The Dresden Files #15: Skin Game by Jim Butcher

Read: 11 September, 2016

In this instalment, our intrepid hero is on loan from Mab for a heist. The problem? His new boss is Nicodemus, the host of the fallen angel Anduriel.

I’ve had the audiobook kicking around for a while, and it was hard to actually start listening to it. Even once I did, I almost switched to something else a few minutes in. After fourteen books, I think I may be suffering from a bit of Dresden fatigue. Once I got started, though, the momentum of the story and the familiar characters swept me up and I made it through yet another book.

The series has jumped the shark so many times, and Dresden’s litany of acquired roles is becoming ridiculous. I know that this series is a cash cow for Butcher, and I know that many people (myself included, sometimes) are comforted by being able to revisit the same familiar characters over and over again – they become like old friends, and there’s an appeal to being able to check in with them every so often, see what they’re up to. But, at the same time, I wish the series would end, already. I know we’re building to an Arch Big Bad, and I’d really like to see that happen in my lifetime. Before Harry becomes head of the White Council, is elected to join the angels, and is promoted to Winter Queen.

As for the book itself, it’s fairly run-of-the-mill Dresden. The difference, here, is that there’s a twist ending. The twist requires re-examining what had come earlier in the book and it just doesn’t match up. Dresden’s narration cheats – it tells that X is Y only to reveal at the end that X is actually X and that Dresden knew so all along. He does keep telling us that he’s “playing [his] cards close to his chest,” fine, but we’re supposed to be in his head. His being secretive isn’t supposed to apply to us.

I love this kind of twist in a movie like Fight Club, where you can watch it a second time and realise that it all fits together and makes sense with the new information. Skin Game is not that kind of story. Dresden just straight up cheated. It’s annoying.

I will say this for Skin Game – it’s the first time I’ve seen a Mystical Pregnancy inflicted on a male character! I think I would have just screamed if Butcher had given this to Karen or Charity!

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The Dresden Files #14: Cold Days by Jim Butcher

Read: 31 January, 2016

At the end of Ghost Story, Harry Dresden’s tenure as the Winter Knight began. Now, Mab has given him his first assignment, and it’s a doozy!

Butcher’s favourite word this book is “oblique.” There was one page where it appeared three times, and it just kept coming up again and again. It was bad enough to be a drinking game!

Then there was the casual sexism. It’s been toned down over the last several books, but Dresden’s claim that women have up to five levels of conversation at the same time was just ridiculous. Worse yet, it just went on and on, this was only a few pages after Dresden goes to a place where men look for casual sex and has a whole conversation with Titania about how he’s totally okay with the gays because freedom is important. It was so cringe-inducing, and sadly immature.

But other than that, I enjoyed the book. Dresden’s changing roles keep the series from getting stale. And it’s been interesting to see him do without more and more of his standard tools.

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The Dresden Files #13: Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

Read: 4 January, 2016

Changes, the last book in the series, ended on a bit of a cliffhanger. Specifically, the main character was shot and died.

Well, this is Dresden, so it’s not like a little thing like death is going to stop him. He’s back in Chicago for Ghost Story, kicking ass, solving mysteries, saving the world… only, this time, he’s a ghost.

It’s an interesting premise. The “ghost comes back to solve his own murder” thing has been done before, but you don’t see it too often with the main character of a series, over a dozen books in.

And it was good to see Dresden have some new challenges for a while. He’s always so powerful that he just blasts through enemies, but in Ghost Story, he can’t. Suddenly, he has to sneak around and let others do a lot of the direct action. And Butcher makes a big deal of this – having Dresden note over and over again about how his perspective has changed, and how he can’t just kill the enemy henchmen anymore because they can’t kill him, so he’ll have to find another way. It was a little preachy, but this is Dresden.

The action and pacing are as exciting as ever, and I did enjoy all the new discoveries Dresden made about the magical world now that he got to see it from a different angle.

My only problem with the book (other than the Catholic priest with a KJV on his nightstand – what was that about?) was that nothing that happened actually matters in the long term. His brief interlude as a ghost (no spoiler tags because of course Dresden isn’t really dead) is all about revisiting the repercussions of his choices in Changes. Which fits with the ghost motif, but leaves us with a book that doesn’t really advance the plot. Two baddies come back and are defeated, but we’d thought them both defeated anyway so it’s not like any plotlines are resolved. We get to see the changes in Dresden’s allies, but that could have been divulged differently, and in the next book. And while dying is a pretty big deal in character arch terms, it gets taken back at the end so what was the point?

