Sandman Slim, Book #1
Review brought to you by OBS staff member Verushka
Sandman Slim is a novel of impossible blood, gore and decapitations and the best way to describe it is that it is already primed to be something like a Quentin Tarantino movie. It is filled with magic and bad guys you love to hate, and a good guy that would kill anyone who stands in his way, be they friend or foe.
The plot is pretty simple; vengeance. It is the best reason for blood and violence and Kadrey puts it to good use. Stark was sent to hell 11 years ago, an arrogant young magician and emerges a cold and talented killer, with quite a lot more talent than he had going into hell – but he isn’t sure of the reason why. He did not die, he was sent to hell alive, but the reason for his changes is saved for the last pages of the book. The way there is quite a roller-coaster.
Stark was sent to hell by Mason, a leading magician in the Sub Rosa, the name for the magic/underground community where the vamps, weres and angel dwell in LA. At that point, Stark was a talented magician, more so that Mason, which probably fueled that particular incident. In Hell, he learns to fight in the arenas there, against Hellions, which as exactly as the words is, are all manners of creatures of hell. These descriptions are peppered through the book, giving us a hint as to the man that Stark is, but ultimately, it is so filled with blood and gore and improbabilities, I don’t actually feel much sympathy for him. In other words, the book’s over-the-top nature works as much for it, as it does against it. It’s enjoyable, don’t get me wrong, but character-wise, I didn’t feel much for Stark, not even in his quest for vengeance over the death of his girlfriend. I doubt that its going to change much in any subsequent books, for Stark is named Sandman Slim in this book, the monster who kills monsters. There is no sympathy or empathy for him, though I will admit enjoying his rescue of two of his friends captured by Mason in the end.
The secondary characters have more depth than Stark, actually. There is Vidocq, an immortal Frenchmen and alchemist who becomes a mentor of Stark’s, Kasbian, which uniquely enough is a member of the Sub Rosa that sent Stark to hell, who he kills and keeps his head as a talking side-kick, Candy a Jade, who is a monster in essence – think Black Widow here and the Doctor Kinski, Candy’s employer, a fallen angel who holds some secrets to Stark’s past. In comparison to Stark, there is more depth to them for as much as Stark is the narrator, in this first book, his quest for vengeance sets up his world, his point of view on the inhabitants of this world and a thin story of lost love doesn’t do much to temper the over-the-top nature of the book. It takes the entire book, but Stark’s journey ends with a revelation about himself, that puts everything he is in context. Granted, as the tale is about Stark wreaking vengeance on those that killed his girlfriend, some deeper, more meaningful hints or focus on this particular facet of him would have added much more depth to his character. I felt more for him going to rescue Vidocq and Allegra, both of whom he barely considers friends, rather than the supposed love affair from 11 years ago that fueled all this.
The world-building is superb though – there is the Sub-Rose magical community, as well as angels working with Homeland Security to keep said community in check, there are all manner of creatures populating this world and I think this first novel in the series only scratches the surface of that world. I mean, the book ends with Lucifer coming to visit to congratulate Stark, in his own special way for saving the day – there is undoubtedly more, blood, gore and violence coming in the next one.