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Skin Game (Dresden Files) by Jim Butcher
Cover Artist: Chris McGrath
Review by Drew Bittner
Roc Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451464392
Date: 27 May 2014 List Price $27.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

As Winter Knight, Harry Dresden knew there'd be days like this. But even so, being ordered by Winter Queen Mab to assist Nicodemus Archleone in an epic heist was never part of his job description. Now the challenge isn't so much how to pull off this caper as it is surviving it....

In Skin Game, Jim Butcher puts Harry Dresden through an emotional wringer--coming to terms with a lot of things from the recent past--while engaging him in a truly herculean feat: help Nicodemus, the leader of the hellish Knights of the Blackened Denarius, to break into the vault of a supernatural powerhouse way out of Harry's league.

Just another day at the beach, right?

Except that Harry has a parasite growing inside his head that will kill him in three days if it isn't removed. His sentient island, Demonreach, is helping keep the effects at bay, but Harry's been stuck there for months and is no closer to a solution on his own. Mab's assignment offers a hope of assistance, with the corresponding stick that she'll let him die if he doesn't do as she commands. Either way, she wins.

Harry gets backup from Karrin Murphy, his ex-cop best friend, who acts as Harry's second on this job. Naturally Harry can't stay out of trouble where Nicodemus is concerned, and Murphy ends up out of the action. This forces Harry to enlist another old friend, one who's been out of the game for awhile.

He'll need all the help he can get. Nicodemus's crew includes Binder (an old foe of Harry's, able to summon a posse of ectoplasmic thugs), Hannah Ascher (an amazingly talented pyrokinetic), Goodman Grey (a mysterious mercenary), a homicidal Bigfoot known as the Genoskwa, and Deirdre, Nicodemus's own demon-possessed daughter. Not only that, but the parameters of this job will test Harry's resolve to prevent any bystander casualties and put him at odds with an old frenemy. Upholding Mab's honor, in this case, is going to require every ounce of ingenuity Harry possesses.

While setting up the job, Harry is injured and treated by his old ally Waldo Butters, who makes Harry realize how bad things have gotten...and how negligent Harry has been. Without Harry or his former apprentice Molly in town, things are getting worse by the day, and those who know what's happening are largely powerless to stop it. Harry considers all of that carefully, but the stakes hit home when sees his daughter, Maggie.

Harry knows Nicodemus will betray him and try to kill him. But what does he want in that vault? That bit of knowledge could spell the difference between winning and losing, and if there's one thing about Harry Dresden, he hates to lose.

This new installment of the Dresden Files draws upon the history of the last several novels in creating a huge internal conflict for Harry, while his longstanding hatred of the Knights drives his external conflict. He can't allow Mab's promise of help to be broken, but there are lots of cogs moving in this piece of clockwork and not everything is as it seems. Watching Harry maneuver through this minefield is half the fun of the book.

The rest comes from the supporting cast Butcher has so lovingly constructed over the many books in the series. Michael Carpenter offers Harry some badly needed guidance and support, while the Archangel Uriel puts in an unexpected appearance with help of his own. Murphy and Butters and even Molly give Harry a hand here and there, though one ill-advised action ends up handing an enormous victory to Nicodemus.

Butcher is a past master at putting characters through the wringer, and this book shows him using everything he's learned as a novelist. There are moments of happiness to punctuate the dangers all around, there are clearly defined stakes for Harry and things that might yet happen (for the good) if he succeeds, and yet the battle goes worse for the heroes as the story goes on. If Harry Dresden's heroism is measured by the villainy he faces, Harry is one amazing hero--and that's doubly true here.

Plus there's a moment when one character steps up to his destiny that you will have to see to believe.

Fans will love it, but new readers should start at the beginning (I always say this) because 1) the series is just that good and 2) you'll appreciate what Harry's facing if you know the context. It's well worth the trip and Butcher only gets better with every book.

Highly recommended.

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