Book Review – Skin Game by Jim Butcher

My review of Skin Game by Jim Butcher

http://www.fantasybookreview.co.uk/Jim-Butcher/Skin-Game.html

In the absence of justice and a choice Harry must withhold vengeance against his greatest enemy? Bound as the Winter Knight to Winter’s Law Harry must settle Mab’s debt, committing theft and robbery from the most secure vault in the Nevernever. Unwillingness to comply to the letter of the agreement risks violating Mab’s word, his life and a chance for payback against Nicodemus. It’s going to take some fast thinking to get Harry out of this one alive and in one piece.

What can one say? It’s the next Dresden! It’s always satisfying to hold the latest copy of your favourite author’s work but it is however a double-edged sword – the fear that it might not live up to your expectations competing with the anticipation, because you know deep down inside that it’s going to be awesome.

After Ghost Story and Cold Days I picked up Skin Game with some trepidation and a lot of excitement as the previous books where, for me, somewhat of a departure from the classic Dresden theme. Harry has been taking part in grand and far reaching schemes, striding tall and riding rough shot over his foes. The simplicity of Skin Game is a step back to a more focus Dresden storyline: robbery, revenge and survival.

– PARKOUR! –

The streamlined approached to this story has removed or reduced the appearance of a few of the more well know characters: his brother, the scary godmother and grasshopper but the character I did miss most was Bob. When he did appear it wasn’t for long and didn’t have the Harry/Bob back and forth wise-cracking I enjoy so much. It was a shame but most likely necessary for the development – you can’t have everything stay the same otherwise it just stagnates.

*** Here be dragons, as well as some SPOILERS ***

Skin Game has its fair share of laugh-out-loud moments, some that I believe to be teasers and things that, for the life of me, I just did not get.

The Teaser. In the beginning of the book Harry speaks with a prisoner in one of the Demonreach cells. This conversation is interesting as the prisoner doesn’t want to escape Demonreach or his cell – they tell Harry they deserve to be there. In my own opinion this runs towards a character like Mordred, some ancient wizard or warlock who is trying to pay penance for past sins. The original Merlin is present in the Dresden universe, so who is to say there can’t be reference to an Arthur or Mordred. In the conventional tale Mordred kills Arthur, so instead of killing Mordred Merlin imprisons him in Demonreach.

The Funny. Towards the end, when Harry has an interaction with Hades, this brief scene and single line had me laughing out loud as I sat on the bus. Spot the dog! There is also a later scene as Michaels tries to bring Harry out of his melancholy, reminding him that humility and a lack of confidence are not one of his strong suits – who else rides down the main street in the city on the back of a dinosaur? That image alone brought a very large smile to my face.

*** There still be dragons ***

The title Skin Game I imagine has a double meaning, the first being the term ‘skin game’ itself can mean a dishonest business operation or cheating, and the second may be based on one of Harry comrades in crooked-arms, a shaper shifter named Grey. Without giving too much away there is continual interaction and challenge between Harry and Grey. This back and forth adds a lot of texture to the story and heist, and considering the double, triple or quadruple-cross (I couldn’t keep count) that occurs you just have no idea until the ball drops what’s going to happen. This type of hide in plain sight narrative may sound easy, but it isn’t. You are what you write and your write what you know. You have to keep the reader guessing but still leave a few breadcrumbs but not so much they become story killers. In this respect Jim has out-done himself.

*** SPOLIERS ***

I loved, and I mean loved that I did not see it coming, that Butters becomes a Knight of the Cross. The faith Michael had that the sword (which has been destroyed by this point) – PARKOUR! – would return, I assumed he would be the one to take it up again and return to his role of Supreme Uber Knight. Butter has always been, if not Robin, then Alfred to Harry’s Batman. Always there he help, the one Harry turns too when broken and bloodied. Finally Butters gets a chance to come into his own and be the hero he wants to be. This maybe a chance for a Butters and Sanya spinoff?

Jim via Butters aka Alfred actually proposes a very interesting theory about the Winters Knights abilities. These seemly superhuman talents that Harry has are not magic in a direct manner, they are actually humans without the handbrake on. We are our own power and ultimate destruction. Now that’s an interesting thought Jim has slipped in, very metaphysical. It ties in well with the consequences, which seem to befall Harry’s friends; crippled, shot and broken physically and mentally for a number of years, while Harry continues on relatively unscathed.

There is a major subplot element which I left until last simplify because I can’t make my mind up whether it’s a good or bad thing. The parasite in Harry’s brain. There is a lot more to this than even Harry initially knows, he ever has to get it out or he dies and while I like where this is going and I not convinced about the shape of the story and how it will play out. There is the potential to be a winner or to go off with a little whimper. No spoilers here sorry, I have got to leave some surprises. – PARKOUR! – That was the last one I promise.

In case you missed it there is a running line/joke in the book regarding Parkour. Harry is teaching himself the sport and whenever he actually uses any of it he shouts, PARKOUR! There may be an explanation for it out there on the webber-net, but I haven’t had a look as of yet. There was an attempt at an explanation but it wasn’t very good. I am sure it has to be an in-joke for Jim, but it went right over my head.

Skin Game is a celebration of the originals of Dresden novels, that time in his past when he only had to juggle a couple of near impossible challenges and survive. We now have a seasoned thinker and fighter able to handle whatever is thrown at him, and yes he still gets the proverbial handed to him most of the time.

Stacking up the last three books, this has definitely been my favourite, this is Dresden through and through.

9/10

For even more reviews, author interviews and biographies, check out the site Fantasy Book Review.

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