Thursday, July 10, 2014

Skin Game: The Dresden Files, Book No. 15, by Jim Butcher--Now Out on Bookstands!


Jim Butcher's brand new book, number 15 in the
Dresden Files Series, is available in various
formats: Kindle (e-book), Audio (Audiobook),
CD, and Hardcover editions. [1]
Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     Myths and Biblical stories abound about the fall of the mighty angels from heaven, and from God's grace. The stories go that Lucifer had threatened to overthrow God; not succeeding, God cast Lucifer and his minions out of heaven. Then, bitter and resentful, poisoned by his own anger and contempt, Lucifer decided that he would punish God by wreaking vengeance on God's children, Adam and Eve. 

     Adam and Eve, tempted by Lucifer (disguised as a serpent), gave in and sinned against God...then, too, man was cast out of Paradise. The stories all say that Lucifer and his companions have continued to wander the earth seeking the ruin of the souls of the children of Adam and Eve.  So, what do the fallen angels have to do with Jim Butcher's new book, Skin Game? Before we talk about that, let's take a quick look at the book's synopsis.

SOME SPOILERS (LIMITED) WITHIN:

SHORT BOOK SYNOPSIS:
Mab, The
Winter Queen. [2]
     In previous books we learned that Harry has become the Winter Knight to Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness. He must serve her no matter what she asks of him, and this time, you know he just isn't going to like it, not one little bit. For the past year Harry has been on the Island of Demonreach trying to deal with his increasingly bad headaches as the result of an entity growing in his head. Mab puts that all "on hold" by giving Dresden an enchanted "cold" earring for one ear to help keep him alive, telling him he only has days to complete his next assignment before he will die. She, of course, will save him if he completes his assignment successfully.

This is Hades and his three-headed dog, Cerberus.
Dresden and group are headed into Hades' realm to steal
the Holy Grail for Nicodemus. [3]

     This time around, the always mysterious Queen Mab has decided to enlist Harry to help pay one of her debts. Harry's skills as The Winter Knight/Wizard are offered to none other than Nicodemus, one of Harry's arch enemies. Harry is forced to comply or bad things could happen, and by that, we mean really dire consequences. Harry wants to protect the people for whom he cares, so he caves, and agrees to help the big bad baddie break into Hades', Lord of the Underworld's treasure vault! What? Who? Yes. Hades.

The assembled team resembles the
Mission Impossible team. This
image is a little funny since Harry
gets to set off fireworks in the story
for a "distraction." [4]
     In order to accomplish this feat, a team akin to the group from Mission Impossible is assembled and plans are drawn up. To get to Hades' vault they first have to break into Gentleman Johnny Marcone's vault--so they can access "The Ways" into the "Nevernever" (alternate plane). Harry and his backup (Karrin Murphy) know that to do so will bring down unending wrath and vengeance-seeking from Marcone. Since it is the only viable location in which to create a doorway into the Nevernever, Dresden agrees.
     
Karrin is a big supporter and love
interest for Harry Dresden. She is
great with weapons, especially guns--
Karrin is a badass in her own right. [5]
     And then...he learns what Nicodemus wants to steal from Hades. None other than the Holy Grail. The real Grail that disappeared so long ago. Dresden believes that there may be a reason, not disclosed, by Nicodemus, that he wants the Grail. What is his endgame? Dresden also knows that at some point along the way, after he has completed his tasks, Nicodemus will try to get rid of Harry. Dresden suspects everyone except Karrin, his backup.  

The heist from Hades' vault is to be
a quick break in, get out operation;
otherwise known as a smash and
grab. [6]
     The team goes in for the "smash-and-grab" job, Dresden anxious and knowing that someone is a "ringer" in the group. Dresden, constantly aware that someone will try to kill him sometime during the job, has Karrin along to watch his back...but the odds all change when he suddenly loses Karrin as his backup. What happens next will have you on the edge of your seat, turning page after page, frantically, anxious to find out the outcome of Dresden's sojourn into Hades' vault.     

WHAT I THINK ABOUT THE BOOK:
     WHAT WORKS FOR ME:

FIRST, THE ORDER OF THE BLACKENED DENARIUS:  
Top: Michael, Sanya & Dresden. Bot-
tom: Nicodemus and his Shadow. This
fan-inspired art was inspired from
Death Masks, Book 5. [7]
    So, what do the fallen angels that I referred to in the opening two paragraphs have to do with Jim Butcher's new book, Skin Game? In The Dresden Files Series, one of the big baddies is a character called "Nicodemus Archleone." Nicodemus is the leader of the "Fallen Angels." Being the leader of the Fallen Angels, Nicodemus is nearly invincible--made so by virtue of a very special neck tie he wears. It is the noose with which Judas hung himself. If he is separated from his talisman, he becomes susceptible to defeat. Over the series, Nicodemus has given Dresden no end of grief.

