Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
Life sucks and then you die. Or, if you’re James Stark, you spend eleven years in Hell as a hitman before finally escaping, only to land back in the hell-on-earth that is Los Angeles.
Now Stark’s back, and ready for revenge. And absolution, and maybe even love. But when his first stop saddles him with an abusive talking head, Stark discovers that the road to absolution and revenge is much longer than you’d expect, and both Heaven and Hell have their own ideas for his future.
Resurrection sucks. Saving the world is worse.
I actually came across this book in an indie bookshop, and was surprised that it had completely slipped my radar. Despite its subject matter, this book is so beautifully packaged in a small hardback with an extremely well-designed jacket, that I was instantly drawn to it and knew I had to buy it! I have to admit though; from reading the blurb I didn’t quite know whether to expect something brilliant or a tad cheesy. I’ve read similar stories before – probably most notably Jim Butcher’s Storm Front, the first of the Dresden Files, and wasn’t particularly blown away, so I was intrigued to see how it would compare. I realise I haven’t read all of the Dresden Files books, but from comparing the first in the series to Sandman Slim, there really is no contest – Sandman Slim was much more enjoyable without a doubt!
There are a lot of elements to this story that reminded me a lot of the television show Supernatural, so if you’re a fan then you should definitely pick this up. With a whole host of characters ranging from angels, demons, devils, jades, magicians; this story doesn’t leave you short-changed in any way. Sandman Slim, or more secretly known as James Stark, was sent to hell by fellow magician Mason, and he’s just managed to escape after eleven years of fighting battles with Hell’s most terrifying creatures. And he’s certainly back with a vengeance after he discovers that the only woman he has ever really loved has been killed by Mason too. Stark is instantly likeable – full of charisma and brutal honesty with a wonderful spark of humour to his personality – he is more than entertaining. There are some real laugh-out-loud moments in this book and I found myself reading them aloud to people around me because I found it that funny!
What I perhaps loved most about this book is how original it feels in comparison to all the other urban fantasy novels I’ve read lately. It feels as though Kadrey has looked beyond the simple horror tropes of vampires and demons, and I don’t know whether he’s created half of the mythology within his novel, or researched it, but it feels so much more fleshed-out and believable than any other novel of its kind. You do need to be able to suspend belief however with some of the elements – particularly the character of Kasabian who literally becomes just a talking head. It may sound silly, but I was more than happy to go with it and that’s all thanks to the wonderful writing of Richard Kadrey. There are also some brilliant female characters here, who I’m really looking forward to seeing more of in the next book – particularly Allegra, a human who has become tangled up in Stark’s life, and is now learning magic of her own, and Candy – the jade who is fighting her instinctive need to drink human blood.
If I were to criticise this novel in any way it would be that I felt it perhaps a little too long, and the fact that it has no chapters whatsoever (my pet-hate) really made it drag a little for me, and I ended up taking much longer to read it because of this! However, this really is only a small quibble. Richard Kadrey has managed to write a very original, very exciting and totally kick-ass urban fantasy story that I literally can’t wait to continue my adventure with the infamous Sandman Slim. For me, Sandman Slim is perhaps five times better than Jim Butcher’s Storm Front, and this is all down to Kadrey’s creative imagination and confidence as a writer. It definitely has a Raymond Chandler meets Supernatural feel about it, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who may not only love urban fantasy, but who is just looking for a thoroughly enjoyable read that you won’t want to put down.
Sandman Slim is out now, published by Harper Voyager. The next two in the series; Kill the Dead and Aloha From Hell are also out now.