Overall, the book felt a bit like a filler episode. Not that I’m complaining, per se, since Dresden is my filler reading when I need something light and fun and exciting. But it would have been nice for there to have been more long term meaning to the events of the book.

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The Dresden Files #11: Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

Read: 30 January, 2015

The trend of the series over the last few books has been to circle the Black Council, rather than each mystery being, at least ostensibly, isolated. It’s interesting to see how far the series has come from the original few books – how long has it been since Dresden has been to his office? At least the office gets a mention in this book, though for all Dresden’s talk of money woes, it seems interesting that he keeps paying rent for it when his time seems so devoted to Warden matters lately.

The mystery itself was a bit of a let down. When Dresden notices a detail he wouldn’t ordinarily notice, and then mentions it at least twice in different parts of the book, it becomes far too clear who the traitor was going to be. I don’t try to guess the endings to mysteries, and I like to let myself be blown away in the reveal. So for me to know who the traitor is as soon as he comes on stage is really quite telling.

Still, the story is good. Dresden makes heavy sacrifices, and the characters are changed by the events of the book. In a series, that is generally a very good thing, and something that Butcher is handling better than most authors.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this books is all the extra insight we get into the White Council. We’re no longer bound to Dresden’s rather slanted view of them, and instead get some frank explanations from people who are more knowledgeable about and invested in the Council. It adds a great deal of nuance, and moves us away from viewing the Council as strictly an antagonistic force.

This was an excellent addition to the series, and it’s a pleasure to see Butcher grow as an author.

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The Dresden Files #10: Small Favor by Jim Butcher

Read: 21 December, 2014

The Summer Court is sending Gruffs (remember the billy goats? Yeah, those gruffs) after Harry, the Winter Court is sending Hobs, and Marcone has been kidnapped. All this results in a rather complicated (and dangerous!) affair that reveals a lot more about the Fallen and the Heaven/Hell conflict.

The last couple books seem to have been setting up the character pasts, with little more than vague hints about the overarching plot. Here, the characters are established and we appear to be moving into the big reveal.

I like Sanya quite a bit, and was glad to see him make an appearance. I also liked getting a bit more backstory about him – particularly with regards to being a black man growing up in Russia.

Fidelacchius finally became important again, as Harry tries to find a new owner for it. (SPOILERS: I was concerned that Dresden was going to end up becoming a Knight, in addition to being a Warden and everything else. It would have just been so Mary Sue-ish. I kept hoping that Murphy would take it up instead, and was very glad when she was chosen. I was even more glad when she refused it, and gave a perfectly character-consistent reason. I’m still hoping that she’ll become the new Knight eventually (particularly given how Fidelacchius seems to match Murphy’s style of sword), but I’m glad that she didn’t just take it up right away. That would have been very un-Murphy.)

Overall, a solid addition to the series and I’m looking forward to reading the next!

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The Dresden Files #9: White Night by Jim Butcher

Read: 2 November, 2014

Several women with magical abilities have been committing suicide, but Murphy thinks that all might not be as it seems. When she brings in Harry, it quickly becomes apparent that Thomas has been involved.

This instalment may be the most referential to date. Several characters returned, and many of the plotlines that Harry has been juggling over the past few books finally get resolved (or, at least, seem to).

Over the last few books – certainly since Dresden’s first encounter with Lasciel – things have been getting darker. It’s been clear for a while that, at some point, Dresden was going to have to take a long hard look at what he’s becoming. This is the book where that happens, and I’m glad that Murphy got to be a part of it (she calmly and kindly leads Dresden toward the introspection he’s been avoiding, as a concerned friend).

Molly is an interesting sidekick, though largely untouched. She has a few hijinks moments, learns a few lessons, but largely stays out of the fighting. Which is not a bad thing. I think I might feel quite differently about Dresden if he brought her into things so soon.

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The Dresden Files #4: Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Read: 17 October, 2013

I had been warned that the Dresden Files series took a little while to warm up, and that’s certainly proving to be true. The difference in quality between Summer Knight and Storm Front is quite noticeable. The story is much tighter, the writing is more straightforward, and the characters are more “in character.”

