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Dead Set

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After her father’s funeral, Zoe and her mother moved to the Big City to start over. But life’s not so easy, the money is tight, and a new school brings trials. Fortunately, she has an escape: her dreams. A world of freedom and solace removed from the loneliness and anxieties of real life, Zoe's dreamscape offers another, more precious, gift: It is the only place where she can spend time with her closest companion — her lost brother Valentine.

Yet something is very wrong. An unfamiliar — and uninvited — presence has entered her private realm to threaten Zoe and Valentine, a disturbing turn of events that is compounded by an impossible discovery. A chance encounter at a used record store where the grooves of the vinyl discs hold not music, but lost souls, has opened up a portal to the world of the restless dead. Now, the shop’s strange proprietor is offering Zoe the chance to commune with the father whose passing took a piece of her heart. The price? A lock of hair. Then a tooth. Then...

How far into this eerie world will Zoe go to discover what she truly needs? And once she does, will there be enough left of her to come back?

309 pages, Hardcover

First published October 29, 2013

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About the author

Richard Kadrey

134 books3,265 followers
Richard Kadrey is a writer and freelance musician living in Pittsburgh, best known for his Sandman Slim novels. His work has been nominated for the Locus and BSFA awards. Kadrey's newest books are The Secrets of Insects, released in August 2023; The Dead Take the A Train (with Cassandra Khaw), released in September 2023; The Pale House Devil, released in September 2023.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 251 reviews
Profile Image for Wil Wheaton.
Author 89 books198k followers
May 16, 2014
Readers who are fans of Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim series who are expecting something as dark and gritty as that wonderful series will probably be disappointed by Dead Set. However, readers who are looking for a realistic portrayal of a teenage girl in turmoil, who is a heroine you can definitely cheer for, will find a lot to enjoy in this quick and evocative volume.

I did not know that it marketed as Young Adult, but I figured out that it clearly was YA as the story unfolded. It's something that I know a lot of my friends would have LOVED when we were part of the Young Adult market, but If you're expecting something a little darker than we typically experience in YA, you should probably know that going into it to modulate your expectations.

Some parts are a little exposition-y, and we occasionally get ahead of the characters as the plot develops. The first half is stellar, and the second half is a a little clunky in places (lots of goodbyes, lots of people getting separated and then finding each other again) but overall it's a solid story and an enjoyable read. Like I said, it's YA, so the things that I frowned at as a 41 year old reader are things I wouldn't have noticed at all when I was younger.

Another reviewer here compared this to something that would happen if Gaiman and Palahniuk had a book baby, and I certainly got a lot of that. Someone else said it would make a great Miyazaki film, and I couldn't agree more.

I highly recommend this to any young readers who enjoy dark fantasy.
Profile Image for Montzalee Wittmann.
4,559 reviews2,312 followers
November 22, 2017
Dead Set by Richard Kadrey is set in very crazy world of the dead. The girl in the story finds a record store, the man has a record that lets her hear her deceased father's life. There is more to the bargain. Much more. It is a creepy read and I loved every minute! I don't want to tell more but it is certainly exciting!
Profile Image for Bonnie.
1,371 reviews920 followers
April 27, 2016
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
I received this book free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

“Most people, even the ones we hold dear, are seldom what we think.”

Zoe is struggling to cope with the recent devastation of her father’s death. He left Zoe and her mother destitute and the two were forced to move into a small, dingy apartment to make ends meet. Zoe and her father both shared a love of music, of punk music, and when she stumbles upon a record store one day to browse the stacks she uncovers far more than she could have ever expected. The old records contain far more than classic music; they contain the contents of a persons very soul including Zoe’s father.

The most interesting aspect for me about Dead Set was the Egyptian lore that was incorporated into the story. Zoe travels to the underworld in order to see her father and they have a wonderful time together yet she doesn’t realize until after that she was only shown this peaceful place by her father in hopes that she would leave and never return. When she comes back and witnesses the horror of what truly goes on, Zoe refuses to leave her father in this hellish place. Queen Hecate is the moon-goddess that rules this nightmarish underworld, a place called Iphigene. Her children, enormous black dogs and black cobras, feed on the people forced to reside there. Iphigene is a terrifying and fearsome place when you consider these people are forced to remain there for all eternity.

Zoe’s character was troubled yet she remained spirited and was a fantastic main character. Her father’s death left her more devastated than we get to witness first-hand with the only reference being a rubber band she keeps on her wrist that she snaps as a reminder not to cut herself. At this point in the story she’s been able to overcome the damage she inflicts upon herself but while her wounds aren’t as deep they’re still not fully healed. Presented with this situation that her father is in she seeks to help him in anyway she can so as to assuage her own suffering.

Dead Set is an extremely violent and horrifying tale but was immensely entertaining. This is Kadrey’s first YA novel and my first read by him. His Sandman Slim series is widely touted and is definitely being added to my to be read pile.
Profile Image for Soo.
2,598 reviews257 followers
February 15, 2022

Yay for libraries!

At first, I was caught up by the tone of angst, fear, pain, distrust and a host of simmering yuck of Zoe. It's layered so thick that it made me uncomfortable, irritable, annoyed and distrustful of the story being told.

About halfway into the story, I realized that I have to let go of the puzzle master side of me. I was spending too much time trying to poke holes into the story. Sure, not everything fit into a neat shape and all, but does a story need to do that to be told?

I put myself into the mode of Zoe, and made my puzzler sit down & shut up. Kadrey did a great job of making the right atmosphere for the character. A subtle tension that grew with steady, unending pace.

Sometimes, you need to remember to let go of expectations in order to dive into a new experience. I had to ditch my expectations about what I think I'll get from a Kadrey book and take the story in as it's told. That slight turn of perspective made the story much more interesting, and how I responded to it made sense. I am a firm believer that a story is well done when it evokes reader response. =)

Dead Set was a good spook story and had a solid story arc of character development in unexpected measures. It is YA horror story with a spark of hope.

