Skin Game

Skin Game is an excellent urban fantasy novel, it’s emotional and entertaining, and it really does drive the story of Dresden forward, but is it sustainable?

 Harry Dresden started out life as a Chicago Wizard, listed in the phone book.  Over a significant number of books, Harry has grown in power, both in terms of the enemies and allies he gathers around himself and also in terms of his own access to powerful abilities.  While at first, Harry’s actions were centred around his clients and his friends, over time they have become world threatening, and involved the mightiest of beings in the universe, in many cases, literally.  That is starting to present Jim Butcher with a problem, and it’s starting to show.

There’s no great mystery to a basic urban fantasy novel.  Give your protagonist something they have to fix, the risk of success and failure being emotionally significant.  Then, over a number of acts, make their attempts backfire or make things worse.  Finally, have them pull it out of the bag but make sure there’s always a price.  For urban fantasy writers who want a long running series, you need to throw in a few long running arcs, sometimes obvious, sometimes subtle, and then you need to start tying the stories together; linking them back to that arc.

The skill in delivering a good read isn’t just knowing that basic template, the skill is wrapping a story around it filled with people you can empathise with, root for and cry for.  It’s in delivering a compelling narrative, hiding the clues in plain sight, giving us sparkling dialogue, and the hundred other things that good craftsmen and women demonstrate in their writing.

Jim Butcher is undeniably excellent at his craft.  He may have off-days (I found Ghost Story lacking), but Skin Game is an emotional blockbuster.  Harry Dresden is on form, and I’m not ashamed to say there are plenty of scenes in the book that made me weep and cry, sometimes for joy, sometimes in relief, and sometimes in pure sadness.  The pacing is great, the dialogue is just magical, and the other characters are as excellent as always.

However, the bones are still showing inside the emotional flesh of the story.  There’s an element of ‘we can’t kill Harry so we’re always going to have to kill his friends’ that Butcher just can’t get around.  He’s built Harry up to be invincible for physical and political reasons, and the net result is that no matter how much he gets brutally injured (and he does, often), you know the ultimate step is going to be an attack on his friends and family.

It’s inevitable, and it happens a couple of times in the book (not mentioning when).  Jim’s skill of course, ensures that the scenes in which it happens are emotional, gripping and thrilling, and that compensates, and ensures the book is still going to get great ratings, but some part of me is sitting outside of that, rationally reminding myself that Jim has a problem.

Skin Game is a heist story, of supernatural proportions.  The gang is put together, the heist is planned, and then the game is afoot.  It is engaging, funny, thrilling, sad, joyous and emotional in all the right places.  Some of the scenes are truly sublime, and it’s got many of the long standing characters from the series.  In fact, like Cold Days it really starts to tie many of those characters and events together into a deeper understanding of what’s going on in the world of Dresden.

But there’s one scene I can’t get of my head.  It’s not a big spoiler.  Dresden goes to see Michael.  Dresden stands on the doorstep and tells Michael that he thinks he might need help, and that he thinks he’s lost.  Given how I felt about Ghost Story, and Cold Days when I first tried to read it, I can’t but wonder if that was Jim asking the same question.

How does he fit a story around Harry now that Harry is the character he is.  What’s next, and how can he possible contain it?

It’s a rather rambling review, for which I apologise.  After being disappointed with Ghost Story, I tried Cold Days but didn’t quite finished it.  Trying again, I re-read Cold Days recently, enjoying it more than the first time and immediately picked up Skin Game.  Skin Game is an excellent urban fantasy novel, it’s emotional and entertaining, and it really does drive the story of Dresden forward, but is it sustainable?  Is Dresden’s power sustainable, and are the stories sustainable in the face of it?

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Jim Butcher
  • Series: Dresden Files (15)
  • Format: Hardback
  • Publisher: Orbit
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Cold Days

 Harry Dresden is back, and mostly kicking!  Being reunited with the body he is pretty fond of comes with a price; he now wears the mantle of the Winter Knight, the burden he tried so hard to avoid. Something is badly wrong in the Winter Court of Faerie and it’s now his job to solve it.  The pay freeze sucks though.

