Category Archives: dresden files

Review: Skin Game by Jim Butcher

Skin Game (The Dresden Files, #15)

Jim Butcher’s on-going Dresden Files has been one of the best things in the publishing world for a long time now. Each new book is a must read for me and I eagerly look forward to the moment I can crack the cover and spend a few hundred pages with my favorite wizard, Harry Dresden.

So maybe I had my expectations set a bit too high for the fifteenth installment, Skin Game.

It’s not that Skin Game is a terrible book or a jump the shark moment for the series. But it just didn’t quite thrill me as much as some of the other recent installments have.

In many ways, Skin Game is the Dresden Files’ take on Ocean’s 11. Harry’s boss Mab loans him out as part of a team that is looking to pull off a heist from an underworld safe. The stakes are just a bit higher however than just stealing the (literal) holy Grail. Dresden is paying off Mab’s debts and his own and failure is not an option.

Butcher does a nice job of pulling in a wide variety of familiar faces from the series and reminding us just what Harry stands to gain and lose should this particular assignment succeed or fail. The book also examines some of the impact and consequences of Harry’s decision to become the Winter Knight and to wield the powers and responsibilities that come with that mantle. I have a feeling that Butcher is setting the stage for some other shoes to drop in future novels as well as tying up a few plot threads here so we can start building toward the end game of the series.

As I said before, this isn’t a bad book. It’s just not my favorite in the series. There’s still a lot to love about our favorite wizard and his world and I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what Butcher gives us next for Harry and his friends. The Dresden Files is still one of the best on-going series on the market today.

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Book Briefs

Fool by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore’s re-telling of Shakespeare’s tragedy of King Lear has great comic potential. It’s just too bad that this novel doesn’t come close to its potential.

Told from the point of view of Lear’s court jester, there are some genuinely amusing moments in this book. However, as I read the book, I kept thinking this was like a Saturday Night Live skit that had been stretched beyond its initial humorous value and just kept going and going and going.

Backup by Jim Butcher

Told from the persepctive of Harry’s brother, Thomas, this short novella is a nice chance of pace for “The Dresden Files.” While it won’t be essential to read it to enjoy the on-going storylines about Dresden, it does give readers some new insight into Thomas. Also, the concept of having a story in the universe told from a different point of view is interestind and Jim Butcher really runs with the concept.

A Shred of Truth by Eric Wilson

Aramis Black is a private detective working in Music City USA (aka Nashville, TN). In this previous novel (which is referred to early and often in this book), he tracked down a family treasure and had a variety of adventures. Now he’s back, helping his brother celebrate the release of his new CD and on the trail of a new threat. This time, the connection is a bit closer to home for Black, who is quickly pulled into a web of conspiracy and deceit.

“A Shred of Truth” has its moments and I genuinely liked the character of Aramis Black. In contemporary Christian fiction, it’s nice to have a guy who struggles with his daily walk and how to live that out effectively. It’s also nice to have a character who is aware of who he was but isn’t defined by it nor does he allow it to become too much of a burden. In short, Black feels like a real guy, working every day to live out his life in a way that is a walking example of what it means to be Christ-like.

I just wish the mystery that surrounded that character struggle was as intriguing. Eric Wilson does a nice job of throwing in red herrings and keeping the plot moving, but when the final solution is presented, it still feels a bit unsatisfying.

Now I’d love to see a novella told by Karin Murphy.

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Series Challenge: Dead Beat by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden’s universe keeps expanding with the seventh installment of The Dresden Files, “Dead Beat.”  I read somewhere that Jim Butcher takes a lot of joy in putting his hero through the wringer and no where is that more true than in this book.  Harry is beaten up physically and emotionally over the course of a novel that expands the on-going conflict between the Red and White councils, puts Harry at the center of a conflict to bring forth a god-like being and pushes some of the on-going plotlines of the series forward in an interesting fashion.

