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Fantasy 22.8: Skin Game

2014/06/29 3 comments

Yup, there’s one more book in the Dresden Files series: Skin Game.  It’s the 15th book in the series so far, and there are going to be a whole lot more.

There’s a bit of a shake-up to the usual Dresden Files formula, so let’s dive on in.

As ever, here there be spoilers.

There's that hat again.  Also, "skin game" does not refer to the "skins" form of golf.  At least, not so far as I can tell.

There’s that hat again. Also, “skin game” does not refer to the “skins” form of golf. At least, not so far as I can tell.

It’s A Heist Movie!

Complete with mixed-up motives and bunches of backstabbing.  Mab, Dresden’s current boss, owes a debt to the villainous Nicodemus, which she’s going to pay by having Harry Dresden, Wizard, Winter Knight, Snark Master, help Nicodemus rob a vault belonging to Hades.

Yeah, that Hades.  And Nicodemus wants to steal the Holy Grail.  Wow.

The great part is that, given Nicodemus, we know there’s going to be backstabbing.  And, given that Nicodemus screwed with Mab’s Accords, she wants Dresden to backstab just as soon as he’s fulfilled his obligations.

The characters pulled in for the heist — Nicodemus’s daughter, the shapeshifting Goodman Grey, a warlock specializing in fire magic, a guy who can summon minions at will, a Bigfoot gone bad, a normal human thief — are a delightful mix, and we get all the great scenes where they pull the group together.  It’s great fun.

Magic A Isn’t Magic A?

There’s a slightly puzzling inconsistency that appears in this novel.  Way back in Changes, Harry Dresden becomes the Winter Knight.  This comes along with the Winter Mantle, which basically gives him super strength and increased endurance, in addition to fixing that pesky spinal cord injury.  When he says “screw Winter Law” in the next book, all that gets revoked, until he takes it back.

In this book, there’s a large chunk of the plot where Butters and Dresden consider the possibility that much of the Winter Mantle’s mojo is actually just an off-switch on Dresden’s normal human limitations, allowing him access to bone-breaking strength and reducing his ability to feel exhaustion and pain.

Um.  I don’t think you can “magic feather” away a spinal cord injury like that.

Sure, perhaps this was an issue all along, and Harry has both superhuman strength and superhuman self-injury risk… but, I don’t really think it was phrased that consistently.

And if that’s the case, that the Knights tend to wear themselves down by ignoring their bodily needs, what am I to make of Ronald Reuel, the senior Summer Knight from many books ago who managed to last long enough to get gray hairs?

Who Was That Masked Man?

Goodman Grey, who are you?

Grey is a consummate shape-shifter, and also plays the role of mole on behalf of Dresden within the heist-plotting crew, apparently because he owed Dresden’s highly-mysterious mother a favor.

He is also, apparently, at least part skinwalker.

Holy crap.  It sounds like his father raped his mother (or something), since skinwalkers can (probably literally) scare the living daylights out of you.  We hadn’t previously seen anything about skinwalkers reproducing; we only know that they’re super evil critters that Merlin thought needed to be confined for eternity.  So… why would a skinwalker have a kid?

Grey doesn’t show the same “I scare the crap out of you” stuff to Dresden, except for a glimpse of his real eyes at the end to show what he is.  But, half-skinwalker?  Really?  I want to know more.  Arg.

Dude, Um, Not Funny

There’s a mixup where, rather than telling her father that she is now the Winter Lady, Molly lets her father think that she and Harry Dresden are an item.

I’m horrified.

The age gap is bad enough, but, as Dresden says, he’s known her since she was a child.  He admits she’s attractive, but from the beginning, despite Molly’s interest, he has put a lot of effort into treating her as a human being and avoiding abusing his position of authority over her.

And this breaks that, just a little bit.  I’m not sure which is worse — Molly letting her dad think that, or Dresden deciding to let Molly tell him the truth.  It’s just awful, and I’m surprised that Dresden isn’t more upset about it.  Perhaps he sympathizes, due to not having told the truth to his friends on many prior occasions… but, still.

Nicodemus is Scary

Well, now some things make a bit more sense.

Nicodemus knows so much because he has powers similar to those of the Archive.  He can hear anything said within earshot of the shadow of a living thing, unless precautions are taken to prevent it, and by fairly powerful people.

No wonder he wanted to kidnap the Archive so badly in one of the earlier books — between the two of them, they’d know basically everything.  World manipulation, to the max.

And, for once, we now have a good explanation for Dresden not telling his friends everything.  Since Dresden can’t counteract that power himself, anything he says around people’s shadows could get back to Nicodemus’s ears.

Items of Power

I swear, someone needed to say, “You have chosen… poorly” to Nicodemus by the end.

He ended up with the Grail, but Dresden made off with four other, um, mystical artifacts: a crown of thorns (um), a piece of wood with a faded label (um, um), a faded bit of cloth (probably a real Shroud of Turin), and a knife.

The knife doesn’t fit the theme.  Where’d that come from?  And Dresden hints that maybe that item was the one Nicodemus could have done the most damage with…

Family Matters

Also, we now know where spirits of intellect come from: they spring from the minds of mortals who have in some manner, been associated in an act of love with a spirit, and are born with all the knowledge of both parents.  Dresden was rather closely associated with the shadow of the demon Lasciel for a while, who sacrificed herself to save his life, so…

Dresden now has two daughters.  Yay!  I look forward to learning more about the brand new one.

But, now I’ve got to know: where did Bob, Dresden’s old spirit of intellect, come from?  Did he kill off his mortal parent during birth?  Does the manner of his coming into being have something to do with why Mab doesn’t like him?  Hm.

And, given the resemblance to the old myth, does Athena exist?  And is she some sort of ascended spirit of intellect?