I’ve noticed other differences, too. The “Noir” shtick has relaxed a bit, so Summer Knight relies more on its own atmosphere rather than simply borrowing conventions. The sexism is also much more subtle – Dresden is still powerless not to help a “damsel in distress” and women’s appearance is still described in far more fetishistic terms that men’s (when men’s appearance is described at all), but the women are getting more agency as the series progresses. Murphy, in particular, is changing quite drastically. Though she’s mostly just a convenient side-plot in this novel, her presence is no longer marked by her erratic behaviour.

The plot for Summer Knight returns to the fairies. After finding out about Dresden’s fairy godmother in the last book, and his debt to her, we find out that the debt has been sold to the queen of the winter fairies. Worse yet, Dresden must complete a task for her if he’s ever to get out of his obligation to her and save the wizards from the war he started with the vampire Red Court. Yeah, it’s starting to get a little complicated.

The only complaint I have is one I nearly always have when dealing with the fae – there’s an emphasis on how alien they are, and how incomprehensible their thinking from a human vantage point. And yet, for the purposes of solving a mystery involving them, and for the purposes of interacting with them, they are written in a way that makes their thinking seem perfectly rational and ordinary (albeit their concerns are shifted towards things and territories and matters that are more relevant to them). This leads to a disconnect between the way that they are described and the way that we see them behave. It’s a minor quibble, but I do wish that Butcher would either spend less time going on and on about how alien they are, or spend a little more time actually making them so.

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The Dresden Files #3: Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

Read: 31 March, 2013

Dresden and his friend Michael – a Knight of the Cross – are kept busy. Ghosts are going crazy all over town, and the veil that separates the real world from the Nevernever has been weakening.

I’ve been told that the series really starts to pick up with this book and I think I can see it (though it could just be that I was expecting to like it better so I did. Brains are weird like that sometimes.).

The last two books had started to show a predictable pattern: Mystery is introduced, Dresden makes two potions for funsies, Murphy messes everything up because she’s blinded by her distrust for Dresden, potions just happen to be exactly what Dresden needs, showdown, The End. But Grave Peril breaks from the formula quite significantly.

For one thing, there’s two new major characters introduced: Michael Carpenter (aptly named for a devout Christian) on Team Dresden, and Lea, Dresden’s Fairy Godmother and most definitely not on Team Dresden. While I found Lea interesting, I did find it strange that she would pursue Dresden so doggedly in Grave Peril yet not make any appearance at all in earlier books. I don’t think that this absence was ever explained (or retconned, as the case may be).

Potions don’t make an appearance in this one, which is a shame because it’s the aspect of Dresden’s magic that I enjoy reading about the most. However, leaving them out did keep the series from falling into too laughably absurd a pattern, so I suppose it’s okay.

The last big difference from the other two books is that Grave Peril puts a bit more focus on Dresden’s moral choices – the idea of having to choose between a small number of people he cares for and a large number of people he doesn’t know, or whether it’s worth killing a baddy if it means also killing innocents as well (and what Dresden’s share of guilt in such a situation might be). It added an interesting dimension to the series and a little food for thought – though, of course, the questions were merely raised, never answered.

Through much of the book, Murphy is unconscious and out of the picture, and I find it sad how much of a relief that was. She’s a terrible character. Her propensity to make getting the baddies far more difficult than it needs to be because of her lack of trust has really been getting old. Perhaps even worse is the fact that neither character-Dresden nor narrator-Dresden ever acts like her attitude is a problem. He’s always apologetic, accepting his guilt, and seems to believe that being irrational and angry all the time is what makes a strong female character. Compare her to her replacement in Grave Peril, Michael. Michael and Dresden are able to work together as a team, trusting each other when information needs to be withheld, respecting each other enough not to withhold it unless absolutely necessary, and able to protect each other without it being a gender thing. Michael is, in many ways, what Murphy should have been from the beginning.

One thing that confused me, and perhaps someone could explain it to me in the comments, is why Dresden mentions the possibility of calling Murphy for backup twice, despite knowing that she was unconscious. The first time he’s corrected, but the second time it’s just mentioned and dropped. Was that an editing error or did I miss something?

Anyways, I did enjoy this book much better. It had a few twists where it seemed to be following a predictable pattern and then veered off, which kept things interesting. I found that the resolution of the mystery was rather flimsy (spoiler: two baddies were working together, though I couldn’t figure out why they would do so except for their mutual dislike for Dresden), but that’s okay. I enjoyed the ride.

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