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This review is from: Skin Game: 15 (Dresden Files) (Hardcover)
If the Dresden Files series has taught Harry Dresden anything, it's that no matter how bad things get, they can always get a LOT worse. Embroider that on a pillow.
And after a few books of solid suck (not in book quality, just Harry's quality of life), "Skin Game" returns everyone's favorite noir wizard to action in Chicago... except he's working with the bad guys this time. Jim Butcher is in fine form here, mixing complex moral questions with ice-and-fire-slinging magic -- and bringing in some truly startling changes to Harry's life.
Harry is not happy when he finds out his next job as the Winter Knight. He's being loaned out to Nicodemus, leader of the Denarians, who is planning the ultimate heist: stealing a mysterious object from the vault of Hades. And sadly, Harry doesn't have the option of refusing, since he has a strange brain parasite that Mab will only remove if he does her bidding.
So he and Murphy join a ragtag team that Nicodemus is assembling: a warlock and her mercenary partner, an expert thief, a vast Bigfoot-like thug and... well, Goodman Grey. No, you don't find out what or who he is until the end. But the heist is instantly threatened by the Fomor and their Octokongs, Nicodemus' angry estranged wife, and... well, each other.
Yes, nobody in this merry band of misfits trusts or likes each other, and Harry knows that Nicodemus will find a way to betray him soon -- or even better, snare him into disgracing Mab. And even if he can survive long enough to actually participate in the heist, he'll have to outwit the most devious of the Denarians -- which might be a tall order even for a Warden/Winter Knight.
"Skin Game" is the end of a story arc that began in "Changes," bringing Harry back to some semblance of his old life and resolving the issues he's had ever since -- particularly the massive changes he's undergone by becoming the Winter Knight. A lot of urban fantasy characters have those tedious "am I a monster?" moments, which don't last long and are usually concluded with the protagonist being assured that they are just fine. See Anita Blake for a prime example.
But when it happens to Harry, it makes perfect sense -- not only did he kill his ex-girlfriend, but he's the lackey of a cruel ice queen and being loaned out to a literal demon of hell. Not only does he doubt himself, but some of his friends are worried about what he may become. And Butcher doesn't assure us that Harry is innately good, and that whatever he does will be okay. Instead, he twists Harry's angst into a powerful message about personal choices and human limitations. Harry might be corrupted, but he also might triumph.
Well, back to the fun stuff. "Skin Game" is the closest to a "normal" Dresden Files adventure since "Turn Coat" -- lots of explosions, grotesque monsters (octokongs!), and Harry being self-destructively snarky to all the wrong supernatural creatures ("Walk away and I won't call the Orkin man"). Butcher also manages to throw in some truly shocking twists that leave you baffled as to how things will work out -- and then follows those twists with even MORE shocking twists that will leave you grinning like an idiot.
And after three books of non-stop misery and craziness, Harry seems to be settling back into his old self -- his new battle cry is "Parkour!" and he's back to making pop-culture cracks all the time. However, he's also grown a lot, especially in his love for the daughter he's never even spoken to -- and he has a new relationship that promises to be, um, interesting.
A number of Dresden Files favorites are here as well -- Murphy, the heroically saintly Michael, Butters, Uriel, Mab -- as well as a few new faces that will hopefully reappear in the future (Hades, who seems like a guy Harry could have beer with). One character who is sadly scarce here is Bob -- I can only hope that Butcher brings him back in full in the books that follow.
What's the problem? Well, the semi-final climactic battle involves Butcher revealing that he pulled a switcheroo on the audience... which would be fine if the story weren't from Harry's limited first-person perspective. We're basically in his head, so earlier withholding information that he knows just doesn't work. Not fair!
"Skin Game" effectively wraps up a dark story arc for Harry, while sowing the seeds of adventures in future books -- and with a book this excellent, we can only hope that Mr. Butcher brings us more Dresden Files soon.