After the emotional overload of Ghost Story it was good to get back to a more ‘normal’ Harry (read those quotes as huge honking flashing ones!).  Apart from the first few chapters, the majority of the book takes place in a very short space of time, so the pace of the story as you can imagine is pretty much full on, breathtaking, balls to the wall action.

To say Harry is on a huge learning curve would be an understatement but he still manages with gusto, witty comments and his own imitable style. He gets reunited with most of the people I have grown to love and I consider them to be an integral part of Harry’s world.  Things changed however during the course of the previous book so it’s not just Mr Dresden who is learning a new way.

There are so many things I want to mention about this book but they would be complete spoilers so I will just say this – The things… that happened!  OMG NO WAY! and finally, Awesome!!  I think that about covers it 😉

I loved Cold Days so much, Jim Butcher’s writing style is so distinctive yet eminently readable and the flow just drags you in deeper, while the charm wraps itself around you and before you know it, you are caught.  Add in the laugh out loud moments, the pop-culture jokes, the shocks that smack you upside the head but then make complete sense and you have a book that stands head and shoulders above anything else in the genre.

I think Jim Butcher is holding out on us, I think he is a wizard and enthralls his readers, with his books as spells.  Or you know, he is just an awesomely good writer 😉  Either way, you need to read Cold Days!  If you haven’t experienced Harry Dresden yet, track down a copy of the first book Storm Front and get started, you won’t regret it!  I can’t recommend them highly enough.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Book Information
  • Author: Jim Butcher
  • Series: Dresden Files (14)
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Ghost Story

It’s incredibly hard to write this review without spoilers.  I keep wanting to go ‘ooh and there was this and that!!’ but I shall try not to spoil it. If you haven’t read Changes yet though, you need to go and read that first, before Ghost Story.  You just have to!

This book has so much that is good about it.  The humour, drama, action scenes; all part of Jim Butcher’s unique and engaging writing style, but in Ghost Story, somehow he’s turned that dial up to eleven.  It is simply phenomenal and such a fantastic read that I couldn’t put it down.  I laughed out loud, I cried, I even shouted at one point, so I’m glad I was reading it at home.

I think the best of Harry comes out in this book.  Because of his situation, he has to think and plan, rather than fireball first and ask questions later.  It lets you see more of the man behind the wizard and how intelligent he really is.  That’s not to say he isn’t still running full pelt into trouble, he wouldn’t be the Harry we know and love if he wasn’t.  Just without his usual methods of dealing with things, he has to get… creative.  I also have to highlight the puns and pop culture references in this book, they provided much needed laughter and were brilliantly used.

The pace of the books in the Dresden Files is as much a part of Butcher’s style as the stories are, and Ghost Story is right there, leaving you breathless.  There are moments of reflection and realisation but they are most definitely the calm before the storm.  You know it’s only a brief respite, time to gather yourself, before you are off again.  In some books that relentless pace might be considered a bad thing but in this series it’s an integral part of the experience, and I would be disappointed if it was any different.

The story itself is amazingly well written, gripping and has more twists and turns than a twisty turny thing.  There is one definitive ‘Oh my God‘ moment and it was gloriously done and I did not see it coming.  At all.  If you’ve read it, you will know exactly what I mean.  If you haven’t, hopefully you will have to read it now!

Because of the events in Changes, some of the usual cast of characters are different and not necessarily in a good way.  You see the effect Harry has on the people in his life and what happens when he is not there for a time.  I fear some things are too broken now to repair, but I still hold out hope.  Just two simple paragraphs towards the end reduced me to tears, and they weren’t even about any of the human cast.  The characters, as always, are vivid and well realised.

The Dresden Files is a series that just gets better and better, and I honestly think this is the best one so far.  So much so, I worry where it goes from here, can it actually get any better?  Does it need to?  I don’t have an answer to that other than, I need the next one now!

Jim Butcher is the absolute ruler and master of Urban Fantasy and long may he reign!

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Book Information
  • Author: Jim Butcher
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)

Side Jobs

Side Jobs is a collection of stories set in the world of Harry Dresden, occurring in and around the main series.

