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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Skin Game: A Novel of the Dresden Files, Book 15 by Jim Butcher

[caption id="attachment_5135" align="alignleft" width="137"]Skin Game by Jim Butcher Skin Game by Jim Butcher[/caption]

For those who have not heard, the Hugo Award nominations this year were gamed by a group calling themselves Sad Puppies. They were abetted in this endeavor by another group already active in the Gamergate turmoil who call themselves Rabid Puppies. My sense is these are frustrated young (ish) males who are upset the world doesn't revolve around their wants and desires. Frankly I don't give a rats ass about them. They are just a bunch of puerile loud-mouths shouting "pay attention to me" into the electronic byways of the Internet. But they do have the ability, and willingness, to organize themselves and exert their will. As far as I'm concerned this is no huge talent, but it did allow them to have an undue influence on the Hugo Award nominations this year. You can now see the ballot summaries for yourself on the main Hugo Award page. It's not so hard to have an effect when only 1827 ballots were cast for best novel and no one nominee got more than 387 votes. As you can see, it really was no great feat, but it did happen.



But that's not necessarily all bad news. The Hugo Awards have been gamed before for various reasons. It's one of those things that happens with a public ballot. You take the bad with the good. Also, one of the gripes these people have is that their science-fiction and fantasy tastes are not being duly represented in the awards year after year. For that I think they have no one to blame but themselves; a failure they obviously corrected this year, but their tastes are certainly reflected on the 2015 ballot and it is no fault of the author's nominated by said gaming of the system - at least in the best novel category, which is the only category I'm reviewing.



That was a two paragraph introduction to the review of "Skin Game" by Jim Butcher, for which I am somewhat sorry to inflict upon you, but felt compelled to clarify for them that know of the Hugo Award drama. There are strong feelings on all sides of this issue and some will feel like I have somehow betrayed them by listening to and reviewing this book. Poppycock. Jim Butcher is a New York times best-selling author. He didn't get there because of the Sad Puppies and he deserves a thoughtful and respectful review of his work just like I've done with all the other nominees so far (as part of my Nebula Nominee reviews.) Thinking otherwise is puerile behavior as bad as that exhibited by the Sad Puppies. I don't believe this applies to all authors and publishing houses on the ballot, for some of them were self-serving in the extreme, but it does apply to Jim Butcher and Tor Books, his publisher.



So, how about I get on to the review of "Skin Game: A Novel of the Dresden Files, Book 15" by Jim Butcher? Great! Here's a non-spoiler version of the publisher's summary.



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.

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….


This was a tremendously fun book to listen too. I've not read nor listened to any Dresden Files books before, but I now feel like I've been missing out on a helluva lot of fun. Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, the protagonist, is a snarky, cynical and deadly serious modern-day wizard. He started out as a supernatural private investigator and has since become... more. It's complicated. :) If you are into hardboiled detectives, you should enjoy Harry Dresden. He is a well filled out character with history and back story enough to slake any lore purist's thirst.



One of the aspects I particularly enjoyed about this book was the hardboiled aspect of the story telling. I've always been a fan of Mike Hammer and Mickey Spillane; the first person introspective narration, the often gritty environment, the earthiness, if you would, of it all. Jim Butcher definitely knows the style, and parlays it into an urban fantasy that's believable and impossible at the same time. Perhaps that's because he's had 14 other attempts at getting it right, but the ease at which he pulls it off tells me otherwise.



And it's not just Harry Dresden who's a rounded character with history. Almost all of them, and especially Harry's friends, are fully realized people. they are real. Now, that part is because he's had 14 other stories over which to develop them, but that doesn't make it any less joyful when one of them does exactly what you knew they would do because that is who they are. Don't get me wrong. That doesn't mean they are predictable. The exact action they take almost never is. Only the overarching character traits, such as the fact that Michael Carpenter will always be good and oppose evil. It's not just his job, it's who he is.



The storytelling is also very much action oriented. I can see why movie and television have been very interested in these stories. This book is no different. It would adapt well to becoming an action movie with plenty of chase scenes and very intense character interactions. I mean, when the Genoskwa... oh wait, spoiler - sorry. And when Karrin drew Fidelacchius... wait, more spoilers. But the chase scene was awesome! Then there was what happened at the Carpenter's house the second time, which I'll not go into because - you guessed it - spoilers. But you grok what I mean. :D



And lastly, like any good series, Jim Butcher leaves plenty of clues on what might be the next book's plot arc, or even the next three books. I don't see an end coming any time soon for the adventures of Harry Dresden and company. And you know how long wizards live. ;)



The one negative thing I will say is the end of the heist relied on a tomato surprise to work. Don't get me wrong, in a lesser writer's hands it would have been awful, and this was not. But the story needed just a little more foreshadowing  of what happened and I don't mean the "remember when I did this" sort of reveal that explained away the sudden plot twist. It would have been easy to foreshadow this in the story IMO. It could have been done right at the beginning. And I don't mean move the entire explanation scene of how it came to be to the front of the story. All Jim Butcher had to do was mention it in passing, and right after Mab picks up Harry from Demonreach would have been a perfect place in the story. It would have been front loaded with plenty of opportunity to be overlooked. Then I would be saying, "I can't believe I missed that!" instead of, "Really, you're going to do it that way?" Fortunately that wasn't the climactic scene, which was every bit as nail biting and rewarding as one could hope.