Butters is Batman

Since this shows up, and is awesome, I’ll just mention it briefly.  Butters makes the final set of his transition in this story, from the frightened coroner to hero in his own right.  Despite his complete lack of natural talent, he does a pretty good job as an artificer, and takes advantage of Bob to power his magics as needed, from super-speed skateboard to cloak-parachute.  At the end, he picks up a Sword, Fidelaccius.  The blade was broken off earlier in the story, but when he picks up the hilt, it does a real, honest-to-goodness white Jedi lightsaber thing.  Duuuuuuude.

It’s also fairly clear that the Christian God in this setting is pretty ecumenical.  The Knights of the Cross that we’ve seen so far include a Catholic, a Baptist, an agnostic, and now a Jew.

Huh.

Superheroes Round 13: Worm

2014/06/22 1 comment

Worm is an online superhero serial novel.  It is complete.

It is also long — the equivalent of several novels, really.  And complex.  And deep.  I’ve been working on reading it, on and off, since before Christmas of last year, and only recently finished the monstrosity.

It is well written.

It is also extremely scary.

I am not kidding.  This is probably the darkest written material I’ve ever actually finished reading — largely because the swearing, gore, horror, etc., is not presented in a gratuitous manner.  Nonetheless, if there is any material that you could possibly find triggering — and I do mean anything — you should think very carefully before reading Worm.

If you think you can handle it without giving yourself impressively horrific nightmares, I do recommend the read.

As ever, spoilers follow.  Big spoilers.
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We Give Links 9: Anita Sarkeesian Continues Her Work

Anita Sarkeesian has released the next episode of Tropes vs Women.  This time, she discusses the serious problem of video games promoting sexual objectification of women, sexual exploitation of women, and violence against women.

A content warning is required here.  A lot of the material she covers is quite explicit and/or extremely violent.  This is very creepy stuff.  That it is so common in the video game industry is quite scary.

Added 2014 August 25.  Part 2 of the episode is now available:

Addendum:

There is a problematic aspect to some of Sarkeesian’s analysis here.  She focuses on how the games she is dissecting treat sex worker characters simply as objects, to be exploited or attacked, and how that contributes to oppression of women in reality.  What she does not address in this video is that in real life, sex workers of all genders are people with agency themselves – people who are the victims of a system of oppression (sometimes called whorephobia) that intersects with sexism, racism, and other forms of bigotry but is not identical to any of those.  I am not qualified to express opinions on this matter myself; so I can only recommend that people listen to what others have said about it. – MWB

Fantasy Round 22.7: Cold Days

2014/06/15 Leave a comment

Yup, it’s time for another book from the Dresden Files. Dresden has just finished being dead, so it’s time for him to avert yet another impending disaster. As ever — spoilers!

It's Harry, with The Nonexistent Hat.  Also a gun, as most of his magical implements are down for the count for this novel.

It’s Harry, with The Nonexistent Hat. Also a gun, as most of his magical implements are down for the count for this novel.  Also demerits for poor gun handling practice.

Nobody Tells Me Anything

As they say, poor communication kills.  As I’ve noted in previous reviews, Dresden gradually gets better at avoiding this — the annoying, soap-opera like drama that occurs when somebody refuses to explain something important, or leaves out a critical detail. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean anybody else is doing any better at it.

Mab, Queen of Winter, wants Dresden to kill Maeve, the Winter Lady.  Which is… odd.  And she never explains explicitly; she makes Dresden figure it out for himself.  Most of the book could have been avoided (or simplified) if she had just explained herself… but she really doesn’t work that way, apparently.

On the plus side, Demonreach, the spooky island of great spookiness, is actually quite forthcoming.  Movie included, curtesy of Bob the spirit-in-a-skull.

Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey

Oh, dear. As I expected, once you introduce Seven Laws of Magic that should never, ever be broken… they’re all going to get push, shoved, and shattered at one point or another.

This episode’s example is the law against meddling with time.

There are two parts to this.  First, Merlin (yes, that Merlin) made a massive prison for epic supernatural evils of ultimate evil (think Cthulhu), and used time magic to construct it at five different times.  This kind of makes me wonder if Merlin, who established those Laws of Magic, partially just wanted to avoid having somebody undo his work.  Does using time magic have the same seductive appeal as other forms of dark magic (murder, meddling the people’s heads, etc.)?  Or is it just that much more dangerous?

Said prison is the spooky island, Demonreach.  And, at some level, it makes sense to have time magic be a part of the working.  That’s part of Merlin’s traditional repertoire, and there are probably some big nasties whose time magic can be countered to prevent them from escaping.

But I’ve got to know: why was there an “echo” from the destruction of the island backward in time, warning everyone that it was about to be destroyed… when the island wasn’t actually destroyed?  Or, if the echo was just from being attacked, why couldn’t our heroes tell the difference?

Mab’s Origins?

I want to know where the fey came from.

It’s not a trivial question, since the Queens of Faeries are clearly ancient; but how long have they been operating?  We now know that Mab herself was once mortal.  Was she the first Queen of Air and Darkness, however long ago that was?  Were the Courts of Faerie explicitly established to protect the mortal world from Outsiders?

Did Merlin have anything to do with this?

I wonder how much is going to be answered in future books.  It’s entirely reasonable to leave some questions unanswered — after all, that’s life — but there should be some reasonable explanation, even if we, the readers, are left to ponder the puzzle on our own.

Superheroes Round 12: A Wrapup for the Agents of SHIELD

2014/06/01 Leave a comment

First up, we already know that Agents of SHIELD has been renewed for a second season.

I’ve been following the series, and reviewed the first episode, so it makes sense to give an update now that the first season has ended.

And wow, was that a doozy.   So, spoilers.

Given my current highly busy schedule, you should also expect ongoing delays in my posting of things.

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