Review: Skin Game by Jim Butcher

Skin Game by Jim Butcher | Roc, 2014

I love reading series fiction. I’m less a fan of reviewing it; particularly when it comes to long-running series. When you’re looking at a trilogy this aren’t so bad but when a series is 15 books in things get difficult. Who is the review aimed at? New readers picking up Skin Game certainly aren’t going to have the same experience as long-vested fans and I’ve been reading this series so long that I’m not even sure how a new reader would react to Skin Game on its own. While Butcher’s Dresden Files don’t really break down into distinct arcs I feel like the last several novels starting with, appropriately enough, Changes have been a sort of transitional shift in narrative both in terms of Harry’s character and the focus of the plot itself. Where the early focus of the novels was primarily on Harry dealing with the magical shenanigans in and around Chicago the scope of the series has gradually broadened to encompass something much larger. It hasn’t been until the last several novels where the scope and nature of magical conflict in Harry’s world has really come into focus and I’m beginning to suspect that Butcher has something epic in store as the series winds towards its conclusion (Butcher envisions 20 
“casebooks” plut a 3 book “apocalyptic trilogy“). Changes’ finale started a new chapter in Harry’s life with a single gunshot. Since then Ghost Story and Cold Days were transitional novels as Harry deals with the fallout of his decisions and actions. With Skin Game I feel like readers get the first glimpses of light at the end of a long tunnel of darkness that Harry has been travelling down. There has been a certain air of melancholy and isolation in the previous novels that is markedly present in the beginning of Skin Game but is slowly peeled away the further we get into the novel.

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Review: Cold Days by Jim Butcher

Cold Days by Jim Butcher
Cold Days by Jim Butcher

Cold Days
Jim Butcher
Roc, 2012

Cold Days is another Dresden Files book. If you don’t know what that is you’ve either had your head buried in a hole somewhere or just have zero tolerance for urban fantasy. In either case you should probably do something about that since the Dresden Files is one of the most consistently entertaining series in fantasy today. Truth be told my most major complaint about a book starring Harry Dresden is that it ends and that Jim Butcher should write faster. This sort of complain isn’t really fair to Jim Butcher who has put out one book every six months for many many years. With the end of his Codex Alera series he is down to about one a year now but that is a far more consistent release schedule than certain in the world of fantasy fiction. In truth, along with Brandon Sanderson, Jim Butcher is an author whose pace and consistent quality make me strongly doubt whether either of them is human or some new superior species.

If you haven’t read any Dresden Files books you should probably stop reading at this point and go pick up Storm Front (heck, if you like pictures, try the graphic novel) and read that. You continue reading at your own risk.

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Review: Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher
Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

Ghost Story (The Dresden Files #13)
Jim Butcher
Roc, 2011

Ghost Story, the thirteenth volume of The Dresden Files is the first that manages to shake the status quo up just a little bit. If you’ve read the blurb for Ghost Story and haven’t yet read Changes then you’ve already been somewhat spoiled. At the end of the last novel you know that everyone’s favorite wizard has been shot and, is in all likelihood, dead. Aftermath, seen in the Side Jobs collection, does a wonderful job of showing some of the aftershocks that occur after Harry’s demise and the change in the magical landscape resulting not only from Harry being MIA, but also due to his choices during Changes remains one of Ghost Story’s primary focuses.

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Review: Changes by Jim Butcher

Changes by Jim Butcher
Changes by Jim Butcher

Changes
Jim Butcher
Roc, 2010

Chapters 1-4 available here!

Changes is the 12th novel in Jim Butcher’s consistently excellent Dresden Files.  Of all the series I read the Dresden Files is one I most frequently question whether or not I should even bother reviewing.  Not because it isn’t good, but because it is so consistently excellent I find it hard to not recommend this series to anyone and everyone.  Point in fact I’m almost convinced that when it comes pure edge of your seat action few authors come close be being as skilled as Jim Butcher.  Changes weighs in at a fairly impressive 448 pages yet it reads like it’s half as long.   As the jacket copy tell us it seems that Harry may be father by way of half-vampire ex-girlfriend Susan Rodriguez.  Unfortunately for Harry the news isn’t as happy as it could be as it seems that in a bid for revenge against Harry’s meddling the nefarious and bloody minded vampires of the Red Court have abducted his daughter.  Thus Harry sets out on a quest to save his daughter from certain death.

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Review: First Lord’s Fury by Jim Butcher

First Lord's Fury by Jim Butcher
First Lord's Fury by Jim Butcher

First Lord’s Fury
Jim Butcher
Ace, 2009

First Lord’s Fury is the sixth and final book in Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera.  Set in a Roman inspired world whose citizens control powerful elementals called furies the Codex Alera is a fast-paced action intensive series.  In First Lord’s Fury both speed and action are ratcheted way past 11 making for an exciting, though somewhat rushed, read.  If you haven’t read any of the other books in the series yet then even reading past the blurb of the later books, or glancing at the titles, provides some minor spoilers.  Still if you haven’t read other books, or aren’t quite caught up to book six then stop reading now….

