SKIN GAME by Jim Butcher

It’s pretty amazing that even this far into the DRESDEN FILES series, every time a new book gets published, Jim Butcher finds a way to make it all feel fresh and new.

By this point, Butcher has created an incredibly rich world full of fantastic allies and villains, and he’s able to keep things fresh by rotating the characters in and out of the story. In SKIN GAME, the 15th book in the DRESDEN FILES series, we see the return of Nicodemus. To balance the odds, Michael Carpenter, who quickly became one of my favorite Harry allies in GRAVE PERIL, returns to the action.

I’ve long said that Butcher seems like an author who gets better and better the more he gets to work with his characters and his world — not only in this series, but also in CODEX ALERA, where they got better and better as the story progressed. SKIN GAME feels like Butcher at his best — alternating humor and silliness with a heartfelt emotion and sincerity that is unlike any other author I’ve read.

We get Harry’s penchant for movie quotes and other assorted oddities (Parkour!), but at the same time, when his daughter Maggie comes into the story, the tone changes and we see once again how much family means to the Winter Knight. Butcher is so good at showing us Harry’s vulnerabilities that it’s almost easy to forget that by this point, almost everyone in the story who isn’t a fae queen or a god has pretty good reason to fear him.

Butcher also does an excellent job with the storytelling in this one. Under Mab’s orders, Harry must help Nicodemus steal the Holy Grail. Part of a team of independent contractors, we spend much of the story guessing at their motives, trying to figure out who is committed to Nicodemus’s cause and who might be convinced to help Harry when their inevitable clash takes place. Butcher has sometimes been great with the mystery portion of his story, and other times that aspect of his storytelling has been less successful, but this time it was especially fun to watch all the different personalities of this “The Usual Suspects”-style team working even as they all try to figure out one another’s angles.

At this point, DRESDEN FILES is probably my favorite series going, and the only complaint I have is that once I get my hands on these books I tend to plow right through them. It’s a good thing Butcher is such a proficient writer, because now I’ve probably got another year before I find out what happens next.

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