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Sequel City Part 1 – Sandman Slim

The Getaway God by Richard KadreyReview: The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey (Harper Voyager, 2014)

Okay, so the next three or possibly four reviews I write are going to be sequels, conclusions or in some way connected with books I’ve previously reviewed. This may be boring for some readers but I’ll try to keep them brief and get them out of the way quickly. First up (well, second if you count The Rhesus Chart) is Richard Kadrey’s sixth in the stunning and almost unbearably cool Sandman Slim series.

The last time we met John Stark aka Sandman Slim he was fighting off fragments of gods from before time, the Angra, under an abandoned beachfront mall known as Kill City. Stark isn’t your regular guy you see, he’s a Nephilim, an Abomination. Imagine an angel who gives less than a flying fuck about most of the world, carries grudges like dogs carry fleas and smokes and drinks enough to put the whole of Russia in an early grave. That’s kind of on the right tracks.

Having been sent to Hell while he still assumed he was a regular mortal, forced to fight in their arenas, returned to avenge those who sent him there, made pals with the five fragments of God (they don’t get on), become Lucifer for a while, fought off plagues of zombies and hideous proto-angels from other dimensions, Slim is finally settling down. Now he’s working for the Golden Vigil, a government department charged with all things supernatural. His remit is to discover the workings of the Magic 8-Ball aka the Godeater, a rather potent device with an obvious purpose. Unfortunately it seems the world is ending. Los Angeles is being drenched by a Biblical deluge; Hell is being drenched by the blood raining down from the latest war in Heaven; and the Angra are looking to take their universe back for the sole purpose of ending it. One part of God is dead, another crazy, one neurotic and the other two, well, just kinda mopey. It seems a tad hopeless. Time for Sandman to step up to the plate again.

This latest installment represents a new, more mature Stark. Always previously the darkest of anti-heroes he now begins to show his human side a little more. He actually… cares! No seriously, this is a big thing. While unrepentantly nihilistic pseudo-Angels can be fun to follow for a while, Sandman Slim was in danger of becoming too one-dimensional, a one-trick pony. In The Getaway God, Richard Kadrey has finally opened him up and turned him into a far more rounded character. This courtesy has been extended to a number of the major players as well, with significant depth added to Mr Muninn, Samael, Candy and others.

It’s a pretty no-holds-barred romp too with Kadrey pulling no punches. The stakes have been raised pretty high in this episode with the future of all reality in the balance so it seems as good a time as any to go all George RR Martin on the cast and scenery. He’s done this in the past of course but for some reason the major events in The Getaway God seem to carry more weight, elevating it above its pulpy noir origins and giving it some serious heft.

I don’t know how well The Getaway God will appeal to new readers, given the serious amount of background which has gone before, but I’m pretty sure you could just jump in here and still love it. For anyone who has read and loved the first five books (if you’ve read them and didn’t love them then get the hell off my blog), you’re in for the best ride yet. Oh, and can I just add that the new pulp cinema-style covers are freakin’ awesome…

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Kill City Blues by Richard Kadrey

Kill City Blues - Richard KadreyReview: Kill City Blues by Richard Kadrey (Harper Voyager, 2013)

The story so far: James Stark, an aspiring young magician – and we’re talking real magic here, not card tricks – is sent to Hell by a ruthlessly ambitious colleague who goes on to murder Stark’s girlfriend. For eleven years Stark is forced to compete in Hell’s arenas. During this time it comes to his attention that he is somewhat hard to kill, becoming impervious to any attacks unsuccessfully used against him. This brings him to the attention of Samael who turns him into a personal assassin, earning him the nickname Sandman Slim and a special place in Hellion nightmares.

On clawing his way out of the Underworld he exacts his revenge against those who destroyed his life, cavorting around Los Angeles to highly destructive effect. Cue entanglements with Homeland Security’s paranormal division (The Vigil), a vicious and disillusioned angel (Aelita), violent creatures from before the dawn of time (the Kissi) and of course vampires, zombies and neo-Nazis. Did I mention he also becomes Lucifer for a period, reigning over the chaos that is Hell? Oh, and that he’s a Nephilim, half angel, having been sired by Uriel? Or that he’s a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, sarcastic and foul-mouthed son-of-a-bitch? Well, there you go, you’re up to speed.

Kill City Blues, fifth installment in the adventures of Sandman Slim and his merry band, carries off directly from where Devil Said Bang left off. Back in LA, Stark is still reeling from his time as Lucifer. Unfortunately the universe never takes a break. You see, it transpires that God didn’t create the universe, rather he tricked its creators, the Angra, out of it. These Elder Gods are displeased and beginning to find holes in reality large enough to allow them through to our domain.

Sandman was entrusted with a weapon, the only of its kind, which is capable of destroying gods Рthe Qomrama Om Ya Рbut he, erm, misplaced it. To further complicate matters, the God who did the original tricking had something of a nervous breakdown and shattered into five separate beings, none of which particularly like the others. One of these aspects is dead, one (Mr Munnin, the most reasonable) currently rules over Hell while the most unhinged still sits on the throne of Heaven. Against this background Stark must relocate the Qomrama Om Ya while pursued by several other factions with the same intent, all of whom are convinced he must know where it is.

Kill City Blues, given such a premise, should have been a surefire hit. Indeed, I’d been awaiting this book for some time. So why doesn’t it quite hit the spot? Well despite the potential-laden plot, Kadrey spends the first half off the novel rehashing old ground. It feels at times as though this was written specifically for those who hadn’t bothered to read the first four novels in the series. This is where Stark’s from. This is how he got here. This is how he met X, Y and Z. This is what in-jokes A, B and C refer to. And so on. Don’t get me wrong, Sandman’s caustic wit, the expert use of ridiculous metaphor and the beautifully sleazy images of an LA alive with magic are all there. It’s just that all the foot-dragging starts to grate after a while.

And then there’s the action itself. In a book entitled Kill City Blues you’d expect the city in question to make an appearance early on, right? But no, we have to wait until past the halfway mark to discover what it is, why it’s important and whether anyone is ever going to get there. And once we do arrive it feels as though you’ve gone into a store at five minutes to closing time, rushed through by the clerks and unceremoniously ejected before the shutters come down.

Now it may sound like I didn’t like the book. That’s not true. I smashed through Kill City Blues in record time, barely stopping for breath. In a page-by-page sense it’s a pulpy, delicious slice of fun pie. It’s when you take it as a whole that the cracks appear. Instead of devoting half of the book to rehashing the background and running a couple of wild goose chases, this could have been handled in a couple of chapters and left more space for what should have been an epic journey through Kill City. There would have been more opportunity to develop some of the characters within – more Grays please! – and it would have felt more complete and less like the first half of a larger book.

So it’s a mixed bag. If you’re already a Sandman Slim devotee then Kill City Blues will certainly keep you on the level till the next fix appears. However it’s not going to reach the heights of previous outings so lower expectations accordingly. Hopefully part six will provide the apocalyptic bang promised but not delivered here.

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Filed under Noir, Urban Fantasy