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Review: Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
Turn Coat
Jim Butcher
Roc, 2009

Harry Dresden is back for his 11th adventure on the mean streets of Chicago. This time Harry’s part-time nemesis, the Warden Morgan, has been accused of murder and treason against the Council and it’s up to Harry to uncover the the true murderer. Familiar faces make appearances: Murphy the tough and feisty cop, Billy and his werewolf pack, Thomas, Toot Toot the fairy, and more all show up to get in on the action to aid, or in some cases, frustrate Harry as he races against the clock. Publisher’s Weekly brilliantly claims “Despite the sprawling plot, both fans and newcomers will get into the fast-paced action.” Which is something I can agree with but with a veritable who’s who of Harry’s past companions showing up I’m not quite sure who would really recommend Turn Coat as a starting point for any newcomer.
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Mini-Review: The Warrior by Jim Butcher (from Mean Streets)

The Warrior

Jim Butcher

from Mean Streets

Roc, 2009

 

**Spoilers Ahead!  If you have yet to read Small Favor then stop now!  The Warrior spins directly out of that story. **  

That being said The Warrior is the best Dresden story I’ve read in ages.  I don’t know if it is the shorter format but it felt like Butcher had to really drill down into what makes Dresden such a fun character to read.  The melodrama and angst that had bothered me in some of the later Dresden novels is completely absent here and we get a perfectly realized snarky, sarcastic, down-on-his-luck Harry Dresden.  The story is taught and tense and plays out like a good episode of your favorite television show everything wrapped up in the 45 minutes to hour it takes you to read.  More spoilery stuff after the jump

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Review: Princep’s Fury by Jim Butcher

Princep’s Fury

Jim Butcher

Ace, 2008.

Princep’s Fury marks the 5th entry into Jim Butcher’s less well known fantasy series The Codex Alera.  Fantasy fans who have been skipping this series really ought to give it a try, while it isn’t quite as clever as the Dresden Files, Butcher’s talent for tight, kinectic action and furious pacing make for an entertaining read.   While the characters aren’t always as vivid as everyone’s favorite Chicago based wizard they do manage to stand out from the pack of other fantasy heroes.  While not a good entry point to the series (start with The Furies of Calderon) it marks another impressive, and exciting entry into this typically underrated fantasy series.  Read on for more impressions…

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Review: Backup by Jim Butcher

Backup

Jim Butcher

Subterranean Press, 2008

SPOILER NOTE:  If you aren’t up-to-date on Butcher’s Dresden Files (at least up to Death Masks) now would be a could time to stop reading this review.

The titular wizard from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files is mostly absent from Backup, a short novella available from Subterranean Press, which instead focuses Thomas Raith; Harry’s vampiric half-brother.  It is a standalone story that does little to advance any of the plots from the main series but manages to flesh out Thomas as a character and add an interesting new detail about the world of Harry Dresden.

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Review: Small Favor (Dresden Files, Book 10) by Jim Butcher

Small Favor by Jim Butcher (Roc, 2008), is the latest volume in the long running Dresden Files about Chicago based, perennially unlucky, Wizard/Supernatural Investigator Harry Dresden.  As such I can’t really recommend this as a great jumping on point for new readers.  While the early novels (say maybe the first three: Storm Front, Full Moon, and Grave Peril) are likely easy enough jumping on points (duh!) as the series continues Butcher builds upon the Dresden world with admirable subtly.  Finally, in Book 10, I think we’re at a point where new readers are at a significant disadavantage.  Not to the point that they can’t enjoy the book, but enough so that they will certainly miss out on many of the details (in particular Harry’s deal with Mab, and his ‘partnership’ with Lasciel in the previous novels).  This isn’t to knock the book, there gets to a certain point in any series where you can’t really cater to the newbies any more, only to serve as fair warning for those who have yet read any Dresden at all.

Those that have been with Harry from that start are in for a treat.  This is, in many ways, the first time we’ve seen the ‘real’ Harry in a long time (Minor spoiler: there was a certain edge to Harry in the previous two novels that was the result of outside influence) and the whole book feels a bit lighter, despite the dire circumstances, as a result.  The back and forther banter between Harry and Thomas is quick-witted and enjoyable and, while a few quips fall a bit flat to my ears, in on the whole enjoyable.  As with many of the Dresden books featuring recurring character Michael (a sword wielding modern knight tasked with capturing the demons imprisoned in the silver coins given to Judas) a certain tension between the mostly faithless Harry and over abuntantly faithful Michael adds an interesting moral element to the story that has a surprise, and very interesting, twist in the end.

While the book lacks in reaninamted dinosaur skeletons it does feature an amusing incident between the eldest Billy Goat Gruff and Harry at the worst time ever.  One of the most enjoyable aspects of the series is how the seemingly always under-powered Harry has to out think his often ridiculously over-powered opponents.  This book had no shortage of that from a rather clever, and ultimatley hilarious, use of Mister (Dresden’s cat) to a certain incident involving a doughnut.  Harry still gets his ass-kicked, it would hardly be a Dresden novel if Harry came out unscathed, but it without the ‘woe-is-me’ Harry vs. the world mentality of previous entries.  Indeed, if this novel proves anything, its the number of friends and allies (and, unfortunatley, enemies) Harry has made over the course of 10 books.

All in all another solid outing for both Harry and Mr. Butcher.  Unfortunatley, if pattern holds true, Butcher will likely release another Codex Alera book before antoher Dresden book and, while I do enjoy Tavi and the world of Alera, am always left hungry for a new Dresden book when all is said and done.  Given the layered world-building, solid characterization (a main character that actually changes!?), and breakneck action I bestow upon Small Favor a solid A.

Chapter 1 Preview from Jim Butcher’s webpage.