Sandman Slim - Richard Kadrey

~~Moved from GR~~

Sandman Slim (Sandman Slim #1)

by Richard Kadrey

Recommended for: Fans of gritty, darkly humorous urban fantasy


When I first started the book, I disapproved of the main character, James Stark, but I couldn't help liking him. He way way far to the left of the antihero meter; after escaping Hell, emerging from a graveyard, and patting down clothes still smouldering with hellfire, his first action is to mug a guy for his wallet, jacket, and sunglasses (he left him his carkeys and credit cards). He's bitter, vengeful, and unapologetically so--but he's so phegmatic and wry that I found it hard not to like him.

Then the story started deviating from my expectations. Stark has come back to earth to hunt down the people who sent him down under. We all know how this plot goes. He's supposed to come back, form relationships, start realizing that there is something bigger than himself going on, and slowly, become a human rather than a monster. Not Stark. The only reason he can even take the position of antiheroic protagonist is that the villains are apparently worse than him. He is hateful to people who risk everything for him, vicious to his enemies, and rude to just about everyone.  As he says,

"The only real difference between an enemy and a friend is the day of the week.”

For a while, I had trouble putting the book down. Then we start meeting the angels, who are as obnoxious as the demons, hear the world mythology, and learn that there is a struggle between heaven, hell, and the Kissi (not pronounced the way you'd think). If the afterlives are totally unmysterious and there's no good left in the world, what's the point? Why not just let it all burn? Why worry if people die if it's the same everywhere?

I think Stark just isn't my type of protagonist. I like my knights tarnished and flawed, but deep down, true as steel. In my opinion, Stark is an asshole. He might be entertaining, but I think he is inhumanly detached. The same goes for the book's morality--I need a book to acknowledge that the world at least has a moral center; I'm not sure that's true in Stark's world. I don't think Stark's analyzed anything hard enough to even ask the question. It's all just mindless violence and rage, "justified" by being against "monsters." Yet I think there is a recognition of the hollowness within the novel; as another character tells Stark:

“Revenge is never what you think it's going to be. There's no pleasure and glory, and when it's done your grief remains. Once a man does the things you're talking about, he will never be the same, and he can never go back to who he was before. Worst of all, no matter how many enemies you kill, you are never satisfied. There is always one more who deserves it. When it becomes too easy to kill, it never ends.”

In the end, much of my disappointment may have been due to invalid expectations.  I expected a story about a tarnished knight that the story would burnish to true steel; instead, I got Stark.  It's entirely possible that a reread would leave me with an entirely different impression, but as it stands, I think I'll leave Stark to take on the world by himself.