Kate Rudd did a great job with the narration. It was a pleasure to listen to her make the story come to angsty teen life.
Profile Image for Beth Cato.
Author 109 books535 followers
January 25, 2014
Kadrey is very good at writing creepy and dark--that comes across quite well in his very-adult Sandman Slim series. It turns out, he's also very good at writing creepy and dark young adult books. This really struck me as a cross between Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint's Newford books, and I could completely see this as a Miyazaki film.

Kadrey also wrote Zoe as one of the most realistic, gritty teens I've encountered in a book recently (another fantastic example of literary teenagers being Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, though that's not so gritty). There's profanity. There are teens drinking and talk of cutting. None of it is glorified, though. It is what it is.
Profile Image for Lauren Scharhag.
Author 32 books107 followers
October 8, 2013
As a fan of the Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim novels, I jumped at the chance to pick up a copy of his newest novel, a YA horror/fantasy called Dead Set.

If Neil Gaiman and Chuck Palahniuk had a love child, it would look something like Dead Set. A young heroine has been dropped into a Gaiman scenario. The liberal sprinkling of myth and folklore, from Sumer to Greece to the Brothers Grimm, is also very Gaiman-esque. But the story has a Palahniuk-like edge, the heroine, Palahniuk pluck (I was reminded of Madison Spencer from Damned). There are plenty of other elements here, too—I saw shades of The Crow in this story, with its grungy alt rock patina. Kadrey hearkens back to his other works, with the seedy California setting, its unique subculture of hipsters and lowlifes. I saw Spirited Away. I saw The Wizard of Oz, to which Kadrey openly tips his hat. I saw St. Teresa of Avila.

But the heart of the story is all Kadrey. He masterfully blends these components into a thrillingly new, original tale. The story centers around Zoe, our 16-year-old protagonist. Zoe was born into a household where it’s all punk rock all the time. Punk is the country, the language and the religion. Zoe and her folks are vinyl, vintage rock T-shirts and Chuck Taylors. Once upon a time, Zoe’s father was deep into the L.A. punk scene-- he played in a band and later managed his own club. But when Zoe was born, he settled down and turned respectable-- got the job, got the house in the burbs. Zoe’s mom, a former artist and fierce rocker babe in her own right, decided to become a homemaker.

But the universe pitches their little nuclear family unit a nasty curveball when Zoe’s father drops dead of a heart attack. A series of sadly plausible legal snafus prevent Zoe and her mom from receiving any sort of benefits. Broke and foreclosed on, they have to move to a cruddy apartment in the Big City. Zoe’s mother can’t find a job. Zoe finds herself facing the problems that impoverished, urban kids face: no money to afford a proper cell phone. Creepy indigents tagging along as she walks down the street, perverts in the public library. Zoe’s new school is a few blocks away from a strip club. Fast food for dinner every night.

All this, on top of being the new kid, on top of grieving for her father—well, it’s no wonder that Zoe has gone through a bout of self-harm, (she’s a cutter). Throw in the fact that Zoe has always had vivid dreams about a tree house and a boy named Valentine, who she calls her “dream brother,” and it really doesn’t come as any big shock that she’s spent some time undergoing psychiatric treatment.

And by the way, Kadrey covers most of this in the first chapter. It’s hard not to admire that kind of economy.

So. The stage is set. You’ve got your heroine, a sensitive, imaginative, confused young girl. She’s lonely. She’s under extreme stress. All she thinks about is death. Could she be anymore ripe for the full-on I Never Promised You a Rose Garden-type break with reality?

I think not. And it’s expected, in a story like this, to introduce the unreliable narrator trope. We expect to go into this wondering if our girl is really experiencing this stuff, or if she’s just gone clean off her rocker. But let me just take this moment to say I loved Zoe. She’s tough, persistent and compassionate. I was impressed that Kadrey could delve so believably into the mind of a teenage girl. I love how normal she is—she likes school okay, most of the time. She and her mom aren’t getting along so great right now, but you know that deep down, they care about each other. While she spares boys a thought, she’s more focused on herself and her family situation. In many ways, Zoe is still just a kid—when she dreams of Valentine, they play in their tree house and throw almonds at each other. Overall, she’s a very good person—just what a heroine ought to be.

When her particular white rabbit/cyclone/sprinkler of fairy dust appears, it comes in the most delightfully new, unexpected form: a record shop. Of course Zoe would go into an old record store. Of course she would seek out comfort and familiarity in a place filled with turntables and old tunes. She even finds an old album cover that her mother designed back in the day.

She also discovers the proprietor. The name of the record store is Ammut’s (“Ammut Records: Rare, Used & Lost.” Did I mention that Zoe has also just watched a documentary on ancient Egypt?), but he tells her to call him Emmett. While perusing Emmett’s merchandise, Zoe stumbles onto a back room.

It’s a very special back room. The records don’t look like regular records, and a cone of strange incense perfumes the air. Ammut/Emmett tells her that not just anybody would find their way to it. These records, he explains, are not music, but records of lives, of people who have passed on. (Akashic records—geddit?) When you listen to the music on a special machine, called an Animagraph, you can experience everything that person experienced.

For example, Zoe straps on the Animagraph and blasts back in time to 1902 Virginia, where she gets to experience the life of a woman named Caroline. It’s a pretty crazy trip.

You can already see where this is going. Zoe will want to see her father’s record.

And, from there, it just gets weirder. It also gets more excellent. I don’t want to give too much away—I want the reader to experience this book just as I did, with no knowledge or expectations, so the magic just washes over you. I will say that, of course, Emmett is not what he appears to be. Nor does he share his wonders with Zoe for free. He demands payment.

From Emmett’s store, Zoe embarks on a long, dangerous journey that takes her to the underworld, a land called Iphigene. There, she reunites with her father. She meets Valentine, who is, of course, more than just a dream figure. She also confronts terrifying evils, mainly in the form of Queen Hecate and her servants. Hecate is the tyrannical ruler of Iphigene with an all-consuming hatred for the living. She unleashes hordes of dogs, snakes and bats. At one time, it seems, Iphigene was a stopover point for the souls of the dead. Now it has become a prison, a purgatory of waste and decaying streets, of pain and physical torture right out of Clive Barker. There are also the dying dead—horrifying ghouls that lurk in Iphigene’s dark alleys and feed on virtually anything that crosses their path. Iphigene is a place in desperate need of a savior.

