Jim Butcher is the author of the bestselling urban fantasy series The Dresden Files. “Skin Game”, his latest addition, was nominated for a Hugo in the Best Novel category.
As much as I wanted to dive right into “Skin Game”, my chronological compulsion got the better of me and I was forced to start at the beginning of the series with “Storm Front”.
Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment.
So we’ve got a wisecracking P.I. wizard who moonlights for the Chicago homicide division when the crimes involve the likes of vampires, sorcerers, and other supernatural beasties. The plot involves a series of grisly murders linked to the criminal underworld. In true pulp fashion, Dresden himself becomes the prime suspect.
The novel was Butcher’s first, and while it’s an entertaining read, there are the expected rookie mistakes. Chief among them is the character of Dresden himself. The big problem is the guy that is on the cover is not the guy that we get in the book. He’s neither as physically or mentally capable as one would expect in either a wizard or a private eye:
Wizardry is all about thinking ahead, about being prepared. Wizards aren’t really superhuman. We just have a leg up on seeing things more clearly than other people, and being able to use the extra information we have for our benefit. Hell, the word wizard comes from the same root as wise. We knew things. We aren’t stronger or faster than anyone else. We don’t even have all that much more going in the mental department. But we’re godawful sneaky, and if we get the chance to get set for something, we can do some impressive things.
Of course the nature of the plot requires our hero to be surprised at every turn. He spends a lot of time desperately grabbing onto his enemy’s legs. But if he’s not physically strong, or mentally strong, or even prepared, what are his heroic qualities?
Is he tenacious? No, at one point he refuses to enter a locked house…because he doesn’t want to break and enter. What kind of private eye won’t enter a locked house! Phillip Marlowe he ain’t.
Is he resourceful? Not any more than the reader. We become very aware that Dresden’s second case is related to the murder case way before he puts it together.
Still, it’s hard to rag on a story that is so tongue-in-cheek. The dialogue and the prose was excellent. The magic was evocative and well-described. There’s some great action-packed sequences, and I was never bored.
I’ve heard that the series doesn’t gain steam until after the fourth book. Since I really want to read “Skin Game”, I hope it happens a bit earlier than that. My chrono-compulsion doth continue.