It’s always good to be back in the Dresdenverse, even if it is only for brief dips.  I had already read some of the stories collected in this book, in their respective anthologies, but others were new to me and a complete joy to read.  Butcher loses none of his charm and style even though the stories are short, and every one had a different feel to it, fitting to the situation at hand.  His trademark laugh out loud moments are still very much prevalent and as with the full books, they are totally appropriate to the scenes.

He writes a little about each story before it starts, how it came into being or what his reason for writing it were, and they provided quite an insight into Jim Butcher himself.  The very first introduction actually made me laugh, and also realise his ego, or rather lack of one, has not been affected by the success of his books at all.  He believes it to be a beginner’s effort and there I have to disagree with him completely.  It might not have been up to the quality of his later work, but it had all the flair and energy that attracted me to his work in the first place.

There are eight stories about Harry, a very short vignette which I found very amusing, and two told from other character’s perspectives.  One is told by Thomas and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it; there is definitely more going on in his mind than I expected.  I also loved that a few old beloved characters came back into action again, even if it was only for a short time.

The big surprise, however, was the final story, told from Karrin Murphy’s perspective which takes place directly after the last book, Changes.  I won’t say much more because of spoilers, but he wrote her extremely well and it was good to see the world from her perspective.  I’m really glad it didn’t become an attempt to have a female version of Harry, she is her own person completely, stayed true to the character I love in the series, and it was great being able to delve into her mind.  I absolutely cannot wait for the next Dresden book, Ghost Story!

Jim Butcher is a master storyteller that always leaves me wanting MORE!

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Book Information
  • Author: Jim Butcher
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)

Books I can’t wait for in 2011

There are so many books in already established series’ I am looking forwards to reading this year, not to mention new ones I have yet to discover.  Here is a selection that I really can’t wait to get my paws on :

Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance


A Hard Day’s Knight (Nightside) by Simon R. Green (Ace Books)
Kitty goes to War (Kitty Norville) by Carrie Vaughn (Gollancz)


River Marked (Mercy Thompson) by Patricia Briggs (Orbit)
Invincible (Chronicles of Nick 2) by Sherrilyn Kenyon (ATOM)
Lover Unleashed (Black Dagger Brotherhood) by J. R. Ward (Piatkus Books)


Ghost Story (Dresden Files 13) by Jim Butcher (Orbit)
Side Jobs: Stories from the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (Orbit)
Born of Shadows (League 4) by Sherrilyn Kenyon (Piatkus Books)


Hunt the Moon (Cassie Palmer) by Karen Chance (Signet Books)
Deadline (Newsflesh Trilogy) by Mira Grant (Orbit)


Kitty’s Big Trouble (Kitty Norville) by Carrie Vaughn (Gollancz)


Pale Demon by (The Hollows) Kim Harrison (Harper Voyager)
Retribution (Dark-Hunter) by Sherrilyn Kenyon (Piatkus Books)
Downpour (Greywalker) by Kat Richardson (Piatkus Books)


Envy (Fallen Angels) by J. R. Ward (Piatkus Books)



Land of Painted Caves (Earth’s Children Book 6) by Jean M. Auel (Hodder & Stoughton)
Twilight’s Dawn (Black Jewels) by Anne Bishop (Roc)


Shadow Chaser (Chronicles of Siala) by Alexey Pehov (Simon & Schuster)

Chick Lit


To the Moon and Back by Jill Mansell (Headline)


Summer of Love by Katie Fforde (Century)
Kiss and Tell by Fiona Walker (Sphere)


Any Man of Mine by Rachel Gibson (Corgi)



You Belong to Me by Karen Rose (Headline)


Virals by Kathy Reichs (Arrow (Young))

First Lord’s Fury

In Calderon it began and in Calderon it will end, one way or another.  The last defence and hope of the realm against the Vord Queen and her endless horde.  If Gaius Octavian and his scattered army can’t win through, it will be the end of all things.

It’s bittersweet picking up the last book in a series.  I know, no matter how it turns out, it’s going to be the last one.  I try and read slowly, take it all in but as usual I get caught up in the story, progress at my usual pace and all too soon I am on the last page.  After I closed First Lord’s Fury, I sat there for a good fifteen minutes just staring in to space to absorb it and think it through.  It’s simply that good.