Myths and folklore teach us that the hero must undergo trials. Frequently, they suffer intense physical pain. When the hero in question happens to have two X chromosomes, that suffering tends to be very literal. I appreciated that, throughout the book, Kadrey casually references the threat of sexual violence that women, especially teenage girls, face, without being exploitative—the creeps in the library, stepfathers, men on the street. When Emmett demands locks of hair and baby teeth from Zoe, she just assumes it’s for some kinky thrill. The old tales frequently deal, in some opaque fashion, with female sexuality. Sex, in turn, tends to go hand-in-hand with death—the rape of Persephone, Bluebeard, Little Red Riding Hood. In France, when a girl loses her virginity, it is still known as “seeing the wolf.” Like Inanna, Zoe suffers a painful descent into the underworld. In addition to being attacked, bitten and scratched by Hecate’s minions, Zoe sustains many injuries. She is pierced with a longbow arrow. Like Cinderella, she dresses in rags and carries a broom.

These references work in the larger context of the book. Kadrey chooses his allusions with great deliberation. Zoe’s very name is Greek for “life.” Like Isis, Zoe takes her broken brother and makes him whole. Isis was from the pantheon of Heliopolis, the city of the sun. The sun plays an important role in the liberation of Iphiegene, which is named for Iphigenia. Zoe herself is Iphigenia, the willing sacrifice for her father. Like St. Teresa, taking that bolt to the heart is a revelation. Queen Hecate is named for the Greek goddess of magic and necromancy. Hecate was once a girl named Iphigenia, transformed into a deity by Artemis, protector of young girls. Emmett is Ammit, the crocodile-headed devourer of souls.

Using all of these references, for me, seemed to infuse real magic with the magic of fiction. These are actual deities who once had large cults—some still do, in neo-pagan circles. It underscores the point that in the world of Dead Set, the line between life and death is very thin, as is the line between the real and the unreal. These otherworldly people, places and situations have a real, tangible effect on Zoe’s life, and the life of her mother. So often, when a young hero goes on their journey, they get back to find that no one has really missed them—people thought that they were just sleeping or playing hide-and-seek. Aside from their internal growth, there is no evidence of their experience. When Valentine and her father give Zoe gifts, she still has them when she gets back home. Likewise, when Zoe returns from her underworld journey, she is still filthy and bloody. She still has her wounds. I loved that—for all that she’s done, Zoe should have something to show for it.

The first half of Dead Set is so. Freakin’. Good. I found myself stepping away every few pages to do a little fangirl happy dance. Don’t get me wrong-- the second half isn’t bad. It’s just a bit muddled. There’s a lot of running around and people getting separated, then finding each other, then getting separated again. Sometimes, the action sequences were a bit hard to follow. In the end, good-byes are exchanged about 32 times, and yet, for all its messiness, I can’t help but feel that some of the resolution is a little too neat, too down-pat.

But it doesn’t matter. The first half is more than worth the price of admission, and the idea is so cool, so original, that I can’t wait to go back and read this again.

Reviewed for Horror-Net:

And Urban Fantasy Land:
Profile Image for Christal.
936 reviews69 followers
October 8, 2013
See this review and others like it at BadassBookReviews.com!

3.5 stars

I was a little wary when I saw the Richard Kadrey had written a young adult novel. His Sandman Slim series is very violent and gritty and in no way appropriate for kids so I was intrigued to see what Dead Set would contain. Mr. Kadrey's signature dark imagination is in full-bore here, but he tempered some of the more violent elements of his writing and captured the voice of a teenaged girl fairly well.

Dead Set is based around Egyptology and how souls are treated after death. It was very inventive but at the same time, dark and disturbing. Zoe has recently lost her father and problems with the insurance claim have forced her and her mother to move to a... less affluent part of town while her mother looks for work. Zoe has lost her friends, the only school she's ever known, and the feeling of security she had in her old home. She feels like she has nothing to live for. One day she stumbles into a strange music store and finds that the owner has records that allow you to see someone's life instead of playing music. Emmet (or Ammut), the store owner, says he will let Zoe see her father's disc for a lock of hair. Then he'll let her speak with him for a tooth. Zoe becomes addicted to these flashes of her father and eventually follows Emmet into a world she should never have entered... Iphigene, the world of the dead. Now Zoe must help her father and dream brother Valentine to escape from the clutches of horrible Queen Hecate and find her own way out before the evil queen takes over her body!

Zoe was a conflicted character but she was our eyes and ears throughout Dead Set. I thought Mr. Kadrey did a solid job capturing the voice of a sad, depressed teen girl. I felt for Zoe and her losses but she did get on my nerves a little bit here and there. It was the little flashes of humor and cunning she showed that kept me reading. Valentine was a great character and I really enjoyed the interactions between him and Zoe. He was the perfect guide to Iphigene. Zoe's parents were both very sad and weighed down with their problems, but you could tell how much they loved Zoe and each other. Absynthe, Zoe's friend from school, was a very intriguing character and I wish we would have gotten a little more development in their friendship. Queen Hecate and Ammut were horribly evil characters and the left a sheen of menace over all of Iphigene. The queen had this flying snakes for pets and they really creeped me out. The would just fly around and attack people, including Zoe, and hang in their hair and bite into their skin. Creepy!

