Skin Game, by Jim Butcher
Skin Game is the fifteenth book in the Dresden Files series, written by Jim Butcher. The book follows Harry Dresden, after Mab forces him to join his arch nemesis Nicodemus, on a quest into the Underworld.
Warning! Spoilers follow here.
The book begins with Harry still on the island of Demonreach. He’s been trying to get word to Molly so that she can remove the parasite from his brain, but no messages seem to be reaching her. Almost immediately, we find out that Mab is behind this. She’s been blocking any messages leaving the island so that Harry will have no choice but to comply with her demands.
Mab and Harry leave the island and take a limo to a building in Chicago where they meet up with Nicodemus and his crew on the top floor. Turns out, Mab needed assistance from Nicodemus in the past and in return, he now needs her assistance, specifically Harry’s. Nick wants to break into the vault of Hades in the Underworld to retrieve the Holy Grail. Mab orders Harry to help Nicodemus, but strongly suggests that once the bare minimum of compliance on his end is satisfied, he can turn on Nicodemus and stop the whole operation.
Harry is allowed an associate of his choosing to accompany him on this journey and chooses Murphy. He and Murphy meet with the rest of the team: Binder (from Turn Coat), newcomer Hannah Ascher, Anna Valmont (an old case of Harry’s), shapeshifter Goodman Grey, a giant forest entity called the Genoskwa, Nicodemus, and his daughter Deirdre. Over the next three days, the group meets to go over individual assignments, look over blueprints, and discuss tactics.
The night before the actual heist, Murphy and Harry go up against Nicodemus in front of Michael’s house. Murphy attempts to take Nick down using the Sword of Faith, but he ends up shattering the sword on the ground and injuring Murphy. Eventually, Murphy is taken to the hospital and Michael is chosen as Harry’s new accomplice.
In order for Michael to participate in the quest, the archangel Uriel lends Michael is Grace, which allows him to walk and act freely as he did before he was shot and physically impaired. He’s also able to use his Sword again, and carries it with him at all times.
The gang breaks into a huge bank owned by Marcone, where Binder and his men stay behind to handle any opposition. Harry opens a Way into the Underworld, where there are three Gates that must be beaten to enter Hades’ vault: the Fire Gate, the Ice Gate, and the Blood Gate. Hannah gets the group through the Fire Gate, Harry takes care of the Ice Gate, and when they get to the Blood Gate, Nick shocks everyone by sacrificing his daughter so that they can enter the vault.
Shortly after entering, Harry is taken by none other than Hades himself. Hades asks Harry to be a guest in his hall, then proceeds to sit down with Harry and has a pleasant conversation with him. He implies that Mab had an ulterior motive for sending Harry on this particular quest, and Harry deduces that Mab wanted him to grab weapons from the vault that she could use against the Outsiders.
Hades returns Harry to the vault and he points out the Grail to Nicodemus. While Nick is admiring the Grail, Harry begin to taunt him and make him feel guilty for killing his daughter. After a few minutes of taunting, Nick finally snaps and tells the Genoskwa to kill everyone. A huge battle ensues and we find out that Hannah Ascher is now the current vessel for Lacsiel, the coin that Harry housed for several years. Furthermore, the Genoskwa is now the vessel for Ursiel, a giant Fallen entity that can shape shift.
Harry suddenly says the magic word and Goodman, Harry’s secret plant in the operation, begins to fight the Genoskwa. Harry takes on Hannah, and Michael and Nick have a sword fight. Hannah/Lasciel is finally defeated by falling rubble in the vault, Nick runs away, and even though the Genoskwa chases Harry back through the Gates, he is defeated after Harry turns the Ice Gate back on.
They all escape back into the real world, where Nicodemus threatens their families and locks them in the bank. Anna helps them break out and Harry manages to get to Michael’s house before Nick and his gang show up. A shootout ensues, leaving Harry down and Butters to the rescue. Harry throws Butters the hilt to the Sword of Faith, the Sword Nick smashes earlier in the book, and as soon as Butters catches it, a new blade suddenly grows out of it, scaring Nicodemus away.
After the big fight, Harry confronts both Mab and Marcone about their behind-the-scenes involvement in the heist. Turns out, back in Small Favor, when Nicodemus captured and tortured Marcone, he broke the Accords set in place by Mab. Mab and Marcone both wanted revenge on Nick for that stunt, and this quest was how they did it. Now, with his name tarnished, Nick’s business and image in the crime world will be humorous at best.
The book ends with Harry and Michael sitting on Michael’s front porch, with Maggie in his lap and Mouse at his feet. Michael tells Harry to take his Sword for safe keeping and reassures Harry that he’s one of the good guys. Harry reluctantly accepts the Sword.
I was pleased that this was another good book that followed a small string of less-than-great ones. The scene with Hades was hands down my favorite one. I want to hang out with Hades. I of course loved the scene where he finally gets to talk to Maggie, too (“Do you wanna be my dad?” omg). I really didn’t like the story line with the “parasite.” I didn’t even bother to write that into the synopsis above because I didn’t like it. Why, if Lasciel “died” when she saved Harry, did she suddenly reappear for another vessel? I hope Butcher has better plans for that down the road. Although, to his credit, I didn’t see that coming at the end; that was very well done. While I’m intrigued with corruption in the Church, I don’t want it to be Forthill. That would break my heart. I really loved the pacing of this book, and the overall feel. 5/5.
For Next Time
Side Jobs, by Jim Butcher
Here, together for the first time, are the shorter works of #1 New York Times bestselling author Jim Butcher—a compendium of cases that Harry and his cadre of allies managed to close in record time. The tales range from the deadly serious to the absurdly hilarious. Also included is a novella exclusive to this collection that takes place after the cliff-hanger ending of the April 2010 hardcover, Changes. This is a must-have collection for every devoted Harry Dresden fan as well as a perfect introduction for readers ready to meet Chicago’s only professional wizard.