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Fantasy 22.8: Skin Game


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.

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  1. 2014/06/29 at 8:24 pm

    It has been pointed out to me that the “knife” may actually be the tip of a certain spear. So, they may all fit together after all. And that “knife” may effectively be a god-killing device in this story, or something similarly scary. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

  2. Matt
    2015/01/08 at 11:14 am

    as per the molly/dresden misunderstanding. Harry partially blames himself for Molly’s “condition” Since he already feels that Molly should be allowed to break it to her parents in her own time, part of that is that he doesn’t want to be the one to say “yeah, I got your daughter into trouble, no not that kind of trouble, she’s a fey now, oh and the winter lady” Think of how much he avoided Michael when he had Lash riding shotgun, cuz he didn’t want to risk his friend or his Friendship then multiply that by a “Molly” times

    BTW pretty sure the knife was the business end of the spear of longinus.

  3. 2015/01/09 at 9:21 am

    Matt — You make a good point about Dresden’s character. It’s consistent, but it is oh-so-frustrating.

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