by Jim Butcher

Subterranean Press


70pp/$20.00/October 2008

Cover by Mike Mignola

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

It is said that everyone is the hero of their own story.  However, if you are a support character in a popular novel, you get many chances to play the sidekick, but rarely the hero.  Jim Butcher has allowed Thomas Raith to be the hero by allowing him to tell his own story in Backup, a novella associated with Butcher's popular Harry Dresden series. Harry appears on stage in the novel, but almost as an aside.  This is Thomas' story, even though his actions are driven by his kinship with Harry.

When Thomas gets an indication that his younger half-brother, Harry Dresden, the star of the series, is the target of a plot by the Stygian Sisterhood as part of the on-going Oblivion War, he mobilizes to save his brother, and protect him from the knowledge of the threat at the same time. Thomas’s actions with regard to the Stygian Sisterhood are of less interest than his reasons for protecting Harry from knowing of the threat, and Harry’s ignorance of the situation is interesting, but the most interesting part of the novel is Butcher’s examination of Thomas’ own internal conflict with his demonic half.

Thomas is to only a half-brother to Harry, but also a half-human, with the remainder being comprised of a demon who must constantly be kept in check lest he injure those who are close to him. Although Thomas mostly has his demonic tendencies under response, and doesn’t exhibit the same sort of split personality as, say Gollum/Sméagol in The Lord of the Rings, the threat of his demonic side surfacing is always at hand.  It adds an interesting, although perhaps underplayed, aspect to Thomas’ character.

Although the plot of Backup stands on its own, the characters and situations do not.  Butcher assumes a familiarity with the relationships and the supernatural of his world in writing this novella which will leave the reader wondering about the details behind it, although not necessarily enough to pick up the novels in the Harry Dresden series. Thomas is shown interacting with his ex-lover, Justine, ad with Harry’s advisor, Bob, but for the most part, Butcher doesn’t explore his relationships with others, nor fully examine the manner in which the demon inside affects those interactions.

While Backup is an interesting story, it seems a bit incomplete, partially because of its length and mostly because it does rely on the situations Butcher has more fully developed in the series of novels focusing on Harry Dresden. For those who are already familiar with Butcher's world, Backup adds an interesting twist and depth to a support character, but it is not particularly recommended to those who have not already read at least some of Butcher's novels.

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