Harry’s hired to find a lost book.  Well, maybe hired is the wrong word.  More like blackmailed in order to keep his friend, Karin Murphy out of trouble.  Harry agrees, not realizing what he’s getting himself into.  Things quickly go from bad to worse for Dresden as the story unfolds. 

“Dead Beat” finds Dresden become more world-weary from his battles with various demons, mosnters and villians, but he’s still the same guy we met back in “Storm Front.”  He’s a good man, trying to make the right choices, no matter how tempting the lure of the dark path might be.  The story is an epic, sweeping one that will draw you in from the first page and keep the pages turning until the last one is done.  Then, you’ll be eager and anxious for the next installment, especially give some of the series-changing events that happen here.

And while it’s good, I didn’t find “Dead Beat” as great as the last several installments of the series. Part of that may be that missing elements of Murphy, who is off in Hawaii during these events. 

That said, this is still the best fantasy series in print today and well worth the time.


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Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

With the Dresden Files, Jim Butcher is doing the impossible–writing a series that gets more entertaining with every book.  Easily the best fantasy series on the market today, I’d even go so far as to say that the Dresden Files novels are as good as, if not better than another series of books with a guy name Harry in them.

The fourth book in the series “Summer Knight” is one that will not disappoint readers.   Picking up a few months after the events of “Grave Peril” in which Harry lost a girlfriend, made a deal with his faerie godmother to save himself and his friend and precipiated a war between the White Council and the Red Council, Harry starts the novel in a bad place.  He’s obsessed with finding a cure for his lost love Susan, he’s barely been in the office in months, he’s aliennating his friends and he’s got a price on his head by the Red Council.  And that’s even before he finds out that his faerie godmother sold the favors he owed her to another and the White Council is coming to town.

The story unfolds at a natural but rewarding pace.  Butcher has a natural ability to have events build on each other and he pays off hints from previous novels as well as dropping in hints of things to come.  And this book feels like just a snapshot of a few of the big events in Harry’s life over the course of a couple of days from the grander scheme of things.  The strength in these stories is they’re rewarding to read just as stand-alone novels, but taken within the greater context of the series, they add even greater layers.  And while I will recommend reading them in order, Butcher does enough to bring in new readers that you can drop in on Harry at this point and not feel hopelessly lost.  All the while, he doesn’t aliennate long-term readers with pages of recap.

A great series of books that only gets better.  This is the best I’ve read in the series and I can’t wait to start the next one.

Oh one word of warning: Don’t start any of the Dresden books if you’ve got things to do like sleep, go to work, spend time with the family.  These are the types of books that will consume you, demanding your attention to savor every page and anticipating what will come on the next. 

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The Dresden Files, Books 1-3 by Jim Butcher

I’ve heard the Dresden Files series called “Harry Potter for adults.”  And while it’s an apt-description, I think it also does a disservice to the masterful work Jim Butcher is doing creating one of the richest and most entertaining on-going series of fantasy novels on the market today. 

One huge plus for the Dresden novels is that Butcher has achieved the perfect balance of creating novels that are accessible no matter where you drop into the series (not an easy thing to do) and rewarding fans who have read all the books and will pick up little nuances and hints from story to story.  The novels also have an effortless way of foreshadowing events to come in a way that feels completely natural, leaving the reader wondering about things but not feeling shortchanged if events hinted at or brought up aren’t directly addressed in the novel you’re reading.

And the biggest asset these novels have is the voice of Harry Dresden.  Told from the first-person perspective of Harry, the novels invite readers in.   I defy you to pick up one and intend to read for just a chapter and not look up several chapters later to see that time has slipped away and you’ve not noticed.  That’s how compelling and interseting not only the universe of Dresden is, but also the Dresden character himself.

