Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Skin Game

Very belatedly, I finished reading Jim Butcher's Skin Game last night; the 15th and most recent entry in the Dresden Files series, of which I've long been a pretty big fan.  It's unusual for me to be so late in reading an entry in this series (coming up on nearly a year since it was first released) and it's unusual in that I read it very slowly; actually, I had been only about half way through it for the better part of four weeks when I got stuck in a repair shop waiting on new tires, a front end alignment, and replacement ball joint and tie rods (pretty expensive; not recommended if you can help it) for me to plow through about 150 pages and get within striking distance of the finish yesterday.  Once I got there, of course, the book fell into place very quickly.

And it's not because it was a weaker entry in the series.  Proven Guilty and Ghost Story are the weakest entries, and this book is significantly better than either of them.  It may not be as good as some of the best of them either (like Dead Beat, Small Favor, Changes, etc.) but it's a worthy entry.  No, the culprit is more complicated and has everything to do with me.

If you're a fan of the series and haven't read this yet, you should.  I recommend it.

What does it bring new to the table?  Ever since Changes in particular, each volume has had rather dramatic changes to the status quo of Harry's world, his relationships, his friends and enemies.  One thing that I'm a little surprised and disappointed in, however, is that the White Council itself has been largely absent for three books in a row; other than a small cameo of The Gatekeeper in Cold Days that actually has little to do with his membership on the council anyway.  Mab and the Winter Court of Fairies makes, as she has in the last several books, a heavy-handed appearance.  To be honest with you, I'm a little bit fatigued with fairy business in the series, and would like to see a return to... something else.  Anything else.  What about that Jade Court of vampires, huh?  Who are they?  Are we going to find out?  I don't see that changing anytime soon; certainly not before the next book, but maybe we'll be able to see it change in the next book, which is supposedly now going to be called Peace Talks.  Between whom?  The big war of the last few books was between the White Council and the Red Court, and it ended four books ago.

The Denarians feature dramatically, and are dramatically changed too, as a result of this book.  Harry's relationships with Maggie and Murph change dramatically.  And, he has another daughter of sorts, although it's not human, it's an intellect spirit; a kind of young, female version of Bob.  The Knights of the Sword feature importantly, and also see significant change as an organization.

Butcher has shown in several occasions that he's good at crafting really incredible scenes; snippets that have to be read over and over again, because they're just really good and stand out above the rest of the novel, even.  In this case, for me there were two scenes, and both were rather quiet, interpersonal dialogue interactions rather than big action scenes.  When Harry and Maggie first speak was just extremely well-written and emotional.  And when Harry and Hades have an interview together--yes, that Hades--it's another one of my favorite scenes in the book.  I'm actually quite pleased to see Greek mythology finally get its due in the series.  It was overdue.

I'm not going to worry too much about spoiling here, since the book is nearly a year old and anyone who's been following the series has probably already read it.  Rather, let me talk about what I'd like to see coming in the near term for the series.  The plan was, give or take a few books, I suppose, that there would be twenty "case" books followed by a big three-part finale.  That makes for only five more case books.  Of course, the case books have done a lot to set the stage for the finale.  But more needs to be done.

This dalliance with being the Winter Knight and the heavy involvement with the fairies seems like a tangent.  The lack of any kind of contact with the White Council also feels the same way.  I'd like to see Harry (and Molly) find a way to more or less amicably end their fairy involvement and get back into White Council business.  There's still a lot of corruption in the White Council that needs to be rooted out and found.  There's still little--if really anything at all--that we know about the so-called Black Council and Nemesis; heck, we never even suspected such a thing until Cold Days, which also told us little if anything about it.

Although maybe I'm being a little harsh.  One of my friends, Cory "Barsoomcore" Reid once said, of his scary, Ten Who Were Taken like super-villainous characters, that they all believed that they were saving the world.  Sometimes from each other, but certainly from something.  Conversations Harry had with Deidre of the Denarians makes me wonder if they aren't in that same vein.

Anyway, I'm excited to see the series continue.  But I'm excited to see it start going somewhere, which to be fair, it's done a fair bit of in the last five books or so, where major upsets to the status quo which existed for most of the first ten books was verboten.  But I do feel like it's been treading water just a bit with this major fairy side-story.

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