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Skin Game by Jim Butcher – review
Editor’s note - this review of Skin Game (Book 15 of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher) is based on the audiobook version, narrated by James Marsters.
** SPOILER ALERT: If you have been reading The Dresden Files but haven’t caught up through Cold Days (Book 14), then beware of spoilers ahead! **
Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness, never makes a purely social call. So when she arrives on the shores of Harry Dresden’s island of Demonreach, he knows that he is about to have a very bad day. As Mab’s Winter Knight, Harry is bound to follow the faerie queen’s commands. Her current scheme requires him to work with an enemy from his past – Nicodemus Archleone, the head of the Denarians, each of whom is inhabited by a fallen angel. We have previously seen Nicodemus in Death Masks (Book 5) and Small Favor (Book 10), and he’s been one of Harry’s most ruthless and cunning foes.
In Skin Game, Nicodemus is out to steal something from the vault of Hades, Lord of the Underworld. He refuses to reveal what he is specifically looking for, but the route to the vault will require passing through a nearly impossible set of locks, gates, and other challenges. He has assembled a team both new and familiar to readers of the series.
Harry has no way out of this deal. If he refuses to work with the demon-possessed psychopath, Queen Mab will lose respect and prestige in the eyes of other inhabitants of the Nevernever. However, he knows that Nicodemus cannot have charitable goals, and he fears the ultimate outcome of the scheme will spell disaster for himself, his friends, Chicago, or innocent people everywhere. Before he agrees, a brief discussion with Mab reveals to Harry that she is to be taken at her word. Harry is to help Nicodemus obtain whatever object he is out to steal. However, once his enemy has acquired it, Harry is free to use whatever it takes to thwart the Denarian’s escape or use of the item.
With Karrin Murphy at his side, Harry must first convince Anna Valmont, professional thief and security expert, to join their cause. Valmont is not eager to work with Nicodemus because he was responsible for the death of a couple of her friends. However, with Fomor servitors tracking her, and Harry in on the heist, she is persuaded to join the crew. Before the job ever begins, tensions rise and the crew clashes over their plans. Harry works to subvert Nicodemus’ team, decipher both Nicodemus and Mab’s true goals, and fight against the violent instincts of the Winter Mantle.
A couple of new characters were introduced, and my favorite was Goodman Gray, a shape-shifter. I can’t say too much about why I liked him without giving away spoilers, but his sinister aspects contrasted in an intriguing way with his banter with Harry. I think (hope?) that we will see him again in future volumes.
Skin Game was an excellent continuation of the series, with numerous twists and complications. The stakes are constantly raised, and Harry’s deadpan humor created some laugh out loud moments for me. This certainly isn’t a stand-alone novel. If you haven’t read any of the previous books, this isn’t the place to start. There are events that build upon the back story from several volumes earlier. Even as someone who has read every book, I would not have remembered the critical details. Fortunately, Jim Butcher does a great job of reminding the reader of the most salient points from the previous books without bogging the reader down in it.
Long-time fans of The Dresden Files will be pleased to know that some of their questions are finally beginning to be answered. What became of Lasciel? Will we ever see another Knight of the Cross? Why are Harry’s headaches worsening?
I have listened to all of the previous Dresden books in audio format. The narrator continues to be outstanding. The only aspect of the book that disappointed me is that it was over too soon, and even with Butcher’s quick pace of writing, I’ll have to wait at least a year for the next one.