Skin Game by Jim Butcher

I should’ve had this up no later than May 29, but I wanted to get it juuuust right. And I failed. But I’m always going to fail when it comes to this series. Amongst series currently being written, this is my favorite (yeah, I’m taking the coward’s way out and not choosing between Dresden and Wolfe), which means that I’m just never going to be able to properly express how great I think the books are.

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Skin Game (The Dresden Files, #15)Skin Game

by Jim Butcher

Hardcover, 454 pg.
Roc Hardcover, 2014
Read: May 28, 2014

Quick review for people who haven’t read up through Cold Days:
Why are you reading this? Go and catch up. You’re missing out on one of the best series being published today. You’ve got about a year ’til Peace Talks comes out, so you have plenty of time to read up through Skin Game (which you really should read, because it was great).

Longer take for those who have read Cold Days (still, spoiler-free):

Okay, this is book 15, which means it’s time for The Denarians to return. But this time, Harry’s not opposing them (directly, anyway), but thanks to his service to Mab, he’s working alongside (for?) Nicodemus. Nicodemus has assembled a team of magical types to go rob a vault belonging to Hades. Harry, of course, is itching for a fight, but he doesn’t get the chance for one. If he doesn’t do what Mab & Nicodemus require, those closest to Harry will pay the price. Skin Game takes the basic plot structure of a heist film, and it works really well as such. A great, gripping story, doing things with the supporting characters involved (new and old) that you wouldn’t have guessed were possible with Harry’s past and attitude.

Beyond the plot — there’s something going on with Harry. Small, incremental changes are creeping in to our wizard’s character, as part of the aftermath of Changes. He’s dimly aware of them, but thinks he’s in control. Those close to him see them, too and make the same judgment call — it’s Harry, he’s got it taken care of. But there are those, like Butters, who aren’t as willing to believe that Harry can do it all. He sees trouble on the horizon and is willing to speak truth to Harry about it.

There’s other character development to take note of as well: Michael, Charity, and Murphy all continue to grow in positive ways — slowly, organically, and in ways you really only notice when you take a long look at them. Molly’s changing a lot, too — and not that slowly or organically, but after the end of Cold Days, what do you expect? Butters continues to grow and develop in ways that feel right, but are undeniable. When you think of who he was back in Death Masks and what he’s grown into by the end of Cold Days, it’s truly impressive. And he takes some major steps forward this time around, that I really want to talk about, but won’t. I have no shame in admitting that he choked me up. He could’ve easily been Butcher’s version of John Chen from the Elvis Cole/Joe Pike/etc. books — around for a little comic relief, some science help (some medical help, too), but nothing major. Instead, Butcher’s turned this polka-loving nerd into his Neville Longbottom.

In between the banter, the quips, the forzare-ing and fuego-ing, the action, you get things like this…it’s what separates guys like Butcher from the pack

There’s power in the touch of another person’s hand. We acknowledge it in little ways, all the time. There’s a reason human beings shake hands, hold hands, slap hands, bump hands.
It comes from our very earliest memories, when we all come into the world blinded by light and color, deafened by riotous sound, flailing in a suddenly cavernous space without any way of orienting ourselves, shuddering with cold, emptied with hunger, and justifiably frightened and confused. And what changes that first horror, that original state of terror?
The touch of another person’s hands.
Hands that wrapt us in warmth, that hold us close. Hands that guide us to shelter, to comfort, to food. Hands that hold and touch and reassure us through our very first crisis, and guide us into our very first shelter from pain. The first thing we ever learn is that the touch of someone else’s hand can ease pain and make things better.
That’s power. That’s power so fundamental that most people never even realize it exists.

I don’t normally read reviews of books I’ve already decided to read, but I made an exception in this case when Patrick Rothfuss posted his (pretty sure I linked it in one of my Saturday posts). One of the things he said was, “that Jim made me cry, like, four goddamn times in this book.” I went into this thinking Rothfuss was exaggerating about the crying. And then later I started to worry that he’s manlier and more in control of his emotions than I am. It’s not news to anyone who’s read Butcher — especially the more recent volumes — the guy can hit you right in heart. He’s like a long distance phone commercial from the late 80’s or the producers of the Friday Night Lights TV show — when he wants you to feel something, by gum, you will.

I do think that Butcher’s done better, but I’m still giving this 5 stars because while I was reading it, I was totally immersed in it. The rest of the world really didn’t exist — I was on the edge of my seat, leaning forward as if that’d help me get through it quicker — hanging on every word, chuckling, cackling, cheering, gasping as appropriate — totally engrossed, and that impact lasted for a couple of days following. If that doesn’t say 5 stars, I don’t know what does. And while I think other books were technically better — I can’t think of a problem with this one.

How long ’til #16, Peace Talks?

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5 Stars

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