Sci Fi

Book Review – Backup by Jim Butcher

Even monsters like the vampire Thomas Raith do a good deed sometimes and Jim Butcher's twelve-thousand word limited edition novelette "Backup" from the incomparable Subterranean Press details one of Thomas's more altruistic deeds. Based on Butcher's bestselling Dresden Files series, "Backup" is a rare event in the Dresden universe. Unlike the novels which are told exclusively from Harry Dresden's perspective, "Backup" is told by Raith. It's a behind-the-scenes type story in which the narrating character's actions secretly help a hero accomplish his objective. Without the narrator's intervention, the hero would normally be in grave peril, an unknowing damsel-in-distress. Playing the damsel-in-distress here (minus the melodramatic fainting) is Harry, who just happens to be Raith's younger brother.

So proving that blood is thicker than mayhem-making, Thomas is lead into goodness in order to look out for Harry. Things start out innocently enough with an email to Thomas from the White Court. Something very urgent that requires his immediate attention has come up, forcing Thomas to meet with a courier who will fill him in on all the juicy details.

On meeting the courier, Thomas finds out that his good-hearted brother has taken on a new case. Harry believes that he's helping a woman find her kidnapped child, but instead he's being unknowingly set up by the Stygian Sisterhood. Now the Sisterhood and vampires have a rather intense hatred of each other; the two groups currently engaged in a silent war. So finding and destroying members of the Stygian Sisterhood is high up on Thomas's to-do list. But he also wants to watch his brother's back, hopefully keeping Harry out of hot water with the Sisterhood. Frustrated, Thomas only hopes these two objectives aren't mutually exclusive.

Make no mistake; even though "Backup" is told from Thomas's point of view, Butcher's novelette is pure Dresden Files. Filled with the combination of goofy humor and fast-paced action that Butcher's novels have become famous for, "Backup" starts quickly and equally ends quickly. The biggest disappointment, in fact, is how fast the whole reading experience goes. It would have been nice to see the story fleshed out more. The ending, in particular, was abrupt, which was a shame since it featured the novelette's best scene as Thomas playacted the worse stereotypical villain imaginable.

And Thomas's playacting isn't the only memorable scene in the story. There's another great scene featuring Thomas conversing with Bob, a confidante of Harry's who happens to be a spirit living in a human skull. The interaction between Bob and Thomas is fantastic, making for an utterly entertaining scene. (But then again, just about any scene with Bob in it has a high entertainment index.)

Other than the abbreviated nature of the story, "Backup" is quite enjoyable. If you've never read any of the Dresden Files books, "Backup" would serve as a fine introduction to the series; However, it may not be engaging enough to coax new readers into trying Butcher's Dresden Files novels. Butcher's previous fans will undoubtedly love it even though it's not a Harry-centric story.

Artist Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, contributes some solid black and white art to the novelette. Mignola's work is always unique and stylistic; nothing else looks quite like it. However, while the art is interesting, I did not find it adding much to the proceedings. It is the type of quality artwork though which Subterranean Press has become known for in its limited editions, so the inclusion of Mignola's drawings is more a matter of presentation than narrative function.

Last Word:
"Backup" is a wonderful little jaunt through the Dresden Files universe, most noticeable for the fact that it is told from the perspective of Harry's older brother, Thomas Raith. Filled with one great scene after another, the novelette's biggest drawback is that it's over so quickly. Still, it's pure Dresden Files, which means that both fans and non-fans alike will find this a very entertaining and humorous read.