Some books I finish and while I might have really enjoyed it, I am straight on to another.  Others, like this one, I have to wait, reflect and in some respects grieve a little that it’s finished.  I didn’t expect it to have that much impact.

Jim Butcher is a master at creating characters you really care about, a story that is compelling and extremely engaging and this book takes both of those into overdrive.  It’s a bit of a dizzying cast, but with the Vord taking Alera apart piece by beloved piece, her defenders also have to be numerous.  Having said that, you get to see all the characters you’ve come to love fight for the realm that they loved, or those you hate continue their work to betray it.  It’s harrowing and grim yet moments of hope, love and laughter lighten your heart and keep you glued to the pages.  So many heart in mouth moments, heroic feats, sacrifice and sorrow for those that are lost are matched with the fast pace of battle.   At times I felt as if I was in the character’s shoes, not knowing what emotion is going to hit you next.

If there is anything negative I have to say about this book is that not quite as much use was made of the alliances as there could have been.  Then again, I had to remind myself that while there were a considerable number of Canim present,  that was all that was left of their race and at the end of the day, it was the battle for Alera.

A breathtaking end to an amazing series.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Book Information
  • Author: Jim Butcher
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)


Harry Dresden, the only Wizard in the phone book is in for the shock of his life.  After a phone call from his ex-girlfriend Susan rocks his world, he realises Arianna Ortega has sworn revenge for the death of her husband and she is going to get it by killing his daughter.

The White Council, still reeling from betrayal and foolishly trying to garner peace with the Red Court vampires can’t help him and his list of allies is thin.  Those who mean the most to him however are ready to stand and fight by his side and Harry must find a way to take on the Red King and the entire Red Court, or lose the daughter he’d never known about.  With few options open to him, some of them down a very dark road, and growing more desperate, he must choose the best way he can to save his daughter and his friends.

Since Changes is the twelfth  book in the Dresden Files series, there are certain things you have come to expect.  Fast paced action, Harry being witty, heroic in the face of all evil and being regularly beaten into a pulp.  This book has all that and much, much more.  The very first sentence of the first paragraph gives you a big UH-OH moment and really, it doesn’t stop til the OH MY GOD moment at the end of the book.  It’s an emotional, engaging, gritty ride that doesn’t really let up apart from the laugh out loud sections that Butcher has such a talent for.

This book is a much more personal look into Harry’s life and what he believes in than previous novels.  The sections that show just what he’s capable of and willing to do for those he loves reduced me to tears.  I really can’t say more than that without spoiling it.

I absolutely love these books and while they have never become formulaic and samey for me, some are better than others and I honestly feel Changes is one of the best.  The title says it all really, there are some big changes in store for Harry and if you like this series, it’s an absolute must read.  Jim Butcher at his very best.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Book Information
  • Author: Jim Butcher
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)

Princeps’ Fury

After managing to engineer peace with the Canim, Tavi holds to his promise and escorts them home.  Widespread devastation meets them and the belief that all would be well once Varg and his countrymen had set foot back on their own soil vanishes as they realise the dreaded Vord had laid waste to their entire country.  Back home, his loved ones are fighting their own battle with the Vord and go far and above the call of duty for the love of Alera and her Furies.  Alera must prevail.

So far, this series has been nothing short of amazing and yet Princeps’ Fury still manages to step it up a notch.  It has been a while since I read book four but I had no trouble at all diving right back into the story and greeting old friends.  Some authors tend to have a few major characters that I love intensely, but Butcher manages to sneak an entire legion into my heart.  Tavi, Kitai, Isana, Bernard, Max, Amara, Varg, Nausag – the list just goes on and I have no idea how he keeps them all straight or devotes as much intense attention to them all as he does.  With so many central characters I wouldn’t fault you for thinking it would be too many for them all to be so well rounded. Honestly though, the characterisations are just so good. I even felt I got to know the people better than before as they acted and reacted to the events unfolding in their lives.