The true gem of Dead Set was its mythology and the city of Iphigene. Mr. Kadrey took well-known aspects of myths and legends and turned them into an original world. Iphigene was a dark and dangerous place and its inhabitants were tortured and run down in so many ways. It was such a sad state to see these characters in and made you hate Queen Hecate from the get go. I really feared for the fates of Valentine and Zoe's father and felt terribly for all the inhabitants of Iphigene. I did love the detailed descriptions that Mr. Kadrey created for every faucet of this world though sometimes they did get a little wordy. Mr. Kadrey filled Iphigene with the dark and the macabre, but he also injected a little hope with Zoe's arrival.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Harper Voyager for providing an ARC copy of this book!
Profile Image for Lisa.
783 reviews1 follower
November 9, 2014
This book was really frustrating to read. Kadrey did a very good job at keeping the pace moving so you just keep devouring the book. Kadrey failed at making sense as far as motivations and goals of the characters went. Also Kadrey took a moment to have Zoey reassure her dad that of course he would have done the "right thing" and sacrificed himself for his abusive father like she did for him.

I am not putting this in all-caps because you probably don't need me yelling at you, but seriously? What the hell is up with all this teenage fiction being about feeling guilty for shit you have no control over and then sacrificing yourself for people that don't deserve it? Which would be fine if those were the initial feelings of the characters and then they learn the painful lesson that it's not their fault and how to move on. But, no, things generally end at that stage which is a trap for the rest of your life. You do not owe your abuser anything. Let alone sacrificing yourself for them.

Authors of teenage fiction across the world: Stop it! Do not leave this lesson for teenagers of the world to read. Do not hold these characters up as an example of good behavior from good people. Channel Firefly. Kick the man who swears revenge on you into your spaceship's thrusters and grab the next prisoner. Cooperative people only!

Okay, okay, that last spoiler hate thing might be because this is a book about a child getting over the loss of a parent. But this book went beyond that with the whole overthrowing of the current oppressive regime thing. And if you just wanted to read about dealing with the loss of a parent in a non-muggle setting A Monster Calls is such a gorgeously good book, you should be starting with that.

But I did enjoy this book as I drove my rage through the glaring plot holes, which is why it has a three instead of a two. So I'd give Kadrey a second chance if I came across another of his books that sounded interesting.
Profile Image for Kristin  (MyBookishWays Reviews).
601 reviews205 followers
December 5, 2013

Young Zoe has moved to San Francisco with her mother after her father’s sudden death to start fresh. It’s hard enough for her to fit in, with her taste in old punk music, a taste instilled by her music biz parents, and the fact that her father’s death has left a hole that has caused her to withdraw into herself, but her mom is having a tough time finding a job as well. Almost nightly she dreams, and it’s in her dreams that she finds herself in the company of her brother, Valentine, who has only ever existed for her in her dreams.

One day, she finds herself in a record store, in the company of a rather odd proprietor who calls himself Ammut. She’s delighted in his collection of vintage rock records, and eventually, finds her way to a back room that holds records of a completely different sort. Ammut explains that these records contain the souls of the lost, and that her father’s is among them. With his strange machine, she is able to see through her father’s eyes, but she wants more, she wants to communicate with him, but in order to do this, Ammut begins to ask for payment in the form of items like blood, and teeth. Zoe will do anything to talk to her father again, and when she’s finally given access, she finds herself in a place called Iphigene, an in-between place for souls. At first, it doesn’t seem so bad, but things aren’t quite what they seem in Iphigene, and soon the strings of reality start unraveling, as Zoe realizes that those in charge have a plan for her, body and soul.

I was taken with Zoe immediately. She’s a little bit brash, and a whole lotta brave. When she enters Iphigene again, only to find out it’s not the paradise she experienced the first time, she rather admirably rolls with the punches, even when she witnesses the almost daily snacking on the poor souls that reside there by Iphigene’s very creepy and deliciously diabolical mistress, and her toothy minions. She has a special interest in Zoe, but Zoe’s main interest is getting out of Iphigene and saving her dad’s soul. Dead Set has some exciting moments, to be sure, and Iphigene is a scary and wondrous place, with plenty of intrigue to fill a novel, but the meat of the story lies in how Zoe deals with her dad’s death and its effect on her family. In this, the story certainly succeeds and there are some very poignant moments between Zoe and her dad, and also her lost brother, Valentine. Kadrey’s writing is always good, and Dead Set is no exception, with its very scary villians right out of Egyptian myth set against the tragic and lost denizens of Iphigene. There’s a ton of imagination in this story, and certainly wouldn’t mind seeing more of Zoe, but even if we don’t, we have Dead Set, and I’m good with that. While most of Kadrey’s novels fall squarely in the adult realm, with their exploration of very dark themes, Dead Set would be perfect for curious teens that love their protagonists strong and their worlds dark and fantastical.
Profile Image for Kimberly [Come Hither Books].
400 reviews31 followers
February 23, 2016
A new standalone book by the author of the Sandman Slim series - very different feel from Sandman Slim though.

Unlike Kadrey's gritty, violent urban fantasy novels, Dead Set stars a teen protagonist, Zoe, whose grief over her father's recent death leads her down a dark path. In an overlooked record shop, her father's life is stored on a record and she can listen. For a price. First, a lock of hair. Then, a tooth...

Dead Set would be an appropriate read for older teens who enjoy something a little dark and scary. There's no sex, and only mild language. (NOTE: Not true for Kadrey's other stories, which are definitely for adults only.)

I enjoyed the first half. The premise is intriguing, the characters interesting, and I loved the many ways music is worked into the story. Halfway, Zoe falls into a bizarre shadow realm, the city of dead souls. For me, the entire section there didn't work, as it was too disconnected from the main plot and the character's emotional reactions. Everything in the other realm (about half the book) felt like a completely different story to me.

Overall, I do still recommend Dead Set, but only if you enjoy stories set in nightmare realms. I prefer a little more realism in my fantasy, and the transition to a Lovecraftian realm was too prolonged and unconnected for me.
Profile Image for Jason.
1,179 reviews255 followers
December 15, 2013
3.5 Stars

As a fan of Richard Kadrey, I went into Dead Set with high expectations. This is a book that really is perfect for the YA crowd. The book centers on Zoe, a troubled young teen girl who is trying to find her place in this world. She misses her dead father. She fights with her mother. She is a cutter. Zoe is looking for something more, and boy does she find it.

