretty impressive feat for the 14th entry in a novel series.

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