But all in all the book was well worth the time it took me to listen to it. It isn't literary in the genre sense as I wrote about in my Nebula Nominee list final thoughts, but it is highly entertaining and all in all an excellent and world to lose oneself in when the mundane world gets too pushy.

7 comments:

  1. Not sure either if the Dresden Files are Hugo material but there is no denying these are entertaining novels that sell very well. I have all books except for skin game (waiting for softcover) and the dvd series (only 1 season) as well.

    Another editor read the first half page of book one and based on that decided that skin game was not worth reading... Kinda silly since the books can be read standalone and the first few novels are not as good as the rest.

    Glad you read the book based on its own merits instead of dismissing it because it appeared on a puppy ballot (which he didn't ask for as far as I know).

    In all not bad for something that started out as a Harry Potter spoof designed to show his writing teacher how bad formulaic writing can be.
    Another supernatural detective is John Taylor from Simon R Green's Nightside novels but unlike Jim Butcher I am not sure I could recommend him to anyone.

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  2. Just to point out, but the easily-overlooked 'Tomato' foreshadowing you asked for was in there (and apparently, very easy to overlook, just like you asked for, so yay?) at the beginning, in chapter five. We go from talking with Mab at the hotel to talking with Murphy at her house, and (p39 in my paperback) just past halfway through the conversation with Murph, as soon as all the important backstory-for-people-who-haven't-been-reading-along stuff and playing-with-the-cat stuff is out of the way, Murphy asks, "...you left the meeting with Nicodemus three hours ago. Where've you been since then?" and Harry sings a round of the 'I'm-not-gonna-tell-you' chorus in reply.

    Also, @Raziel, the paperback came out a little while ago now. Check with your local indie bookstore...

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  3. I appreciate you pointing that scene out to me LordMelvin. I do remember the scene. I don't consider it a foreshadow. It's an I-have-a-secret line. It's a common enough writer gaffe when it come to foreshadowing. To be an effective foreshadowing, the line/paragraph/scene must tie directly to the final event it is meant to foreshadow. Harry should have said to Mab when they got done with the first Nicodemus meeting, "Okay, we'll do this your way but there's something you have to do for me if we're to succeed." (Or however Harry would actually say it. :/ ) There was a point in the story where Harry mentions the bar. That actually made me wonder if he'd been there recently. I suppose you could put the I-have-a-secret line with that and come up with the correct conclusion, but it still misses the vital piece of Mab having to assist. Harry doesn't have the pull by himself to pull off the-whatever-happened-in-those-three-hours, so I feel it is critical to show Mab's involvement. Can you honestly say the I-have-a-secret scene lept to your mind the moment the final vault scene began? If you can then kudos. I'll just claim my inexperience with Dresden File books is the reason I missed it. ;) Regardless, let's not give too much away for those who haven't read it yet. We could analyze this to pieces, come to no agreement, but thoroughly ruin it for others. I hate reviews that do that, which is why I try never to give spoilers. :)

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  4. Have not read Skin Game yet but am a big fan of the Dresden Files. Only thing comparable is the work of Steven Brust.

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  5. Malcolm RennoldsJune 10, 2015 at 8:06 AM

    Good review. One of the things I love about the Dresden Files is that you can jump in mid-series and still enjoy the books. I read Cold Days (book 14) thinking it was the first book for a while because I had no internet access at the time and the list of books in the series did not include Cold Days :). About 100 pages in I remember thinking (and saying to people I was out and about with) "There's all kinds of stuff popping up with little explanation, new powers and new characters." Yet there was just enough explanation, fast enough action and hard enough detecting to keep me going.

    I'm sad that Jim Butcher got listed as a Sad Puppy, because while he definitely writes pulp sf if you read all his books I'd guess his political leanings are fairly easy to surmise.

    Butcher, Sanderson, Scalzi and Richard Morgan are my favorite living authors. If you haven't read Altered Carbon (I think you have, actually either you and I or Tur and I had a conversation about it) you should definitely do so.

    Malcolm Rennolds

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  6. Private message:

    I'm wondering if you've read any of the accurate information about the Puppies groups, or are just following the official lines put forth by the Hugo groups.

    If you would like me to forward some of the contrary opinions, please feel free to let me know. While I don't follow all of what they have done, news of actions and writings of both sides has been covered in places that I read, and its not as simple as " frustrated young (ish) males who are upset the world doesn’t revolve around their wants and desires." If that is all that you know of them, you are sadly uninformed, and several female authors and supporters, as well as a number of successful rights champions would like a word with you.

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  7. You should go back and read some of my past posts about EVE Online that deal with the in game organization known as Goonswarm. You can glean a lot about my leanings in such matters from those posts. But just so you know, I'm not interested in having a conversation about Puppies, their agenda or their politics - or anyone else's for that matter. If you want to have a conversation about Skin Game let's, but the rest isn't worth my time frankly. You are certainly allowed to have your own opinions on such things, and please do express them on your own blog. Thanks for the message and have a splendid evening. - Mabrick

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Be civil, be responsible and most of all be kind. I will not tolerate poor form. There will be no James Hooks here. We are all better than that.