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'Skin Game' sends Harry Dresden on a job underground

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Skin Game by Jim Butcher

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As the book opens, Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness, comes to call with a job for Harry Dresden. As much as he dislikes her and dislikes the job, there’s little he can do about either but complain. The obligations he has to Mab are so binding and so complex they can’t be undone even by death. He’s already tried that.

Before things got so complicated, Harry used to make his living, such as it was, as a wizard in Chicago, specializing in finding lost objects. He even had an office downtown and advertised in the Yellow Pages. In this 15th book in the “Dresden Files”series, Harry himself has become something of a lost object, living on a remote island in Lake Michigan that’s avoided by humans because of its demon presence. Even Mab waits at the dock rather than set foot on the island. For Harry, though, the demon presence provides both a refuge and a job.

Mab tells Harry that in order for her to settle a debt, he must help Nicodemus Archleone recover an item. Harry and Nicodemus have history, but he dare not embarrass Mab by refusing to work with him—that is, at least until the item is recovered. Nicodemus dare not attack him, until he has what he wants. That would be bad form. Beyond that point, however, all bets are off between the two men. Nicodemus doesn’t say immediately what he wants stol—recovered. Nor does he mention precisely where it is. He’s putting together a team and it seems that Harry has history with nearly every member of Nic’s team.

This leads to one of the snags for a reader starting the series here. The list of characters is long and, while a few are new, many have been in and out of several earlier books. Nevertheless, the present book can be read as an adventure story.

Author Jim Butcher makes use of a variety of mythologies that resonates well. The present book stresses Christian mythology. Nicodemus, for instance, is a Denarian, possessed by the Fallen angel whose token is one of 30 pieces of silver—one of those 30 pieces of silver, narrator Dresden tells the reader.

Key elements of the story also rely on classical and Norse mythologies and at least a taste of the Mesopotamian myth of “The Descent of Inanna.” Butcher is not content to copy these, but puts his own spin on them. For example, in one passage, a stunned Dresden shares a glass of wine with Hades, lord of the underworld, before a roaring fire while the three-headed dog Cerberus snoozes at his feet. At least one of the heads seeks to be petted during their chat. Another piece of Greek myth didn’t get played out, though it may in a later book.

The humor is plentiful and can be puerile at times. Nothing is quite what is seems which keeps the series fresh. The mayhem is almost non-stop and Harry, as always, gets the tar beaten out of him repeatedly. The book is a quick, fun read, particularly for anyone who have followed Harry this far.

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