The plot itself for this book is very different to what I was expecting.  Shocking, emotional, harrowing and heroic.  In between it all there are still shots of humour and love.  I found this book deeply emotional and I can’t say more than that without spoilers but if you are at all like me, have some tissues handy.  The pace chopped and changed a bit but that was dictated by the story and didn’t detract at all.  In fact it would have been a bad thing had certain scenes been rushed as it would have lost all impact and emotion, and that is where the quality of the storytelling lies.

A truly engaging and entertaining book by a master storyteller!

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Book Information
  • Author: Jim Butcher
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)

Jim Butcher

About Jim Butcher

Jim enjoys various diverse hobbies – martial arts, fencing, singing, riding, roleplaying and while that should make him seem like a fairly scary individual, all reports suggest he is a very nice man.  He also does LRP (Live Roleplaying) which in my book makes him fairly awesome!  He lives with his wife, son and dog and is without a doubt one of the best writers of urban fantasy and fantasy I’ve come across in a long time.

My Comments

I managed to start the Dresden Files right at the beginning with Storm Front and was blown away (no pun intended!) by Harry Dresden.  As a character he is brilliant, sarcastic, enigmatic and often downright hilarious.  You also see him develop a more sombre, angry side which adds more depth to the character and just helps you empathise with him all the more.  The books themselves are a bit like riding a runaway horse.  You can’t get off, you have to just hang on and keep going and eventually it will stop but you also know you just had the ride of your life.  They are pure entertainment and just get better with each book.  There was a short lived TV show which was a lot of fun and it was a crime when it was cancelled.

The fantasy side of his writing talent comes with the Codex Alera, a series based in a world where the ordinary is extraordinary and it’s down to a boy without the talents everyone else has, to use his wits and intelligence to get by.  I wasn’t reading much fantasy at this stage but since it was a Jim Butcher book I thought I would give it a go and again, it was fantastic.  Very different in theme and even writing style to the Dresden Books which I thought was good because we didn’t need another Harry Dresden but in a fantasy setting.  All I can say is give the first one a go!


Dresden Files

Short Stories

Codex Alera

Furies of Calderon

The Realm of Alera is a civilized and beautiful place, where the average person has furies at their command, elemental beings of earth, air, fire, water and metal, bonded with those who have an affinity for them.  Out in the harsh frontier of Calderon Valley,  Tavi is an ordinary boy in an extraordinary world.  The nephew of Steadholder Bernard and his sister Isana, both with powerful furies of their own, he is seen by his peers as a freak as he commands none.  Stumbling into the start of an invasion by the savage Marat, he meets Cursor Amara, one of the King’s spies and is thrust into events that could lead to the fall of Alera or the very least, the assassination of the King.  Using his wits and intelligence where others would use their furies, Tavi fights to keep his family, people and ultimately Alera safe.

I’ve been a big fan of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files for a long time and was really interested to hear he was writing a fantasy based series.  Fantasy was my first love but for a while now, I hadn’t found anything new that had caught my attention and imagination.

First off, I absolutely love the unique magic system Butcher created for his world.  Elemental beings that bond with the Alerans, almost like pets and are used in everyday life.  Fire furies that keep lights and torches burning, water furies that allow water to travel along pipes or be used to heal wounds, earth furies that can raise walls, track prey or imbue their people with greater strength and so on.  The furies take on a personality of their own and become supplementary characters that enhance the story as you meet them, however briefly.

The characters are superbly written, the main cast all have depth and detail that lead you to care about them right from the start, even the ‘bad’ guys who have their own stories and reasons for choosing the path they have taken.  You also have the Marat, a tribal people who the Alerans consider savages with ways incomprehensible to them. Their characters are intriguing, vastly different to the Alerans and their society rich with tradition and beliefs.  When the two begin to mix, it produces often amusing exchanges as they try to learn how to interact with each other.

The story itself is wonderful, flows easily throughout the book and the pace is just right.  Exciting action alongside somber, tender moments, sharing a character’s dread at something that just happened and at times I was moved to tears.  It has all the elements of a story I love – heroic endeavours in the face of overwhelming odds, clinging to something you believe in no matter how futile it might seem and finding love at the bleakest of times.  These are all things that capture my heart and imagination.

By the end, I was in love with the world and it’s characters and left with a feeling of having read something truly remarkable.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Book Information
  • Author: Jim Butcher
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)