I’m gonna say it right away so as not to build up any kind of suspense: Skin Game is not really my style. I didn’t like it much, but that’s not to diss on the book or Jim Butcher too hard. One of the perennial problems of science fiction and fantasy fans is that all the books your friends want you to read seem to be one in a massive series that tops 3,000 pages and requires serious time commitment.
So, here’s the good news: Skin Game makes sense even though I haven’t read any of the other books. There were references to previous happenings in earlier books, but I never felt like I was out of my depth. Maybe an experienced Dresden Files fan would find more pleasure out of bits here and there, but if you were afraid that you missed something the first time around, you could always read it again after plowing through the first 14 books in the series.
This entry features wizard Harry Dresden, who is forced by his boss, Queen Mab, to work in league with an evil demon neither of them like in order to steal something from the vault of Hades. Yes, as in Greek god Hades. Dresden gets the impression working with an enemy will involve a lot of two-timing and double crossing. He’s right.
I personally don’t care for the constant suspicion and characters pissing each other off and fighting to near-death injury every other chapter. I actually thought the constant danger and chapter-end cliffhangers made the book feel repetitive. I also didn’t care for Dresden as a narrator much. He’s sarcastic and goofy, sure, but does that mean he has to shout “Parkour!” while he’s dodging ice that might kill him? Does he really have to say “Ha ha” with the same inflection as the bully from The Simpsons? What is that? Don’t do that.
The magic is interesting and Butcher has concocted a veritable menagerie of magical creatures, but that wasn’t quite enough for me. A couple of major plot points were resolved too quickly for my tastes. And while I will give Butcher credit for writing a lot of female characters into the plot, I kind of wish they hadn’t all been petite and sexy (or at least not outright described that way). Karrin Murphy—who I should mention is petite, but not conventionally beautiful—wins the award for feeling like the most real and well-rounded character in the book.
If Butcher wanted to write a series centered around her, I would consider picking that one up.
Overall, I found the book entertaining, but not particularly deep or compelling in a way that makes it worthy of a Hugo. But that’s not to say it didn’t deserve a nomination. It’s a successful book in a successful series, and that’s to be applauded. As long as I can applaud it from afar.
If any of my gripes sound like real sticking points to you, you can afford to skip this entry. If you like humor and some action and some magic of the kind mentioned above, give it a try (especially if you liked the humor of Andy Weir’s The Martian. That book shares DNA with this one). If you’re a fan of the Dresden Files, read this! Why haven’t you yet?
Image via Jim Butcher.