If I haven’t mentioned this before, I am a huge fan of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. It is easily one of my favourite book series’ and is still going strong upon the release of it’s fourteenth book. You’ll be hardpressed to find other long-running series’ holding up so well.
At midnight last night, Skin Game, book fourteen, was released and I’ve already completely devoured it. And it was mind-blowing!
After a very, very goddamn rough few years, in which Harry Dresden has actually died, Harry has had a year break away from magical beasties and bullies trying to literally eat his face, even as a parasite has grown within his head and risks bursting out of his skull any day now. But hey, small victories, right?
I wasn’t too sure what I was expecting from this book, but as the last few have been heavy and extreme and have put Harry through a lot of shit, I think I assumed that it would be a kind of fast, funny and cool sort-of filler book for introspection on Harry’s life and experiences and a break in the increasing trajectory and pace of the series.
Boy, was I wrong.
Harry’s new boss, good old Queen Mab of the Winter Court of Faerie, needs to settle a debt. And of course, she uses her new Knight to do that. This would turn out horribly for Harry anyway, because it’s Harry and because it’s Mab, but it just so happens that the debt collector is Nicodemus Archleone, host to a Fallen angel, old enemy of Harry’s, and all-around murdering psychopath.
And the job he wants doing?
Yeah, breaking into the vault of Hades, Lord of the Underworld.
A lot happened in this book.
It was still hilariously funny, of course, and had me snorting and giggling out loud more than a few times. Of course, it also had me lapsing into tears a few times, though I think I did so more out of happiness than actual pain and sadness for once. Very unusual for a Dresden book, let me tell you. The book as a whole is beyond intense and I genuinely feared for the lives of some characters several times – cue panicked animal noises from myself – because of the very frightening circumstances they found themselves in, in quick succession. The pace never let up and the action and adventure was constant. I was never bored or felt myself skimming words, which I would rarely ever do in a Dresden book in any case, but the intensity of the story kept me utterly enthralled throughout and I’ve successfully bitten my nails to stumps. Despite that, Skin Game is an oddly uplifting book! Upon finishing it, I felt good about Harry’s choices, his losses and his victories. His ‘lost’ talk with Michael brought back a wonderful return of the ‘old’ Harry. He still has his scars and his past to battle through and carry with him, but there was something lighter about him and the return of something he lost through the hell of his recent years. Though I felt frightened,too, for what’s to come, because this is Jim Butcher and Harry Dresden we’re talking about here. I mean, come on.
A few things I very much enjoyed:
We get to see Subconscious Harry! Yay! The visual incarnation of Harry’s inner-self is a total dick, complete with all black outfit and goatee, but I really love that guy and his frank sass. Along with this, we get some serious insight into the parasite that Harry’s been harbouring. Talk about your bundle of joy, eesh! But I am way excited for what’s to come in regards to the ‘parasite’ after the end of Skin Game.
I was so glad to see the Carpenters made a great comeback, too. I adore that family, and Charity’s attitude to life is everything I hope to gain. What a badass. Molly shows up, too, more awesome than ever and seemingly recovering from her own hellish experiences. However, Harry hasn’t seen her in the year since she gained the mantle of Winter Lady, and there are some… changes. And worries. Molly is my baby and any possible harm to her character makes me want to curl up and cry. So just a warning on that. Still, she was awesome as all heck when we did see her in action, even if she didn’t get much.
Speaking of the Carpenters, Maggie’s appearance was surprising and yet not, because it was so long overdue, but suddenly Harry turned around and was faced with her, just there, and he couldn’t run from his daughter anymore. And I could not be more thrilled about how that turned out. You go, Harry. And you go, Mouse! Mouse, Harry’s Tibetan Mastiff-like magical, mystical Foo dog was as brilliant as ever. I would give so much for my own Mouse, let me tell you.
Weirdly, I enjoyed Nicodemus’s role in this book. He’s as awful and horridly evil as ever, a true villain in every way, but weirdly enjoyable as one. He got no sympathy from me whatsoever, but I can’t wait to see his next appearance in the series. And to see his butt get kicked all over again, hopefully! Though I have to admit, the Genoskwa terrified me a bit.
The many confrontations Harry found himself in the middle of (or starting, dammit Harry) started to show to what extent he’s beginning to exert control over the Winter in him. He pulled back the violent instincts a lot easier this time around, and seemed prepared for it. And Harry Dresden? Prepared for things? That’s character growth right there.
And if anyone is wondering about an appearance by the Lord of the Underworld himself, seeing as his vault is the target of the heist, then I’ll say yes. We get a little personal time with Hades himself, but I’ll say no more on that. It’s too cool to spoil.
I will say that I missed a few things, namely Thomas. He’s always a great character and I missed his snark and own brand of drama. Similarly, I also wished we’d seen more of Molly and Bob, though what little we did see was a promise of great things to come, I think. I do wonder what will happen with Bob now, what with Butters, his current boss, having this whole new position? Hmm…
The Outsiders and the Nemesis, too, were something I could’ve done with hearing more about, after that huge conflict Harry had with them previously. But a few certain things in Skin Game definitely promised more to do with them, and Mab’s war with them was referenced.
And the questions I was left with about that ‘parasite’! I will not be over that until the next book, which cannot come fast enough. I see many re-reads in the near and far future. Bravo, Mr. Butcher. Bravo!
5 / 5 Stars, easily!