Review: Skin Game by Jim Butcher (2014)

Skin Game

If you thought The Dresden Files was starting to lose its way then reading Skin Game will prove you wrong.  Harry Dresden’s  latest case is a tough one: he has to break into the highest security vault in town under orders from his new boss, The Winter Queen, and to do so he has to work with a previous villain who’s previously tried to kill.

It’s the fifteenth book in this series so if you’re never heard of Harry Dresden or read one of his cases this is not a good place to start and if you’ve not read Changes, Ghost Story or Cold Days go catch up first as those are fundamental to seeing how Jim Butcher has altered the game which is being played out as part of the bigger picture.

It has been a bit of a rough transition as Dresden and Butcher work best when solving a case, which is exactly what Skin Game is all about, but the last few books have been dealing with a climax of a story arc and its aftermath and in doing so lost that familiar feeling. Luckily, here the bigger picture takes a back seat.

Since Changes there has been a void in Chicago, a Dresden-shaped one, and rather than protecting those close to him his absence has confused and hurt them. And Butcher addresses some of those relationship issues as a fundamental part of the plot, which shows that Butcher has grabbed hold of Harry and given him a good shake.

It was definitely needed as Harry isn’t good on his own. And so much is put to right’s here. It feels like ‘classic’ Harry is back. The heist formula adds focus and allows Butcher to play games with the reader leading to a clever and satisfying climax.

Everything that makes Dresden is here. The tricks of fairies, the Christian themes, the problems, the damsels, the manipulation and the ‘big bang’ ending.  If you love Harry you’ll love this. Though if you don’t like the ‘Dresden’ view of the world this won’t change anything.

Let’s go back to the damsels. A criticism of this series is the view that Harry Dresden has of women, especially his male gaze. That is still here and in some way it’s enhanced by the new power has from Winter. He is what he is. That isn’t to say that all the female characters are sexualised but there is a strong testosterone smell in the air.

Is that damaging? As I said at the start over fourteen books have established the characters, their personalities and their dynamics. It would be impossible to drastically alter this without making those changes feel false. And, this isn’t excusing anything but Harry has always been portrayed as a night with a weakness for wanting to save damsels in distress.

There is a glimmer of hope of fatherhood and  family with  its  inherent responsibilities, which I hope will give another aspect of Harry for Butcher to explore.

I guess the representation is ‘traditional’. It’s not progressive. I’m not sure it’s derogatory (your milage may vary). But I’d like to see less objectification certainly.

As I was reading I couldn’t put it down. The heist has a tight window and that adds tension to the whole thing. It’s a constraint that works perfectly. Butcher, as I’ve said, still manages character development by having Harry’s ego humbled with conversions with old friends, especially welcome is seeing Michael make a much needed return.

Harry Dresden’s place as the leading Urban Fantasy Detective remains. Butcher has a plan. Harry is back on form. And for a Dresden book this is practically perfect. I can’t wait to read what happens next year.