Review of Skin Game by Jim Butcher (SPOILER KLAXON!!!)

skingameOn May 27th the entertainment event of the year (until England win the World Cup [side note I’m not delusional I know England have about as much chance of winning the World Cup as Harry Dresden does of inviting Nicodemus to his daughter’s next birthday party]) touched down onto planet Earth. I am of course referring to the latest Harry Dresden adventure thriller “Skin Game”.

In case you haven’t read it yet or are unaware of the Dresden series then things are briefly as follows. Harry Dresden is a powerful wizard/ private detective who is sucked into an increasingly dangerous, high stakes world. Skin Game is book 15 in the series. Whilst I recommend the series I would not recommend starting with Skin Game. To avoid confusion you would at least need to go back to book four or five.

The plot of “Skin Game” revolves around one very reluctant Winter Knight Harry Dresden being forced to into a heist under the leadership of the noose wearing, independent shadow having, coin collecting Nicodemus Archleone. The location of the target. The bowels of the ancient Greek underworld. The target who the Hades knows what.

It’s a great set up for a novel and Skin Game certainly deserves its place in the Pantheon of the always exciting Dresden Files. To flesh this out a bit I will briefly explain the snake-like manner in which I consumed Skin Game.

Skin Game hit my Kindle at one minute past midnight on the 27th and I had finished it by around 3pm the next day. I took my time in getting the review up however, because I felt I needed to continue my reread of the earlier Dresden Files and then read Skin Game again in order to offer an opinion that moved behind it’s great.

You see as much as I enjoyed Skin Game I feel it’s parts don’t quite hang together structurally. Butcher doesn’t quite pull off the perfect heist. For starters it is painfully obvious that Harry has set the trap up in the opening hours of the novel. As such Butcher never managed to convince me that Harry was in real danger in the way he has in the past. Although to give Butcher his due I didn’t work out what Harry’s ace in the hole was.

The problem then is that the heist idea and the emotional character stuff don’t suit each other. I thought the way that the crew broke into Baron Marcone’s vault was a bit too simple. Instead of using the equivalent of a frontal charge to break in it would have been better if they had been forced to creep in via stealthy means. This could have really ratcheted up the tension and played off the very justifiable lack of trust that the heist crew have with each other. However, this set up would have made doing the necessary character stuff near impossible narratively speaking.

The heist plot then wasn’t as tight and taut as it could have been. To prove my point here is a spoilerific list of some of the important stuff that occurred in Skin Game (in no particular order. Oh SPOILER WARNING).

A new Knight of the Cross was found, a holy sword was broken and then lightsaberised, Harry became a proper dad, Karrin and Harry admitted their love, the “parasite” turned out to be a spirit of intellect conceived by Harry and the shadow Lash (which meant Harry was pregnant), Harry took a holy sword back into his safekeeping, Harry picked up four incredibly power holy weapons/artifacts, worryingly Nicomedius got the Holy Grail, the corruption of elements of the church was all but confirmed, it was revealed that Harry is able to hold conversations with the prisoners in Demonreach and Mouse is learning stuff in school.

I think it is fair to say that Skin Game moved important pieces to where they need to be for the series conclusion. Whether it was wise to do this whilst running a complex heist plot is open to question and for me the answer is that it was not the best choice.

Plus I’m now very worried for the safety and happiness of all of Harry’s friends. I know things have been rough for the last few books but everything seems to be coming together too early for a happy ending.

These criticisms/worries aside I really enjoyed Skin Game. The emotional character payoffs were done brilliantly. The Karim duel against Nicky in particular was exceptional. There were also some great one liners like Harry saying “come with me if you want to live” and Hades revealing that Socrates punishment/fate is that people question him in the Underworld (I kind of feel he deserves it but then so did the ancient Athenians).

Overall, then Skin Game was good to very good but it didn’t scale new heights for the series in the way that I felt it had the potential to do. Still the best book of the year though.

Things to look forward to in 2014

With 2014 just starting off I thought I would take this opportunity take a look at the TV, films and books coming out in the next twelve months that I am really looking forward to.

Harry Dresden is back

It was almost 12 months ago exactly that I first started to read Jim Butcher’s fantastic Dresden Files. So engrossed was I in the world of the Chicago wizard that I raced through all 14 books in about three weeks.

Its fair to say that I am looking forward to the next book Skin Game. I would be excited for a new Dresden book regardless but the plot details we have sound (and I don’t use this word lightly) awesome.

The plot details are as follows according to Jim Butcher’s site

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.

It’s a smash-and-grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry.

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….

Yep, I will be reading this the moment it comes out.

Interesting Sci-fi movies

The last few years have included a lot of really dumb and bad sci-fi movies like Transformers and Looper. 2014 looks like it might be something of a sea-change as post-inception and cloud atlas film makers attempt for expansive and interesting science fiction movies.

The Wachowski Siblings have got ‘Jupiter Ascending’ out this year. I’ve really enjoyed their previous work (The Matrix Trilogy, Cloud Atlas) and the Jupiter Ascending trailer looks interesting.

Along with Jupiter Ascending is ‘Transcendence’ directed by Wally Pfister of Batman fame and Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar‘ and the new X-Men. It could be a banner year for sci-fi films despite the upcoming new Transformer Blockbuster.

Archer Season 5

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If you’ve read me review of the book ‘How to Archer’ you will know I’m a huge Archer fan. The new series should be hilarious. Although my comic con spies tell me that the cast and writers are promising something different from previous seasons. I’ve got Kenny Loggins on speed dial cos they might be about to enter the DANGERZONE.

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

Carlin’s Hardcore History is easily the best podcast/history related program that is going. So well researched and large are his episodes that they are essentially audiobooks. He still manages around five a year however which is pretty good. The next one cannot come soon enough.

The World Cup

I’m a big football fan. The World Cup is a once every four year opportunity to watch lots of high quality football. Please don’t humiliate us England.

Lastly more posts on this blog.

Thoughts on Day of the Doctor

I’ve thought long and hard about whether I was going to share my thoughts on the Doctor Who special ‘Day of the Doctor’. I mean it was probably over a month since the special aired and its was well received.

This time lapse is partly why I titled this ‘Thoughts’ rather than ‘Review’.

To start off with I enjoyed the Day of the Doctor. It had a lot of that which is best about Doctor Who. Fun zany time travel. I’m all on board with Queen Elizabeth being in love with the Doctor. This sort of ‘secret history’ is always welcome in my eyes. I also enjoyed the idea of being able to step through paintings. On top of all this David Tennant featured strongly in the special and he is just fantastic as an actor.

I even enjoyed the plot of the episode for the most part but now we get to the reason why I thought long and hard about writing this. You see I am not a big fan of Doctor Who.

In the period when I was growing up Doctor Who had been consigned to limbo by BBC big wig Michael Grade so when it came back on TV a few years ago I had no childhood nostalgia with which to fall back on I judged it as I found it. For the most part with its reliance on sonic screwdrivers to solve plots deus ex machina I wasn’t in love.

One thing that I really did like about the Doctor was the darkness thatwas kept within him. Faced with an impossible decision. The Doctor made the right moral choice even though this put the blood on millions on his hands. This type of choice is the same reason why Harry Dresden is so awesome for some of the choices he has to make (I am deliberately avoiding spoilers).

For TV executives and writers who see the Doctor as a cash cow that is now exported worldwide I imagine this is not a fact which they particularly like. This is why they crafted an end to the ‘Day of the Doctor’ that completely removes this character depth/awesomeness from the timeline. Doctor Who’s final step to becoming a show for pre-teens. How very disappointing.