If you haven’t read the Dresden Files, this is not the place to start. Similarly, if you’re not familiar with the series, I’m not quite sure how best to describe it based on this book. The Dresden Files began as noir-inspired urban fantasy, focused on the straight white male wish-fulfillment protagonist Harry Dresden, everyone’s favorite (i.e. the only) wizard Private Investigator in Chicago. According to Jim Butcher, the first book was originally written to prove just how awful formulaic genre writing could be. Lo and behold, Butcher was actually very good at following genre formulae in generally gratifying ways, and the series has been quite successful.
Thankfully, though it’s still noir-inspired urban fantasy, the series has grown and changed. Harry Dresden isn’t the same character that he was 15 books ago, and I don’t believe Butcher is still writing to prove just how terrible his writing can be. The story’s background has grown in depth and complexity, and while not every book has been totally up to snuff (and some of them have their worse sections), I’m still quite thoroughly hooked. In fact, Skin Game is probably my favorite book in the series to date. I know, that whole bit about “written to prove how awful formulaic genre writing could be” isn’t exactly the best selling point. Nor does it put “my favorite book in the series to date” in a very good light.
But the Dresden Files offers up a very specific flavor of story, and it’s one that I have found well-nigh irresistible ever since I read the first book. It’s a little like guilty pleasure junk food, to be honest, and seeing the series get better over time just makes me feel better about my decision to keep consuming it. It helps that the legacy of semi-covert noir-inspired misogyny has been slowly leeching out of the books, and I’m glad that the series has reached a point where Harry will more or less listen when his friends call him on his shit.
Enough about the series, how about the book?
Like I said, Skin Game is probably my favorite in the series thus far. It deals with a number of dangling loose ends that have been floating around for the past several books, and, like any good series novel, leaves us with a great number of additional pieces to follow up on in the future. I might find that aggravating if I weren’t so looking forward to seeing what happens next. As it is, I’m intrigued and in the mood for more.
I’m afraid I can’t really talk about the book in any real depth without spoiling things that happened in previous books (one of the perils of a long series following a single storyline), so…
Careful, the next bit will have some *SPOILERS*
Not everything is sunshine and roses, though I suppose it could be worse. I’m still not a big fan of Butcher’s old decision to write Harry’s subconscious as a cheesy joke (though I suppose I can’t complain about him poking fun at Harry, since I love that myself). Pretty much any time that Harry’s subconscious shows up, I groan and get ready for a few silly reveals and lurking premonitions. This book didn’t disappoint on that front. At least Butcher isn’t trying to retcon the whole thing, which would be even more jarring.
On the plus side, this time around the reveal was way better than what had been hinted at up until that point. I’m talking about the whole not-a-parasite-but-a-mind-baby thing. I’m really glad that Karrin Murphy bursts into laughter when Harry tells her that he’s mind-pregnant. That whole twist (it’s not a parasite, it’s a mind baby!) is just so ridiculous that having someone in-story laugh at it makes me feel much better. I should also say, I prefer the mind baby twist to just having it be a parasite remnant of Lash for fairly specific reasons; however much I enjoy seeing old characters return, I often feel that resurrecting dead characters cheapens whatever decisions they made that led to their death. However ridiculous it is that Lash’s selfless act of taking a bullet for Harry somehow means that it was love and love means babies, at least the baby-twist better honors Lash’s choice than having Lash herself come back.
Also, I felt like Butcher dialed way back on the uncomfortable sexual material that had gotten so much more play in Cold Days. I’m glad, to be perfectly honest, because that seemed over the top. On a similar note, I was happy to see more competent female characters who weren’t simply supernatural beings and who weren’t treated first and foremost as sex objects. I hope that pattern continues.
I think I’ll wrap it up there for the moment. I liked the book quite a bit, and I’d definitely recommend it, but you’d have to work your way through all the earlier books first and I’m well aware that that slog isn’t going to be for everyone. I like the books, but they definitely fall closer to good junk food than well-rounded meal.