     For Nicodemus's followers, 30 of the Fallen Angels (called, The Order of the Blackened Denarius, or Denarians), their spirits reside within 30 Denarii--the same 30 pieces of silver Judas was paid to betray Jesus. The coins, in circulation from the time of Christ, become activated when an ordinary (often targeted) person picks up the coin and keeps it. The Fallen Angel then takes over the mind of the weak-willed person, causing that person to be corrupted and made to serve Nicodemus's plans. 


Dierdre, a very fierce Denarian
plays an important role in the new
Dresden Files book, Skin Game. [8]
     When going into battle, the Fallen can shapeshift to an alternate form. Nicodemus's daughter, for example, has very long metal ribbons of hair that can cut opponents to pieces. Dierdre, a member of the Order of the Blackened Denarius, plays a very important part in the new Dresden Files book. She appears as an ordinary woman until she shifts into this being with long metal razor-like hair. Another example of a Denarian shifting shape is Nicodemus, himself. Well, he doesn't shapeshift, exactly, but his shadow can fight you by grabbing, strangling, or hitting you (see the image just above, left).

[10]
     As bad guys go, the Denarians are great opponents to the good guys. You have to have someone capable of defeating the good guys, or the story just would fall flat. There has to, at least, be a contest, something that gives the good guys a run for their money. 

     Also, it is good for the plot to have the good guys lose every once in a while--and Dresden does lose, sometimes. He has lost people, objects, and even faith in himself. As a hero (or anti-hero), the good guys need to be capable of redemption or of overcoming their own failings and faults and be able to rise to the occasion when needed.

SECOND, THE TITLE OF THE BOOK:
"SKIN GAME":     

     I really love the title of this book. At first, I never thought much about the title, but as I read on I kept wondering how the title related to the story. It wasn't until I looked up, "skin game," that it all came together for me. 

     We know the definition. It is right there--I put it in the blue box with a graphic to help make the point. A rigged gambling game; a swindle. The man in the photo has an "ace" up his sleeve!

     What gambling game? Who has "rigged" it? What, "swindle?" Who has the ace up the sleeve?  Who is the one to lose at this game of chance? Ah, me. If I gave you the answers to these questions, I would have to tell all. I can't do that or it would utterly spoil the book for you. But just to say, it is soooooo delicious! You will love finding the answers out for yourself! You have got to get the book and read it to discover just how much fun reading this delightful story is.

THIRD, QUESTIONS ANSWERED AND QUESTIONS ASKED:
     I had a lot of questions after reading, Cold Days, and as I started reading Skin Game. For instance:
[11]
  • What about the "thing," or "entity" growing in Harry's head? And what about the headaches?
  • Will Dresden and Karrin ever get together, or will Butcher just continue to tease us with the relationship?
  • Will we EVER see a new Knight of the Cross? I mean, really, I've been waiting a very long time to see at least one person get one of the swords!
  • What will happen to Molly, now that she is a Winter Queen? Has she changed? What will her family say? Will Michael blame Harry? Will Charity ever get over it...or will she just be forever angry at Harry?
  • What direction is Jim Butcher taking the series with the more prominent Christian themes (as seen in Skin Game)?
    Toot-toot doesn't appear
    in Skin Game.[12]
  • What about the missing characters from this book (Skin Game) like Toot-toot, Captain Hook, and Harry's brother Thomas Wraith? With Harry off the island (Demonreach), why haven't more of his friends shown up? I love Butcher's character of Thomas Wraith--I want more, will he oblige?
  • What direction will Butcher take in regards to Harry's daughter?
  • And, of course, a really BIG ONE for me, how will Harry get out from under the mantle of being the Winter Knight? And, when?
Boy, does this ever sound like
Harry Dresden! [13]
     Of course, there are more questions; I'm sure you have your own; these are just the ones I find most intriguing and wish were answered. In fact, in the book, Skin Game, some of these questions are answered. I will NOT tell you which ones. You'll have to discover that for yourself. But my, oh my! Will you ever love the read! Some horrible things happen, some really wonderful things happen...it is all just sooooo delicious!

     I also have to tell you that a few new characters appear in the story (you probably figured). Anyway, there was a nice scene at the end of the book with one of these new characters (I won't say who). I really hope Butcher brings back this new character, as I'd like to see more of him.

Molly & Mouse. [14]
     Without telling you how they are involved in the book, I will tell you that we get to see Mouse, again, Bob the Skull, Fidelacchius (and Amoracchius), Harry's daughter, Nicodemus and his daughter, Dierdre, Karrin (of course), Butters, Michael Carpenter, and all the baddies I mentioned, above, Molly and Charity, and Johnny Marcone, and a few others. Some appear only in small ways, but you will definitely love all the characters.

