Fiction Reviews

Skin Game: The Dresden Files

(2014) Jim Butcher, Orbit, 18.99, hrdbk, 454pp, ISBN 978-0-356-50090-4


He's back, Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professional wizard for hire, although he doesn't seem to be spending much time in Chicago these days, given that he is acting as Warden of the island penal colony of Demonreach, nor is he a wizard for hire anymore as he is the Winter Knight, and solely employed by Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness, who in order to repay a debt has loaned him out to take part in a caper, a heist, a bank job, although in Harry's world nothing could be that simple.

For one thing he is getting these headaches, killer headaches that all but immobilise him, and they are slowly killing him, or they will unless Molly can intervene, but she's nowhere in sight and all Mab can do is give Harry an earring to alleviate some of the pain and hire out his services to Nicodemus Archleone, the head of the Knights of the Blackened Denarius, who has turned up in previous novels like Death Masksand Small Favour and he and Harry have some 'previous', which is putting it mildly, but settling scores will have to wait until they have broken into a high security vault which them will give them access through the Nevernever to another vault belonging to Hades in his Underworld kingdom where they will steal the Holy Grail. 'Simples', as a certain meerkat might say.

Nicodemus has put together his own team, some of which are familiar faces to Harry, such as Binder the Summoner, who is joined by Nicodemus' psychotic daughter, Deirdre, a warlock named Hannah Ascher, and a shape-shifter called Goodman Grey. On his side, Harry calls on his old friend, Murphy, for back-up. But anyone on the other side be trusted? Of course not, and clearly Nicodemus is playing some sort of long-game here, which Harry can only guess at. I mean why do they want the Holy Grail? Or rather, why does the person who employed them want the Holy Grail?

Skin Game is something of a return to form, partly bringing the old Harry back, it's fast paced, it's funny, it has the usual twists and turns, some old characters, some underused old characters, some interesting new ones, great battles, scores to settle, etc, etc, (oh, and parkour), and maybe even a hint of romance, but it does not really develop some of the dangling plot lines from the previous book, about the Outsiders and the Winter Court, so this almost reads like a separate adventure, a diversion, a caper, a crime novel trope overlaid on some urban fantasy. If I have one problem with the novel it's the first-person narrator, which removes the threat of real harm. Harry has already died in this series, so how bad can things get?

This is book 16, but novel 15 in the series as one of the previous offerings was a short story collection and while the cover art is to admired, perhaps portraying Harry as a Clint Eastwood-ish character with maybe the jutting chin and high cheekbones of a young Rob Lowe, I always think of Harry as looking like Paul Blackthorne who played him in the late-lamented TV series, The Dresden Files who had a slightly furtive, harassed look, but Harry lives on in books, audio books, comics and graphic novels. Maybe he will grace the screen again? But until then followers of the series will lap this up, and newcomers are advised to head back to the beginning and start with Storm Front, and then read the next fourteen books, and maybe we will all reconvene in a year's time for Peace Talks, the sixteenth novel in the series.

Ian Hunter

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