Subterranean Press, 2008
SPOILER NOTE: If you aren’t up-to-date on Butcher’s Dresden Files (at least up to Death Masks) now would be a could time to stop reading this review.
The titular wizard from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files is mostly absent from Backup, a short novella available from Subterranean Press, which instead focuses Thomas Raith; Harry’s vampiric half-brother. It is a standalone story that does little to advance any of the plots from the main series but manages to flesh out Thomas as a character and add an interesting new detail about the world of Harry Dresden.
Backup starts off with Thomas being contacted by his sister and asked to take down a sister of the Stygian Sisterhood. While Thomas is typically sceptical of his sister’s motives it turns out that the evil sister is using Harry to complete its nefarious plan. With a threat to Harry, who has a documented soft spot for damsels in distress, Thomas takes the case and begins to track down the sister.
What ensues is more of a character portrait than a true story, but no less fun as a result. This is the first glimpse readers get inside Thomas’ head and Butcher manages to paint a much more tragic and conflicted figure. While Thomas manages his hunger by feeding off his customers (White Court vampires feed off lust/desire, or something) in small doses his minimal diet is still a struggle and might even be exasperating the strength of his inner demons. On the one hand, revealing the inner struggle Thomas faces provides for a great depth of character on the other hand it feels almost like a cop out. How times have we seen morally conflicted vampires struggling with their inner demons? This doesn’t invalidate all the unique things about Thomas, but it certainly made me let out a slightly agrieved sigh.
Most of the action, and Thomas’ narrative, is played for a more comic effect though it never veers into the outright ridiculous. It is particularly amusing to note that Thomas’ approach to dealing with things is blunter and more direct than Harry’s who, while certainly cunning, is not always into the whole subtle aspect of detective work. I could have done with more Bob/Thomas interaction the idea of the pervy air spirit and lust-eating vampire team-up sounds like sheer genius to me. Unfortunatley the Thomas/Bob interaction we do get is more didactic in nature and constitutes the majority of the novella’s exposition. It isn’t a very exciting use for typically amusing Bob what we do learn about Thomas and the Vampire Courts is interesting and has potential ramifications for the rest of the Dresden world.
As a standalone story in the magic-stricken world of the Dresden Files, Backup certainly does its job in fleshing out an important side player to the main series. Vampire cliche aside Thomas attitude towards life, and often eccentric qualities, make him an enjoyable character to read. While it is a terrible place for new readers to start anyone who has read up through Death Masks will likely find Backup an enjoyable distraction from the main series.