Richard Kadrey brings us an action packed, urban fantasy with an interesting, theological component in his Sandman Slim Series. The main character, James Stark, has spent the last 11 years alive, but in hell being used as a gladiator/circus freak sort of entertainment for the hellions. Returning to Earth, to seek revenge for the murder of his previous girlfriend, he is after the people who sent him to hell. As to be expected in an urban fantasy novel, there is magic, vampires occasionally, zombies and other new and various beasties in this novel. Lightly peppered with the occasional romantic interlude with porn stars and demons, these books are full of plot twists and interesting creatures, including a talking, drinking, smoking human head, insane vicious angels and a likeable (mostly) Lucifer. Heaven and Hell are both in strife for various reasons, millennia after the original fall of Lucifer and his cohorts. James Stark (Sandman Slim) has become the bogeyman to hellion and human alike. In seeking revenge he becomes entangled in celestial battles and saving humanity.
Disclaimers: If crude language, descriptive gore and infrequent sex offends you, this series is not for you. If you are deeply religious and the idea of God being less than perfect is offensive, this series is not for you.
The writing is liberally doused with swearing and all of the characters have habits you would not want your children to pick up. The writing is not going to win any awards for its ingenuity, but the storyline is so fast paced and full of adventure it is easy to forgive. Richard Kadrey’s imagination is a dark and depraved place that I am glad he has shared with us.
The ideas that he brings up about heaven and hell throughout the series are thought provoking, and may seem to make more sense to some people than the typical views. With every book we get a deeper look into the inner workings of hell. While it is by no means a nice place (it is hell after all) it is more than most people have ever thought about. How many other authors have ever presented the view of a Lucifer who is unhappy? The few glimpses that we get of heaven do not seem to be full of angels singing and playing on harps eating cotton candy clouds, either.
Eleven years before the start of the series, our main character, James Stark, is a young magician. His strengths in magic lean towards party tricks to impress girls and playing pranks, but he is one of the strongest magic users in his crew. Mason, one of the other magicians in the circle, convinces the rest of the crew to perform a ritual, sending James to hell. Dying typically being a pre-requisite for humans to go to hell, he is a bit of a novelty to the hellions. The longer he stayed in hell, and the more hellions and demons he fought, the stronger he became. He is eventually turned into an assassin by one of Lucifer’s generals, and, ultimately, escapes hell using a special key that makes it so he can travel back to earth, and pretty much anywhere on earth or in hell. He was motivated to make his escape when he (in some way that I don’t believe was ever explained) discovers that his girlfriend he left on earth, Alice, was killed.
Once he returns to earth, he begins hunting down the members of his old crew to find out where Mason is. He is certain that Mason killed his girlfriend, and he wants revenge for that more than for being sent to hell.
Each book has its own separate plot and set of problems to be solved, but there is the underlying journey that Stark is on developing through every book, as well. As Stark steals, maims and kills his way through hell and earth alike he becomes drawn deeper and deeper into a celestial battle that no one will win.
Is this the best series I have ever read? No. Absolutely not. Is this the best series of its genre I’ve ever read? Again I say no. What this does offer is a good story, ingenuity and a fast pace that leaves no room for boredom.
The author, Richard Kadrey, has written several other books and short stories as well as a Vertigo comics mini-series. He is also a fetish photographer. His website proudly announces that “Richard has no qualifications for anything he does”.
Learn more about the author and his works at www.richardkadrey.com
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