And it starts with the first three novels of the series.  In a lot of ways Storm Front and Fool Moon are set-up novels that create and establish the rules for the Harry Dresden universe.  Dresden is a practicing wizard/private investigator working out of Chicago.  He works as a specialist consultant for the police force and is called in when strange things happen and require his expertise.   Early on, it’s apparent that Butcher is treating his universe with the respect that Joss Whedon did in creating the Buffy-verse.  Supernatural things happen and instead of reflecting on “wow, weird stuff is going down,” the stories take it in stride and use that as part of the overall element of telling the story.

Now, I’ll have to confess that I broke my usual “read them all in order” rule on these.  I read the sixth novel first because the first page hooked me.  I then read the third and then the first two.  And yet, knowing how some things may play out, it never ruined the first novels for me.  Again, this is a strength of the novels–they allow you to jump in for a couple of days or some big events in Dresden’s life.  And there is some recap of previous events as needed–enough to tell the story in the latest book, but not so much as to discourage you from seeking out the other novels. 


That said, I am going to try to review them in order and read the rest in order even though I have the latest one sitting at home, mocking me with its newness.

Storm Front and Fool Moon are novels that set up and estabish the universe of Dresden.  We meet Harry and a wide range of the supporting characters from Lt. Karin Murphy to Detective Carmichael.  In Storm Front, Harry is brought in on two cases–one from a woman who suspects her husband is abusing magic and the other being the brutal death of a couple in the throws of passion due from the use of magic.  Harry’s investigation of the two separate crimes is intriguing and we slowly begin to realize that the two may be related.  The novel ends with a great showdown with another powerful wizard.  Along the way, you’ll encounter Bob, the spirit who lives in a skull in Harry’s lab,  Johnny Marcone, a Chicago gangster and Susan, a love interest who is pivotal to the third novel of the series.  It’s a nice introduction to the characters and the universe and the mystery is well plotted and the solution not telegraphed so far in advance that I guessed the outcome before Harry did.

In Fool Moon, werewolves enter the Dresden universe equations.   The story continues to expand the Dresden universe and even makes the gutsy move of killing off a recurring character during the course of the story.   Harry finds himself caught up in a conflict and with a rampaging louis-garoux on the loose.  His already strained friendship with Murphy is tested even more and Harry is forced to go on the lam.  The final chapters as everything comes together are superb.  I’ll warn you that if you start reading the last hundred pages as you get ready to go to bed, don’t expect to sleep any time soon.  They are page-turning and addictive.  Also, Butcher is able to pull off a scene in which Harry is knocked unconsious and talks to an inner-version of himself in order to piece together the current mystery and offers hints at the future.  This is a scene that could easily have been clunky or felt inserted because Butcher couldn’t find any other way to get from point a to point b.  Instead, it works as a way to reasonably have Harry solve the mystery and to hook you into wanting to find out more in the later stories.

But it’s really Grave Peril where things begin to happen.  Having spent two books meeting and getting to know Harry, it’s here the universe expands and we get a lot more hints about Harry’s past and backstory.    It starts off with the simple concept of Harry wanting to save some babies from a ghost and expands from there.  What I love about this novel is that it plunks us down as the events are unfolding and shows us that ghost apperances in Chicago have been going on for several weeks.   Other authors could have included a clunky prologue to show this, but Butcher chooses to go with weaving the background into the story in a natural way that gives the books authenticity.

As the book unfolds, we find out Harry and Susan are an item, though Harry has reservations about allowing her too far into the supernatural world in an attempt to protect her from some of the nastier things out there.  We also find out more about a deal Harry made and what he owes his faerie godmother.   The various threads eventually merge in the stunning finale as Harry is dealt some critical losses. 

It’s a brave, bold choice for only the third book in a series and it makes you respect what Butcher is doing and what he’s achieved with the series.

All three of these books are highly-readable and addictive.  I defy you to pick one up for just a few chapters and not be drawn into the Dresden universe.  If you’re only familiarity with Harry Dresden is the television series, I strongly recommend you jump into the novels immediately.  Both are good, but the novels are, by far, a richer exper

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