Backup by Jim Butcher

Published by Subterranean Press
October 2008
ISBN 978-1-59606-182-8
Cover and interior illustrations by Mike Mignola

Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files has, over the past year or so, come to be one of my favorite on going fantasy book series. Butcher infuses his stories of the Wizard Detective with a superb combination of supernatural, mystery, horror, humor, humanity, and the ever so important quality of story telling that drives you to turn the pages. As readers of the Dresden Files know, Harry is a wizard for hire and all the novels in the Dresden Files saga are told through Harry’s eyes in a very effective and readable first person narrative. Backup; however, is not told through Harry’s eyes. Rather, we see a story from the view point of Thomas Raith, one of Harry’s few allies from the Vampire Courts.

One of my concerns, and I don’t doubt other fans of the books may have had similar thoughts, about Backup was whether or not Butcher would differentiate Thomas’s narrative voice enough from Harry’s so that they were each their own. The style is still Butcher, but he does deftly makes Thomas’s voice distinct enough that it works very well independent of Harry’s voice. In fact, I think Butcher could spin off a side series featuring Thomas if he so chose. One of the primary elements distinguishing Thomas’s voice from Harry’s voice is that he is a vampire, of course. However, Butcher works this very well into Thomas’s voice illustrating the hunger and need for blood, the fight against his own (literal) personal inner demon to not give into the lust for blood. Though many of Butcher’s Dresden Files do feature vampires, I wouldn’t consider them Vampire Fiction per say. However, Butcher really is onto something with his portrayal of Raith’s struggle as a vampire.

The tale is pretty straightforward, at least from Thomas’s point-of-view. Through his sister in the White Court of Vampires, Thomas comes to realize Harry is in a boatload of trouble, the case he’s on is nothing more than a poorly veiled set up. What Harry can’t know is that Thomas is shadowing him as protection and why Thomas was asked by his sister to not so much shadow Harry, but to work his way into the case. The why is, in a world that operates in shadows, an even more secretive text and supernatural war about which only a handful of people are aware – and those who are aware are players in the game.

Jim Butcher’s pacing is even quicker in this story and, perhaps dictated by the length, there is even greater sense of urgency. I am an admitted fan of Butcher’s writing and think this length suits him just as well as novel-length stories. I’d like to see more from other characters who surround Harry Dresden or more from Thomas Raith.

Though the book I reviewed is only the Advance Reading Copy, like all of the ARCs I’ve reviewed from Subterranean Press, the quality is outstanding. Good paperstock, glossy cover and terrific sketches (and cover) from Hellboy creator Mike Mignola. With the quality I see on the ARC, I can only imagine how great the final book will look. If it was Bill Schaffer from Subterranean or Butcher asking for Mignola to do the work, it was an obvious choice, Mignola’s shadowy, gloomy style fits the story in Backup very well and I’d love to see more collaboration between the two. Maybe a Harry Dresden/Hellboy crossover? Maybe a Jim Butcher-penned Hellboy novel? Maybe some more Butcher novelettes with Mignola art? I don’t know, but there’s a lot of potential for good things to happen with the imagination and storytelling abilities of Mignola and Butcher.

Backup is a solid entry to the background of the Dresden Files, a terrific story in and of itself, and the book itself looks to be a great collector’s item for both fans of Butcher’s Dresden Files or of good storytelling matched up with terrific art. Obviously from what my review says, I’d highly recommend Backup.

© 2008 Rob H. Bedford

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