Richard Kadrey – Sandman Slim

Life sucks, and then you die.

Or if you’re James Stark, a.k.a. Sandman Slim, you skip the dying, get betrayed by your friends, and spend the next 11 years trapped in Hell.

A decade of fighting Hellion monsters will change a person, but you don’t survive the devil’s playground without learning a few tricks. Stark has changed, escaped, and is back in LA, seeking revenge.

But the road to absolution proves longer than expected and it doesn’t take long for him to realize that both Heaven and Hell have their own plans for his future.

In the past few months I seem to have discovered several new urban fantasy series I really enjoy; Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series is the latest one along those lines. The first book in the series, also titled Sandman Slim, is a great urban fantasy featuring the most unlikeliest of heroes and a fight for vengeance against an enemy that will unite denizens of Heaven, Hell and Earth to save the world. I’d heard about the Sandman Slim series, especially from The Mad Hatter, who’s a big fan of the series, so I was really pleasantly surprised when I received an ARC for the UK release for Sandman Slim. And I can now totally understand Michael’s enthusiasm for this series.

The setting is LA, but an LA where magic isn’t completely underground. Instead magic users are governed by the Sub Rosa – which (probably not so) coincidentally also means secret – and keep a low profile, but the normal folk know the ‘pixies’ are out there, as do the various TLA government agencies which Stark runs into. I loved the fact that the TLA people were allied with Heaven and that they are even bank-rolled by them. Who would have thought angels would need the help of mortals and would be so mercenary in procuring it? In fact, the portrayals for both Heaven and Hell are interesting and very much not as they are described traditionally, which I appreciated, it kept reading about them interesting, instead of clichéd and boring. An alluring addition to the triptych of Heaven, Hell and Earth is the Room of Thirteen Doors, the hinge between Earth and Hell and only usable by the keeper of the key to this room. Our man Stark acquired this key during his stay in Hell and uses it to good effect throughout the novel. Kadrey strikes the perfect balance between using the key’s properties to get Stark and company out of sticky situations and not using it as a Deus Ex Machina solution to every problem Stark encounters. In addition, he doesn’t let Stark overuse the Room, instead giving him a penchant for hot-wiring cars and motorcycles to use as regular transportation, which I appreciated both as a running gag and as a way to not let the Room become too hum-drum so the reader won’t notice it anymore.

Kadrey’s cast of characters is a pleasing one as well. His leading man, James Stark is a fantastic character, the prototypical anti-hero; he’s a baddish guy, with some dubious habits, such as the previously mentioned predilection for hot-wiring his transportation, but you can’t help but root for the guy. While he might go about it in a less than peace-loving way, his motivation for wanting revenge, his betrayal and the murder of his girlfriend, is something the reader can connect to and understand. In addition, his somewhat dry humour and sense of responsibility for his friends and the innocents around him make him even more likable. Stark’s support cast is cool. From his friends and fellow ‘pixies’ Vidocq, Candy and Kinski, to the TLA agent ‘Don’t call me Tex’ Wells, to the decidedly non-magical bar-owner Carlos, who Stark takes into his protection, they all have their place in the story and they all felt like real persons, with a story behind them, even if we didn’t get to see said story. The only who baffled me was Allegra. Don’t get me wrong I liked her in her no-nonsense sidekick way, but she baffled me as her motivations were rather unclear. Why would she so happily dive into this strange and dangerous world of the Sub Rosa, knowing what the result might be? In contrast, the bad guys are far less interesting, well, except for Lucifer, but it’s debatable whether he’s a bad guy in this book. But their motivations are far less interesting or clear than those of the good guys; I guess I’d expected something a little more devious and diabolical.

However, despite my minor bad guy niggle, I had a great time with Kadrey’s first Sandman Slim novel. The story kept me entertained throughout and I had no problem picking it back up whenever I had a moment. Voyager is quick releasing the first three books to catch the UK up before the publication of the fourth book Devil Said Bang in October. Sandman Slim was released by Voyager on June 7th, with book two, Kill the Dead, following June 21st and book three, Aloha From Hell, on July 5th. So if you’ve missed out on these books up until now, it’s the perfect time to give this series a go, as you won’t have to wait long between books. And believe me that is a good thing!

This book was provided for review by the publisher.