This is an easy afternoon read that moves along at a swift pace. I liked Zoe a lot and she easily carries this story. I love that this is a complete book, not part 1 of many. There is a fun adventure to be had here. This is nothing like a Sandman Slim novel.

Profile Image for Roger.
1,068 reviews8 followers
July 17, 2019
Richard Kadrey is an author I really enjoy reading-I love his Sandman Slim novels and have even read the first book in the series twice, something I rarely do. In Dead Set Kadrey delivers an entertaining and trippy journey to a "modern" underworld as experienced by Zoe, a teen whose father has recently passed away. Some of the things in this book might disturb a normal person-the afterlife presented here is not particularly pleasant. However I think you can take it Constant Reader. Remember: Kadrey=good. Go find this.
Profile Image for Chris.
2,861 reviews204 followers
January 27, 2019
Ok young adult urban fantasy about a girl whose father died recently and who's having a rough time of it in a new school without any friends.
Profile Image for Terry.
340 reviews
September 11, 2020
Interesting ideas on purgatory and unborns.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Alan.
1,102 reviews109 followers
February 17, 2014
No one really knows where people go when they die... but if the scenario in Richard Kadrey's standalone dark fantasy Dead Set is anywhere near correct, the afterlife is a pretty dark and forbidding place. Best known these days as the author of the (very) adult series of "Sandman Slim" novels, Kadrey would seem an odd choice to write a novel with a teenaged girl as a protagonist. I won't call this a "Young Adult" novel—despite the age of its protagonist, this book deals with some pretty dark themes and contains some harsh language that'd make most of the moms and dads I know think twice about recommending it to their offspring. But despite the more-than-occasional F-bomb and the frank discussions of teenaged alcoholism, anorexic behavior and self-mutilation, this novel has a good heart and a good message... so on third thought, it might be worth putting in front of your teenager after all.

Dead Set handicaps itself significantly to start out with, by beginning with an utterly generic scenario. Young Zoe's father died unexpectedly, leaving her and her mother to try to make their way alone in San Francisco—something that isn't all that easy even when you aren't a widow with a kid—while wrangling with an unsympathetic insurance company (if that's not a totally redundant phrase). Their new apartment sucks; Zoe's new high school sucks; the whole situation sucks. But it's important in this kind of story to get rid of at least one of the parents; that's the only way the child has enough freedom of action to make things interesting.

And there are hints early on that Zoe's not exactly an ordinary teenager anyway. There's a black dog that follows her around, and her dream brother Valentine hangs out with her after dark in a realm which is rather more realistic and stable than dream landscapes tend to be. But it's not until Zoe wanders into the North Beach record store run by a tall, pale man named Ammut (but you can call him Emmet) that things turn deeply weird.

As you may already be able to tell just from Emmet's real name, Kadrey's version of the Afterlife borrows quite a lot from ancient Egyptian mythology—the stuff from before they invented monotheism. But this isn't a dusty tale of mummies and sarcophagi; Emmet's record store contains some... rather more interesting ways of getting in touch with the dead. And that's what Zoe really wants to do—she wasn't ready to let go of her dad, and it seems at least possible that Emmet can do something about that. For a price.

Dead Set remains dark and serious for most of its length; this is not a Christopher Moore novel, despite its similar milieu and conceit. And I won't say this is the best book Kadrey's written to date, either—it takes a long time to get rolling, the setup really is pretty generic, and there are I think a few too many chase scenes. But Zoe's a strong and likeable protagonist, and her journey through the Underworld is an interesting one, with a white-knuckle climax that will keep you turning pages.
Profile Image for Albert.
1,426 reviews32 followers
January 12, 2014
Dead Set by Richard Kadrey is marketed as a teen paranormal novel. Which is something of a departure for Kadrey since he is best known for his Sandman Slim novels.
After the death of her father, Zoe and her mother relocate to San Francisco to try to start their life anew. With the lack of jobs and trying to fit in at a new school, life is hard. Add on to it an insurance company that refuses to pay out, and Zoe and her mom are struggling to just get by.
The only time Zoe finds any release is in her dreams where she shares time with her truest friend Valentine. Her parents have always believed that Valentine was just Zoe imaginary friend but to Zoe he is much more. He is her friend, her confidant, her only stable pillar in a world that has left her behind with the loss of her father.
After school one day Zoe wanders into an old record store and there, with the mysterious proprietor Emmett, she stumbles upon a machine that plays the recorded lives of the dead. In her hands she holds the vinyl memory of her father and for a price, she can reach out to him. With the help of Emmett, Zoe visits a place called Iphigene, a way station for the dead. There she finds her father.
But all is not as it seems and despite the warnings from Valentine, Zoe fights to save her father. But she cannot revive the dead and Iphigene is not what it seems. Emmett is not what he seems. And all dreams come with a price.
Dead Set is a fast moving novel of despair and the hopelessness of a young girl's loss. Zoe sets out on an impossible quest to help her father but we know through it all it really just about her own pain that she is easing. Kadrey infuses the novel with enough light to give substance to belief that Zoe must go forward but the overwhelming feel to the book is one of loss and despair.
Dead Set lacks the grittiness and visceral violence of the Sandman Slim series and it is evident that Kadrey reigned himself in on Dead Set to make it fit the genre. But what separates Dead Set most from the Sandman Slim novels is the missing humor. The witticism and snarky remarks from Sandman Slim are absent from the main character Zoe in Dead Set. From her they come of as bitter and self-pitying.
Kadrey creates a real world in Iphigene and its inhabitants. Egyptian mysticism and supernatural creatures fill its streets. There is danger all around and Zoe must summon all her strength and courage to fight through it. It is Dorothy and Oz but set in the dark and mean streets of the inner city. Zoe does well and she grows through the story as she must fight for her father and in the end for herself just to survive.
Another good read from Richard Kadrey.
Profile Image for Melody.
373 reviews37 followers
November 1, 2013
Dead Set was the perfect read for this time of year and just as incredible as I expected it to be. After seeing Richard Kadrey on a panel at San Diego Comic Con last year, Kadrey left an impression on me so I jumped at the chance to read his latest book and was blown away. Typically, I would have been turned off by dreams but that's just the starting point. I was hooked when Zoe first walked into the record store...with no one else but the owner in sight. What's crazy is that the atmosphere isn't creepy right away. The reader knows they're walking into creepy territory but the pacing is better than the norm. Kadrey's timing with tone is impeccable.

Then without spoiling anything for you, the record store owner leads her to death at a bus stop. When I put those two together, I think of The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. But this here is disturbing. Zoe questions the existence of magic, knowing what she is walking into and continues to walk it for the love of her father. What would you do if you had the chance to talk to a loved one who's passed away? Zoe jumps when the record owner says to jump without thinking, frankly. She thinks she knows the cost but clearly, she doesn't. Nothing is as it seems. There's so much more to what she sees. Zoe first finds herself on a mission to get a piece of her father back and ends up in a place that turns her world upside down and still, she doesn't back down. She doesn't run away. And she learns the importance of running forward.

I was amazed with Zoe's journey which is incredibly thrilling, but also how beautifully Kadrey moved the story along and intertwined dreams and death and ghosts and fantasy and so much more in Dead Set. The revelations along the way were spectacular and made this book quite the page turner. Not just because of the story but the revelations about the world Kadrey has created are just as fascinating. His attention to detail is much appreciated. Simply put, if you like Holly Black, you'll like this. I don't read a lot of fantasy but this pulled me in and kept my attention until the very last page. The best part? It's a stand a lone. So pick this up the next time you're at a book store and enjoy.
Profile Image for Kathleen Minde.
Author 1 book39 followers
December 9, 2014
It's not as gritty or rough as the Sandman Slim series as it's written for the YA crowd. But it has the familiar elements of Egyptology and myths and Hell and punk rock and the underworld. The MC is a teenage girl who lost her father and her comfortable way of life, leaving her depressed and, at one point, suicidal. Her best "friend" is her deceased brother she sees only in her dreams. It's so beautifully Kadry-twisted. Even the underworld town of Iphigene will be easily recognizable to his Sandman Slim fans.

When the MC, Zoe, makes what appears to be a deal with the devil so she can see her father again, her messed up world becomes a fight for her soul. She breaks into the underworld and discovers the secrets behind this halfway point to eternity. She needs to find her way home, but she wants to make the afterlife better for her father and brother.

The book starts with a great build. We learn about Zoe and her former life which, in turn, makes her present life a living hell. But, when she gets to the underworld, the book becomes a bit chaotic and twisted, much like the town of Iphigene and it's characters. The ending feels rushed with a few well-placed coincidences. I could tell Kadry did not intend to make this a series, but he easily could have. I enjoyed Zoe and her brother, they were good, strong characters. Definitely could have survived a series.

Profile Image for Kirsti.
2,456 reviews82 followers
June 8, 2015
I actually hesitated over buying this book! What a regret that would have been. I absolutely adored this gritty YA novel, and here are a few reasons why;

*It's dark, but not over the top nightmares dark. There's death, and snakes ripping people up, ghosts, people with stitched up faces and limbs made of metal, but somehow it was never revulsion I felt.
*There is almost zero romance. There is no lusting, no longing, no perfect boy to keep the heroine on track. There is a boy, but he's her BROTHER.
*Family ends up meaning everything. Yep.
*Awesome female who fights through without knowing all the answers, but does what she thinks is right anyway. She doesn't always get it right, but she also isn't the stupid rush headlong into danger type. I loved Zoe!
*The writing is fresh and fun, and I zoomed through because there is plenty of action.

This is the kind of book you WANT to recommend to people. You want to scream it from the rooftops because more people should read it and judge it for themselves. All I know is how much I loved it and I wish there was a sequel. That is all.
Profile Image for Jim.
2,767 reviews56 followers
December 26, 2013
One of the downsides of reading a certain author whose work you really enjoy is when they step away from their normal genre and attempt something a little different. That was the case with this work, as he tried young adult mode (at least, I think that was his intent). I almost gave it two stars, but it wasn't poorly written or anything...it just didn't capture me. I sped through some sections, nothing seemed all that exciting or particularly new. I liked the premise (somewhat like a poorer relation to a Christopher Moore book), and it wasn't really very scary. Scenes seemed telegraphed, nothing really shocked (although his vision of a purgatory-like dark world was a bit creepy). I think the thing that threw me off the most was its general lack of humor or wittiness, which Kadrey excels in, the darker kind of humor. I think some high schoolers will enjoy it, I even offered it to my son. But for me, I was left a bit unfulfilled. Alright now Kadrey, back to Sandman Slim!
Profile Image for Fantasy Literature.
3,226 reviews161 followers
April 12, 2014
Zoe’s parents were punks in San Francisco when they met and fell in love. Zoe’s father managed punk bands, while her mother was a graphic artist, designing album covers. When they realized they were going to have a child, they went into the straight life, although Zoe’s dad never left punk music behind. Now Zoe is sixteen, her father is dead, and her mother is battling a heartless insurance company that is refusing to pay. They have moved from their pleasant house in the San Francisco East Bay area to a small apartment in the city. Zoe’s dreams are filled with menacing black dogs and a strange woman.

Richard Kadrey is probably best known for his SANDMAN SLIM series. Dead Set is something different; a young adult horror novel. Kadrey masterfully blends the supernatural horror elements of the tale with the real-world devastation Zoe faces. Zoe cuts most of her classes at the new high school... Read More: http://www.fantasyliterature.com/revi...
Profile Image for Mathew Carruthers.
545 reviews30 followers
January 14, 2015
I can't figure out why readers aren't giving this more kudos than what it's gotten. Kadrey is a brilliant story-teller and this is a brilliantly told story - but it is not his usual frenzy of bloodshed and mayhem as in his Sandman Slim series. There are some familiar themes, though: loss and redemption, a journey to the underworld, and classic punk rock. I think every Kadrey book I've read has featured a journey to the underworld of some sort - and has mentioned Martin Denny. I really should give Martin Denny a listen, come to think of it, just to add more texture to what I'm reading. Oh well. Read the book. You'll like it.
Profile Image for Kirsten Simkiss.
820 reviews3 followers
May 31, 2022
This book was a gift from my partner. They have really enjoyed Kadrey's books, and they thought I'd enjoy this book more than I did the Sandman Slim books I read. And they were right! This is really more of a 3.5 star review, but I rounded down to nudge the counter closer to my ideal score.

So here's the things I liked about the book. I liked how the grief was described, as a tension and a numbness, a calm after a storm where nothing is quite right. I liked how the book felt somewhere between a modern fairy tale and a fable, almost reminding me of an Anansi the Spider story at times. I liked how the settings were described, between the decrepit Iphigene and the urban wasteland of the waking world. Kadrey seems to really enjoy the shady side of cities, which is really interesting because it's never sight-seeing or reverent. For example, this book takes place in the San Fransisco area, but you would never know that if it wasn't stated somewhere toward the end of the book. (It might have been said at the beginning too, but the end is fresh in my mind.)

And here's the parts I didn't care for. I often don't find Kadrey's characters to feel particularly like real people to me. His characters are not the worst offenders, for sure, but they're off enough that it occasionally takes me out of the story because the character does something so off from my experience of how people respond in real life. Granted, that might just be the particular subset of people I've interacted with, but I find it most commonly in two places: where adult authors are writing children and forget how characters of that age group behave and where male authors write the opposite gender. This book happens to be a little bit of both of those things in our main character Zoe and her high school friend Absynthe, and while he does very well most of the time, there were definitely some moments that made me pause. A lot of that has to do with writing outside of one's own experience, and the only way you get better at it is doing and learning from it. Another thing I didn't particularly care for was that there felt like plot threads that just got dropped for no reason other than they weren't relevant anymore. I also felt like the mixing of the mythologies was a little confusing, but that's just personal preference. (Ammut being Egyptian mythology, Hecate being Greek mythology, and Black Dogs being historically British mythology.) Again, nothing egregious, but it popped me out of immersion in the story.

If you're looking at reading this, it's a very smooth read. It went smoother for me than the Sandman Slim books did for certain.
Profile Image for Crystal.
65 reviews26 followers
August 24, 2017
A content warning that this book does contain self-harm and mental health. Things I will be mentioning and discussing briefly in the review.

I realize that it is difficult to not compare works by the same author to one another, but I'm personally not one of those people. I find it to be a counter-productive exercise and unfair to whatever it is I am reading. I'll either love or hate the elements of other books that are there or are not there and it will never be its own. I remember years ago attempting to read Butcher Bird after devouring Sandman Slim. (Kadrey has quickly stolen the position of my favorite author and I was eager to read more of his work.) However, I was disappointed by it and ended up giving up. It wasn't because the book was too much or not enough like Sandman Slim. It was because of the stylistic choices that I found myself not enjoying Butcher Bird as much. With a disjointed narrative that was harder to follow than it was worth, I was left disappointed. But this was to be expected. Butcher Bird predates the Sandman Slim novels and even Kadrey himself said he had not really perfected his style (or come close to perfecting it) until he started writing Sandman Slim. That being said, my expectations for this book were set based on the style, not on the specific elements of Sandman Slim, while keeping in mind this is Kadrey's first foray into young adult literature: high, but fair.

Teen/YA literature can sometimes be difficult to write for. One cannot get too graphic, but one also must not talk down or over-simplify. I've noticed many reviews complain that Dead Set lacks the dark humor or graphic viscera of Sandman Slim and therefore is someone of a let-down because Kadrey is "constrained" by the choice to make this a young adult novel, but I get the sense of the opposite. I felt as though Kadrey was on the mark. There's drug-use, swearing, alcohol-use, and mentions of sex because Kadrey exists in the real word in which teenagers know what the word "fuck" means. As for the lack of dark humor? I don't feel as though it was due to some mystical constraint or belief that teenagers could not understand it. It just would not have fit the story, the heroine, or the tone Kadrey had set into place.

Dead Set has a notable Gaiman-feel to its beginnings. (In fact, I believe there was some homage to Gaiman when Zoe descends into the sewers and the rats seem to know something she doesn't for those of you familiar with Neverwhere.) The book begins with introducing the reader to Zoe. She's a normal girl dealing with normal, real world problems after the death of her father. Despite being a normal girl dealing with these real problems, Zoe is someone who doesn't quite fit in. Much to the tune of Kadrey's other protagonists, part of it is by choice and part of it is by perception. Twenty pages later, Zoe has fallen face-first into magic and she either needs to adapt or lie down and die. From there, the book feels very reminiscent of Alice and Wonderland albeit a darker and scarier world than that what Carroll devised. Much in the same way Alice was transported to a world that operated on very different rules that lends itself to a coming of age story, Zoe also grows up and discovers who she is/wants to be throughout her journey of Iphigene. (And yes, names are still important with Kadrey. Please see your Greek mythology for further information about fathers, daughters, and sacrifice.)

Zoe begins the novel with a certain glassy-eyed naivete. Danger lurks in the real world all the time and we - as readers - see glimpses of it, but Zoe seemingly manages to repeatedly convince herself that the danger is not real to her. This does not, however, undermine her reaction to the loss of her father in the least bit. Prior to the novel's start, Zoe was engaging in self-harm behavior and was suicidal at times. Kadrey wrote this as he does any time he brings mental health to the table with seriousness and appropriate handling. In short, Zoe is a complicated girl with a lot on her plate, seeking to--as many of us did in high school--just escape herself and her life for a while, to find something better. For "soon" to finally be "now." Throughout her journey, Zoe's wounds over her father begin to heal. She comes to realize how naive she was, how little she understood about the world and the people around her, and what sacrifice really means.

