Dark and gritty fantasist Richard Kadrey does not re-invent the genre with bad dude magician turned sleuth and hit-man James Stark. Instead Kadrey put...moreDark and gritty fantasist Richard Kadrey does not re-invent the genre with bad dude magician turned sleuth and hit-man James Stark. Instead Kadrey puts his decidedly adult stamp on the genre that was once Buffy-like and frankly a little too cute for its own good. Stark is not cute. No sir. “Harry Potter is a wizard, I’m a magician,” stated Stark with barely concealed contempt. And the difference implied by the character manifests itself with dirty bluntness as the story runs its course.
Stark is also known as Sandman Slim. Know as Sandman Slim to the denizens of Hell where he worked as a hit-man for one of the favored generals of Lucifer. But Stark’s not dead or the living dead. Oh no. See, Stark was alive when he went to Hell due to falling for power grab ploy by a one time collaborator – a peer in the mystical Sub Rosa (a clandestine group of magical beings). So Stark fought his way out of hell and he’s back. He’s mad. He’s going to get what’s his.
There is subtle craft to Kadrey’s creation that might get lost in the fantastical elements that drive the writing. Stark was 19 when he was tricked into Hell. He spent 11 years there and now he’s 30 – but still with the temperament of an arrogant aged 19 rebel. I think this might be in part a wink by the author to the demographic of the books likely readers. This selfish attitude gets Stark into trouble – especially with the few allies that he has; But it also leads to the best and most testosterone driven confrontations that drive the pacing of the book.
Dark and nearly blasphemous rivers of humor run through the book like flows from the Amazon, Nile, and Mississippi combined. Like Edward Lee’s mythos, the Kadrey written Stark world is not for those with a weak conscience with regard to, excuse me, Devil-may-care attitudes involving religious dogma. The Good News is that Kadrey credits there being a Heaven and Hell; The Bad News is that the difference between the two may be a tad more undefined than one may like. Also like Edward Lee’s mythos – I loved it.
Sandman Slim encounters magicians, demons, detached talking heads, black magic, alchemy, an Angelic government agency, and the Devil himself. All of these encounters are handled with whatever the exact opposite of pluck and grace would be; Ham-fisted butchery? Close enough. And it’s a Hell of a ride.
I notice a lot of reviews like to use the if ______ wrote _______ and crossed it with _______ to try to explain what type of work is Sandman Slim. To add my two cents, I’d say if Spawn and Jack Reacher had a child and its exploits were written by Edward Lee, it might be close to what one would expect of Kadrey’s James Stark aka Sandman Slim.(less)