Tour’s Books Blog

April 11, 2011

Book Review: Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey

In the Urban Fantasy genre, Sandman Slim was one of the most hyped UF/fantasy debuts of 2010.  Author reviews are worthless, but when William Gibson and Charlaine Harris agree and the professional reviews are kind, it was worth a try.  Unfortunately, like most hyped books, this one doesn’t live up to its press, though it was a quick, fun read.

  • Title: Sandman Slim
  • Author:  Richard Kadrey
  • Type:  Paranormal UF
  • Genre:  Revenge tale of a live human returned from Hell
  • Sub-genre:  Magic and death is alive and well in LA
  • My Grade: C  (3.0*)
  • Rating:  NC-17
  • Length and price:  Plus novel – about 100,000+ $7.99 with discounts available
  • Where Available:  Available at most bookstores
  • FTC Disclosure:  purchased from online bookstore

Sandman Slim is a noir urban fantasy that tries to blend paranormal creatures with a human revenge scenario.  Think of the movies Payback, or High Plains Drifter with supernatural elements, it has the same nihilistic edge.

James Stark was a 19 year old in LA living as all angsty, poor 19 years old do, except in his case, he was a magic user.  Real magic.  His live-in lover, Alice, had no magic, but their attachment to each other was real and deep.  They became enmeshed in the Sub Rosa, the name given to magicians and magical creature communityof LA.  But James never really took his magic all that seriously.  It was there for him, but it didn’t drive him.  But another magician was jealous, a slightly older, charismatic magician Mason Faim.  Their little circle of ‘friends’ were the ones who sent the very alive James Stark into Hell – the first living human to enter Hell.  For 11 years he was tortured, used, and then because a gladiator for the entertainment of the Hellions, owned by one of Lucifer’s top generals.  Strange thing was, each time he was seriously injured as he fought for his life he became stronger.  What hurt before didn’t hurt him again.  He continually recovered from physical damage that should have killed him.  He bears the scare, but he’s gained more and more physical strength.  But Stark longs for revenge for the death of Alice and his years ‘Downtown’.  Now he’s back in the dark underbelly of LA with supernatural weapons, a Veritas coin, and powerful talisman inside that lets him walk through the world all in a nearly indestructible scarred body that’s 30 years old, but with a heart that’s still 19.  In those 11 years, he’s gotten older, stronger, deadlier, but not wiser or more mature.

The unrelenting darkness is balanced with biting wit and occasionally perceptive views of today’s society combined with a super fast pace, that masks a lot of shortcomings in the writing.  The often stumbling steps that Stark takes on his way to find and kill Mason seem to trip up the author a bit too.  He gets so lost in his love of metaphor and simile it actually becomes annoying – and redundant.  Stark’s path sends him flailing at his enemies without a lot of planning or real thought given to any consequences – to himself or others.  His rage at Mason, the betrayal by people he thought of as friends even supersedes all that happened to him Downtown – but can’t erase his sense of responsibility for Alice or fear of failing .  The story boils up a heady stew of near mindless non-stop violence.

Told in the first person, Stark remains remarkably aware of certain elements of his own character, but oblivious to others.  He knows his actions will catch the attention of those who act to preserve the hidden magical world from humans, but his path of self destruction is set.  He can see nothing but revenge and his own death is meaningless, in ways it would seem welcome – but only after he has destroyed Mason.  Only in the end, Mason isn’t actually destroyed.  And it’s the odd ambiguous ending that kind of a cheap shot.  Can no author just END something?  Must they always leave a door open for another round?  Plus the big fight between Mason and Stark just wasn’t very satisfying after all the buildup.

The other big problem here is Stark’s one dimensional character – a sever case of arrested emotional development.  There are many noir anti-hero types – Andrew Vachss’s Burke, Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder, Dan Simmons’s Joe Kurtz, Don Wilson’s Frankie Machianno – hell, what about Dexter, not to mention at least half of what Elmore Leonard writes!  There is a very solid ground for the bitter, edgy, sarcastic anti-hero.  But if stories are to move beyond mindless action flick status, they need more depth to the characters and plot.  I did like his clever ‘dead man switch’ that he pulled on the self-righteous angel and Stark was a good narrator, but the plot was too one note to work for such a long book.

Is Sandman Slim worth $7.99?  It is if you enjoy mindless action flicks, and I personally do.  It has a sense of humor and more than enough twists and turns to keep things lively and entertaining, though a bit repetitive.  Good, but it not a ‘best of breed’.

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