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A Wizard is a Wizard is a Wizard — Except When He’s Harry Dresden

Sunday, August 10th, 2014 | Posted by Barbara Barrett

Skin Game Jim Butcher.-smallSkin Game, A Novel of the Dresden Files
By Jim Butcher
Roc Books (464 pages, May 27th 2014, $27.95 in hardcover)
Cover by Chris McGrath

Skin Game is the newest novel in the  Harry Dresden series, #15 in the series. I enjoyed it so much, I re-read it.

I’m a real Harry Dresden fan. He reminds me a little of Erle Stanley Gardner’s [aka A. A. Fair] detective, Donald Lam, a “brainy little bastard” who is always getting beat up, according to his boss Bertha Cool. Sounds like Dresden, but Harry has one up on Donald. Not only is Harry a detective, he is Chicago’s only professional wizard.

As if that’s not enough, he is also the Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Mab, who, in this book, loans him out to pay off one of her debts. Trouble is the group of supernatural villains he must help is led by one of his “most dreaded and despised enemies.”

Their target? They plan to rob the personal vault of the Greek god, Hades, and they need Harry’s help.

It’s action filled and lots of fun.

One of the interesting concepts in the book is “Parkour.” It was something new for me so I researched it. According to the Merriam-Webster’s online website:

Parkour is the sport of traversing environmental obstacles by running, climbing, or leaping rapidly and efficiently. It has an interesting etymology: French, alteration of parcours course, route, from Medieval Latin percursus, from Latin percurrere to run through, fromper + currere to run

The dictionary gives the origin date as 2002, but I remember running and walking along the river park in Campbell, California in the mid-to late 70’s. At that time, it was called a Parcourse and was a little over two miles long with 15-16 body exercise stops for strength and balance along the way. A really a great all-around workout, and Harry needs it in this novel to give him an edge.

I especially enjoyed Butcher’s take on Hades. One of my favorite parts of Skin Game is Harry’s meeting with Hades in the Underworld. Butcher gives this description of the room:

I stood in a chamber that might have belonged to a Spartan king. The furnishings were few, and simple, but they were exquisitely crafted of nothing but the finest materials. A wooden panel, stained with fine smoke and time, framed a fireplace, and was carved with images of the gods and goddesses of Greece scattered about the slopes of Mount Olympus. Two large chairs of deep, polished red wood and rich black leather sat before the fire, with a low wooden table between them, polished to the same gleaming, deep red finish. On the table was a ceramic bottle. A simple, empty wineglass sat next to it…

“Sir Harry,” Hades rumbled. “Knight of Winter. Be welcome in my hall.”

That made me blink. With that greeting, Hades had just offered me his hospitality. There are very few hard and fast rules in the supernatural world, but the roles of guest and host come very close to being holy concepts. It wasn’t unheard of for a guest to betray his host, or vice versa, but horrible fates tended to follow those who did, and anything that managed to survive violating that custom would have its name blackened irreversibly.

Hades had just offered me his protection — and with it, the obligations of a good guest. Obligations like not stealing anything from his host, for example. I had to tread very carefully here. Bad Things Would Happen To Me if I dared to violate my guest-right. But I couldn’t help but think that Bad things Would Happen to Me even faster if I insulted a freaking Greek god by refusing his invitation.

I remember very little of my father, but one thing I do remember is him telling me always to be polite. It costs you nothing but breath, and can buy you as much as your life…

“Thank you, Lord Hades,” I said, after a pause. My voice quavered only a little.

He nodded without looking away from the fire, and moved his free hand in a languid gesture toward the other chair. “Please, join me.”

Hades lets Dresden know that He is aware of the planned theft and says:

I am not what the current age of man would call a ‘people person,’” he said frowning. “I have never been terribly social. If I had the skill, I would say words to you that would put you at ease and assure you that you are in no immediate peril of my wrath.”

“Your actions have already done so.” I said.

The wispiest shade of a smile line touched the corners of his eyes. “Ah, You have a certain amount of perception, then.”

“I used to think so.” I said. “Then I started getting older and realized how clueless I am.”