WHAT DIDN'T WORK FOR ME:
     Even given all the good things I've said about the book, a couple of things could have been better. Given the surprises in the story, and some really wonderful reveals, and a few very memorable twists and turns, I would have expected more than just a "basic" story line. Here, the basic overarching journey through the story is the oh so predictable Hero's Journey. 

     The Hero's Journey begins typically, as the hero leaves home; for Dresden, it was (Demonreach), The call to Adventure (by Mab), Refusal of the Call (Dresden struggles against going), Crossing the threshold (getting on Mab's boat and leaving the island), The Belly of the Whale (The warehouse), The Road of Trials (various encounters in preparation for the underworld journey),  etc. Very predictable and staid. But, that having been said, it still is a very fun read.

Harry Dresden riding
Sue, the T-Rex. [15]
     Second criticism: Harry's injuries. I know, I know, he is the Winter Knight, and he has great recuperative powers, but, really.... Just how many injuries can he take in every book, recover, and go on to do it again in the next book. I won't tell you what injuries he gets, or where or when, just...well it just all seems a bit too much for anyone to handle. And even with his serious injuries, he fights on? Really? Really? So implausible. And, I, for one, am so used to suspending my disbelief at most things in a wild fantasy ride (especially in Jim Butcher's previous novels): for example, a reanimated T-Rex Harry can ride on (my favorite scene in all of Butcher's novels).

MY RECOMMENDATIONS AND RATING:

     Yes, there is violence in the book, even murder, injuries (gunshots, blood, stabbing, broken bones, etc.), sex, and general scariness. However, I would only suggest restraint for those people sensitive to these themes and young people for whom it would be inappropriate. For the targeted audience, mature adults, this book is fine. I would even heartily recommend it to lovers of fantasy and especially to lovers of the Dresden Series.

     I do recommend to everyone that you should read the earlier books first before diving into this book; in this series everything builds upon something else. Relationships are made and sundered, old and new characters interact, and often the history of the relationship is paramount in understanding the story. 

Rating: 4.5 Stars out of 5. [16]
     For all the reasons I have given, above, I am pleased to recommend this book to appropriate readers, and give it a 4.5 star rating. I LOVED this book! I am glad to see Dresden examining his life and trying to get back to being someone of whom he can be proud. I especially liked his scene with Michael Carpenter, where he finally confesses his killing of Susan (in the book, Changes.) and his reasons for doing so. I was ready to chuck the whole series at that point, but it looks as if Butcher is bringing Dresden back from the dead (metaphorically speaking)--I hope!

[17]
     Thank you for joining me this week to look at Jim Butcher's recently released book from The Dresden Files (Book 15), Skin Game. Please join me, again, next time, as I have the wonderful opportunity to review another fun and exciting book--one that will be coming to a big screen near you. 

     In Skin Game, we had literal "backstabbing." In the real world, words can cut like knives--take the high road, don't gossip about others, or say unkind things to people that can wound them. Take care, my friends, and be kind and gentle with each other. All my love to you.

Until next time...
Double White Rose of Sharon. [18]

...many happy pages of reading.

Sharon.







_________________________________________________________
REFERENCES
[1] "Skin Game: The Dresden Files, Book 15." amazon.com. Retrieved 07-08-14.
[2] "Mab, The Winter Queen." pandorarp.com. Retrieved 07-08-14.
[3] "Hades and Cerberus." [by nemca-d5w3szb.jpg] dresdenfiles.wikia.com. Retrieved 07-08-14.
[4] "Mission Impossible." rapgenius.com. Retrieved 07-08-14.
[5] "Karrin Murphy." [deviant art] quoteko.com. Retrieved 07-08-14.
[6] "Smash and Grab, Part 1."  hellskate.com. Retrieved 07-08-14.
[7] "Death Masks v2." [by MrSinister616] deviantart.com. Retrieved 07-08-14. 
[8] "Dierdre." [by Bteir] deviantart.com. Retrieved 07-08-14. 
[9] "Cheating in Las Vegas." casinosevolution.com. Retrieved 07-08-14.
[10] "Keep Calm and Love Bad Boys." keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk. Retrieved 07-09-14.
[11] "Do You Have More Questions." morrisontheweb.com. Retrieved 07-09-14.
[12] "Toot-toot."  dresdenfiles.wikia.com. Retrieved 07-09-14.
[13] "Scumbag Brain." quickmeme.com. Retrieved 07-09-14.
[14] "Molly and Mouse." [by C.J.Kennedy] deviantart.com. Retrieved 07-09-14.
[15] "Harry Dresden and Sue, the T-Rex." [by DSillustration] Retrieved 07-09-14.
[16] "My Final Rating for Healthy Affiliate." passionequalssuccess.com. Retrieved 07-09-14.
[17] "Be Kind to One Another." [by Andi Bird] redbubble.com. Retrieved 07-09-14.
[18] "Pictures From my Garden." sparkpeople.com. Retrieved 06-18-14.