Written by: Jim Butcher
Paperback: 454 pages
Publisher: Roc Hardcover
Genre: Urban Fantasy/Series
Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day….
Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful. He doesn’t know the half of it….
Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever.
It’s a smash-and-grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry.
Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance….
I am probably not the only one around here who loves heist movies, tv shows, and even heist books. I live for my crew on Leverage, dig movies like the Ocean films, The Italian Job, and the Inside Man. Heist Society by Ally Carter is cute and The Great Train Roberry by Crichton isn’t too bad. So what is it about the whole heist thing? Is it the danger? Is it the fact that each person on the crew has a specific job and creative ways to handle some fairly tough challenges? Sometimes there are riddles and puzzles to solve (looking at you Indy and your Last Crusade with dear old dad) which are exciting. Sometimes you have quirky little thieves who you wish your new bestie (looking at you Parker). There is excitement and danger when you set off to steal something you shouldn’t. And maybe some Parkour.
While I am a huge Harry fan, I will also be the first to admit that some volumes are stronger than others. My favorites have that amazing blend of action, violence, humor, and snark. But lately every book, while good mind you, has been kind of a downer. Cold Days gave us some massive revelations, but you kind of feel like whoa…heaviness much. So when I listened to Jim Butcher read the first chapter from Skin Game a couple of years ago at MisCon, I started getting excited. I didn’t realize it was a heist novel yet that would put Harry and Nicodemus together to steal things from Hades. It had Harry saying parkour a lot and in a way I felt like I had Harry back. Here was the goofball Harry. The loveable oaf that is the best sort of hero. I thought he was lost in Cold Days, but now maybe, just maybe I was going to get him back. Sure he’s been through a lot and I know there is much more to come, but I missed him to be honest. I missed the funny. I missed the snark. I kind of just wanted an episode of the week you know instead of the potential destruction of everything we know and love. Which I know may have frustrated people, but we’ll get to that later.
Anyway, it still took me 6 months to pick up Skin Game. I was nervous. Yep. Me. But Harry does that to me. Changes floored me. What can I say. I have been gun shy ever since. But eventually I did pick it up in Hardback form and because I love Harry so much I also decided to let James Marsters be Harry for a few hours on audiobook as he will always be Harry for me. Like I said Harry has been through a lot. And I don’t think any of us really ever expected Harry to become the Winter Knight especially when we know how insane Mab is (in that deliciously wicked sort of way). Okay so he had no choice but to take up the mantle and ever since Harry has been trying to find a way not to become a monster and bend to every single one of her desires and wishes. He is also now the warden of Demonreach which has its own peculiar little set of problems and responsibilities. You would think Harry could get a break, but of course not.
Mab shows up and lets Harry know that she has loaned his services out to another. This is bad enough, but when Harry learns that it is Denarian baddie Nicodemus, he really wants to get out of the job. This is the man who killed Shiro after all, why on Earth would Harry would work with him. If he tries to get out of the job she will let the parasite in his head burst from his skull in a bloody mess. If he does this task, she will help him remove it and thus end the migraines from hell. What is a wizard to do?
Nicodemus wants to raid Hades’ vault…yep that Hades, and steal the Holy Grail. Oh and to get there they also have to steal from Johnny Marcone. Sounds like fun right? Nicodemus has assembled his own crew which includes his sociapathic daughter/lover Deirdre, Binder the Summoner, a shapeshifter named Goodman Grey, and another magic user named Hannah Ascher. Harry brings along Murphy for his own support along with a thief of his choosing. So all that is left is to storm the Underworld.
Things I liked:
After the drama filled, tension high, and full of revelations small trilogy that were the last three books like I said earlier, it was nice to have a small change. I liked the heist theme. I liked the episodic feel of this book. Now I know there may be many who were disappointed because there were no answers to the many new questions dangled in front of us after Cold Days, but I was okay with a respite. I was okay to have my funny Harry back full of Big Trouble in Little China references and making me smile with every shout of ‘parkour’.
Of course Skin Game is not without its own intrigue and new reveals whether it is Butters and his new weapon of choice, a kiss that was a long time coming, and discovering that Hades essentially named his three headed dog Spot. Hilarious. Plus, I love Nicodemus and the Denarians. They are one of my favorite villains. They have goals and plans. Sadly for Harry, they also always seem to be two steps ahead no matter how much he tries to thwart them. They leave a path of destruction wherever they go. I will say that whenever they are around they also make sure that nothing is ever the same after they leave.
I think there is a reason for this book though. The major players are all starting to show up, things are changing, roles becoming different. I can only assume that this means we are reaching a denouement. Things are coming. So no, this was not a wasted book. I also like that we had another form of mythos in the mix with Hades. Sure we have fallen angels, angels, the fey, shapeshifters and such, but having other religions was nice. How much influence does he have? What can he do? How much will he let happen? Exciting things I must say.
Above all I loved the heist aspect and I am curious to see how the new reveals will change future tales. I hope we get to see Goodman Grey again (nice addition Mr Butcher) and now that Harry no longer has something inside his head waiting to break free, how on earth is she going to change everyone’s lives?
Things I didn’t like so much:
Yeah not a whole lot I didn’t like. Harry is having an identity crisis, everything is different and changing. I only wish Nicodemus would just die and yet I need him as a villain even if we don’t see him all the time. He and the Denarians will show up again and I know I will be glad to see them.
Okay i will admit that sometimes the pacing was bit slow and the story uneven, but I was so happy to have an acerbic Harry back that I am willing to forgive those few small things.
Buy or Borrow: Buy.
Part of:Part of the Dresden Files
Book One: Storm Front
Book Two: Fool Moon
Book Three: Grave Peril
Book Four: Summer Knight
Book Five: Death Masks
Book Six: Blood Rites
Book Seven: Dead Beat
Book Eight: Proven Guilty
Book Nine: White Night
Book Ten: Small Favor
Book Eleven: Turn Coat
Book Twelve: Changes
Book Thirteen: Ghost Story
Book Fourteen: Cold Days
Also Recommended: The rest of the Dresden Files of course, Something from the Nightside by Simon R Green, The Matthew Swift novels by Kate Griffin and The Felix Castor series by Mike Carey
3.5 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks