Sandman Slim

Sandman Slim / Richard Kadrey. Originally published 2007.

If one were to create a spectrum of contemporary horror/fantasy/whatever, with John dies at the end on one end and the Dresden files at the other end, Sandman Slim would end up somehwere in the middle. It’s the first novel of a series that now includes five novels and at least one short story.

Brief plot description

(Spoiler free)

Stark is a punk rock magician/car thief who has just escaped from Hell ten years after being betrayed by his circle of magical collaborators. Stalking the streets of L.A., Stark attempts to hunt down his former allies one by one, seeking revenge for his long imprisonment and the murder of his girlfriend.

So how is it?

It’s stupid fun. It’s clear that Kadrey has read Hellblazer, as Stark bears more than a passing resemblence to John Constantine. He’s a trash-talking punk rocker who frequently gets in over his head, finding himself in a constant struggle with the forces of Heaven, Hell, and every other natural and supernatural menace there is.

It’s violent in an over-the-top action movie way. Stark is super-powered for reasons that are initially unclear, and there are a number of action infused setpieces that wouldn’t be out of place in your average summer blockbuster. It’s fun, unpretentious, and littered with quirky characters, from Carlos the bartender who owns LA’s only “punk tiki” bar to the mysterious collector Mr. Munin.

If you’re not interested in a book that features chase scenes that involve massive property damage, a main character of questionable morality (although he remains the “good guy” throughout, his methods are pretty dubious), and a talking severed head then you’ll definitely hate this book. Kadrey makes no attempts to dress up Sandman Slim with any philosophy. He’s essentially written an action movie and the book wears that on its sleeve.

Strengths:

It’s a supernatural revenge story that does what it does very well

Is less juvenile than John dies at the end while still not taking itself too seriously

Lots of musical references that the reader may or may not catch (seriously… Martin Denny? Really?)

Weaknesses:

Not quite as over the top as John dies at the end, but still too over the top for readers interested in a more contemplative story

It’s not thought provoking in the slightest

The main character seems to be trying to set a record for most felonies committed by a heroic character in a 72 hour span

It’s yet another “get revenge for the murder of my girlfriend” story

Recommendation:

This is a pretty solid recommendation for fans of horror or action movies who don’t normally read but are interested in picking something up. It’s a great book for a long trip when you want something that’s not intellectually demanding.

It’s a perfect recommendation for fans of superhero comics looking for a traditional novel. From that perspective, I’ve recommended it to parents who are trying to get their teens to read a “real” book for once. It’s been fairly successful on that count although the fact that it’s still “genre” fiction means that the parents might not consider it “real” enough.

To be totally stereotypical, it’s an almost guaranteed hit with any person who comes into the library wearing a jacket with a giant band patch on the back.

It’s defnitely got masculine adolescent wish-fulfillment overtones, so anyone turned off by that probably won’t enjoy this one. It’s not a book I recommend too frequently, as it has a definite audience and almost certainly won’t appeal to anyone born before 1955 or so. Not to make generalizations about age, but I’m going to do so anyways.

 

Other books for people who enjoyed this one:

Kill the dead / Richard Kadrey the sequel, it’s not quite as strong but it’s still a fun experience.

The god of lost dreams / Will Griffith

John dies at the end by David Wong and the various Dresden files books by Jim Butcher are also solid cross-recommendations, you can see my previous posts for information on those titles.

 

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