“The beginning of wisdom, or so Socrates would have it,” Hades said. “He says so every time we have brunch.”
“Wow.,” I said. “Socrates is, uh, down here?”

Hades arched an eyebrow. He lifted his free hand, palm up.

“Right.” I said. “Sorry. Um. Do you mind if I ask…”?

“His fate in the Underworld?” Hades said.

I nodded.

Hades’ mouth ticked up at one corner. “People question him.”

Dresden asks him why He has interfered at this point of the intrusion by the burglars. Hades responds:

Perhaps I did so to thwart you and punish you. Do not villains do such things?”

Except you are not a villain.” I said.

Dark eyes turned to me. The fire popped and crackled.

“Granted, I’m basing that on the classical tales.” I said. “Which could be so much folklore, or which could have left out a lot of details or wandered off the truth in that much time. But you aren’t the Greek version of the Devil.”

“You’d hardly think so from the television.” Hades said mildly.

“TV rarely does the original stories justice,” I said. “But the stories bear out that you might not be such an awful person. I mean, your brothers got up to all kinds of shenanigans. Like, utterly dysfunctional shenanigans. Turning into a bull and seducing a virgin? How jaded do you have to be for that to sound like fun?”

“Careful,” Hades said, very, very gently. “I do not deny anything you say—but they are, after all family.”…

“But the thing is, there’s no stories about you doing that. The others could sometimes show capricious temper and did some pretty painful things to people. You didn’t. You had a reputation for justice, and never for cruelty. Except for that… that thing with your wife, maybe.”

Fire reflected very brightly in his dark eyes. “How I stole Persephone, you mean?”

“Did you?” I asked.

And regretted it almost immediately. For a second, I wanted very badly to know a spell that would let me melt through the floor in a quivering puddle of please-don’t-kill-me.

Hades stared at me for a long, intense period of silence and then breathed out something that might have been an extremely refined snort from his nose and sipped more wine. “She came of her own will. Her mother failed to cope. Empty-nest syndrome.”

I leaned forward, fascinated despite myself. “Seriously? And… the pomegranate seeds thing?”

“Something of a political fiction,” Hades said. “Hecate’s idea, and my brother ran with it. As a compromise, no one came away from it happy.”

That’s supposedly the mark of a good compromise.” I said.

Hades grimaced and said, “It was necessary at the time.”

“The stories don’t record it quite that way,” I said. “I seem to recall Hecate leading Demeter in search of Persephone.”

That comment won a flash of white, white teeth. “That much is certainly true. Hecate led Demeter around. And around and around. It was her wedding present to us.”

Butcher’s humor shows up as they later talk about the three-headed dog sitting next to Him. Hades asks Dresden “do you know my dog’s name?”

“Cerberus,” I said promptly. “But everyone knows that.”

“Do you know what it means?”

I opened my mouth and closed it again. I shook my head.

“It’s from an ancient word, kerberos. It means ‘spotted.’”

I blinked. “You’re a genuine Greek god. You’re the Lord of the Underworld. And…you named your dog Spot?”

“Who’s a good dog?” Hades said, scratching the third head behind the ears, and making the beast’s mouth drop open in a doggy grin. “Spot is. Yes, he is.”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed.

Jim Butcher Storm Front-smallNot only do his books reflect Butcher’s great sense of humor, they always contain interesting and thought provoking bits of philosophy.

I enjoy them immensely, but sadly I won’t be able to meet him in person. I understand Jim Butcher is the author Guest of Honor this year at GenCon, August 14-17 in Indianapolis. I can’t attend, but as the next best thing, I’ve asked a friend to have my copy of Skin Game autographed.

I highly recommend Skin Game. If you haven’t read any of the previous Dresden Files volumes, I suggest you start with the first, Storm Front, and work your way through all of them.

Harry Dresden’s wizard powers give him an edge in the private eye business but there are horrors out there a lot stronger than he is, so he must also rely on his wits — and a ghost named “Bob” who lives in a skull — to bring him through.

The story lines are not repetitive. Butcher introduces threads and ideas that go in often unforeseen directions, keeping the plots fresh. He gave us a couple new ones in this latest book and I can’t wait to see where they go.

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