What seals this book as well-done for me, of course, is the relationships between the characters and the minor characters themselves. None of the relationships feel forced or fake. They are rich and complex with misunderstandings and empathy. I think one of the most rich relationships in this book are certainly between Zoe and her mother. Though the reader can get the sense that the pair were close, there's been a disconnect between Zoe and her mother since her father passed away. Both daughter and mother are trying to find one another again, but struggle to overcome the obstacles that have cropped up between them due to life and their own choices. In all of the relationships in the book, however, it's obvious that each of these characters have lives outside of what is happening with Zoe, but Kadrey does not get bogged down in explaining everything. The depth is there by showing without having to tell because it would only serve to distract. Lastly, praise be to Kadrey, there is no romance in this. This is a female character seeking a goal who grows up and develops without depending on a romance to do so.

I believe my only complaint with this is that it is a little too neat and packaged by the end and perhaps also a little too rushed in the pacing. While there were certainly spots where real danger was felt, Zoe was relatively unscathed throughout. Tough binds were managed with varying degrees of struggle, but still managed. The longer this went on, the less and less it felt like there was really anything at stake except for one particular spot I shall not spoil. Perhaps because this may exist as a standalone that Kadrey wasn't willing to get too messy, but I would have appreciated more mess in the plot to add more weight to when Zoe was confronted with something bad, dangerous, and/or confusing. I'm all for the protagonist winning at the day, but I am, I suppose, a little more sadistic and want a few scars for the heroine along the way. That said, there were moments where I wish Kadrey had slowed down. Though I have zero complaints about the fast start, I think towards the middle/second half, Kadrey could have spared some time to build more tension. When he does slow down to build that tension, the book is excellent and terrifying. But it gets obvious when he's trying to move onto the next thing and it robs the moment of... well, its moment.

All in all, I feel that Dead Set was good first step into the realm of young adult and I'll be interested to see if Kadrey continues branching further into the genre either with a series from this book or other standalone novels/series. I think there is definite potential there for something great. For now, this book would stand as a good gateway novel for teenagers (or adults) who might be a little reluctant to the genre.
Profile Image for Shannon | The Last Few Pages.
253 reviews2 followers
May 28, 2020
In a few words, I would describe this book as an original and interesting page-turner.
It was filled with fresh ideas about the afterlife told with a fantasy twist. Kadrey held my interest throughout the whole book and I was invested in Zoe and Valentine’s stories.

Zoe is a teenage girl who has recently lost her father. She and her mother are forced to move into a small apartment when finances get tough. She now has to navigate her life at a new school in a rougher neighbourhood.

Since Zoe was a young girl, she has always been visited in her dreams by her dream-brother Valentine. Her parents always thought she struggled with mental issues because of her ‘imaginary’ friend so she eventually stopped talking about him and kept it to herself, never really sure if he was real or not.

One day, while ditching school, she stumbles across this used record store. It’s there that she meets Emmett, this weird creepy guy, who shows her a machine called an Animagraph. It allows you to view memories of people who are deceased.

One thing leads to another and Zoe finds herself following Emmett through sewers and tunnels, into the dark and crumbling afterlife world of Iphigene. There is a dark and horrific Queen, flying and flesh-eating snakes, wolf armies, and terrified residents that hide in the shadows from the world that surrounds them.

This book is a dark, fantasy-thriller and I really enjoyed it!

Find me on->
Instagram: @firefly.lane
Facebook: @fireflylaneblog
Profile Image for M.
1,513 reviews15 followers
July 19, 2018
Richard Kadrey uses a little Egyptian mythology to explore the afterlife with his novel Dead Set. Following the death of her father, Zoe has been uprooted from familiar settings and dropped into a cramped apartment with her mother. Job searches and insurance paperwork are taking its toll on mom; a boring new school and abstinence from cutting are vexing Zoe. Wondering the streets one afternoon, Zoe finds an antique record shop with some unique albums. Finding one that allows her to peer into her father's life, the angst-ridden teenager begins cutting class to visit eerie shopkeeper Ammut. Determined to retrieve the record for safe-keeping, Zoe follows Ammut through a sewer labyrinth and into a purgatory for the dead. Aided by her piecemeal father and stillborn brother, Zoe must escape the land of Iphigene before she falls victim to the dark queen Hecate. Kadrey's premise of dead souls recorded on albums is an intriguing notion, but the book itself falters into body horror and dark fairy tales by its conclusion. There are added ancillary characters that do little that offer glimpses into Zoe's real world, a ruling evil that lacks any true depth, smatterings of Egyptology left unexplained, and numerous plot points questions that were forgotten in rambling towards the ending. Despite the initial hook of the story, Dead Set careens into a dead end.
January 19, 2020
This book I thought was phenomenal. Zoe is a fierce and independent young girl who’s trying to figure things out once she suffers the loss of her father. Seemingly not handling the loss very well her and her mother move into a shitty apartment in a new town. Skipping school she find a record store and a secret room.. to listen to these special records comes with a price though. this book transports u to a new world between the living and dead and it’s up to Zoe to save her father and brother from Queen Hecate the queen of inphigene. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time reading this!! I loved it. I consider this to be a YA fiction book. Definitely see this more for young girls and boys
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Aaron.
43 reviews40 followers
February 14, 2018
Not a bad book for young adult readers. Very Alice in Wonderland meets Dante's Inferno.

I'm a big fan of Kadrey's usual writing, but this felt very toned down for me compared to his normal grindhouse film turned book style. Although the grungy afterlife setting and the love for angry music definitely gave it a familiar tone to his other novels. I did enjoy the how he handled the themes of dealing with the loss of a loved one and the sacrifices people make to keep going.

It started off a little rough, but I understand why we had to get to know Zoe and her struggles. I'm glad I stuck with it until the end.
Profile Image for Maya Harvey.
24 reviews
July 26, 2017
A fantastic story that kept me until the end, though not what I've come to expect from this author. It could just be that this book was aimed at teens and young adults, but it's much less visceral than his other works, and, aside from knowing that I liked it, I can't remember much of the story elements only a year after reading. I know there's something about dead family members and horrid Egyptian constructs, and that's about it. OH and that souls are apparently turned into vinyl records. I liked that part.
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