This is the fourth book in the Sandman Slim series; I’ve previously looked at Aloha from Hell, the third book, sometime last year, and I said that it was compulsively readable but perhaps not all that great. I also said that I’d be open to the further adventures of Sandman Slim, so here we are. As it happens my opinion is mostly unchanged since the last one, with all the good and bad that this entails.
As something of an aside, I got the Kindle edition of this book and I was fully prepared to condemn it as being practically incomprehensible. It started off pretty good and then went wildly off the rails, with new characters and plotlines appearing out of nowhere, apparently at random. But then I realized that this was a publishing error, where the last third of the book was printed twice and the middle third was completely absent. An e-mail to Amazon support, a patch and a hard reset later and everything was all right. It still sorta messed up my impression of the book though, knowing where we were going to end up throughout the middle section. Sorry Kadrey, I realize that’s not your fault. Still, I ended up wanting to take a mulligan on this one.
Now all that said, as the novel opens our hero Stark is in residence in Hell, where he is (somewhat to his displeasure) in charge. Samael, the previous head honcho, has reconciled with his Creator, and Stark’s angelic other half absconded with the magical doohickey that Stark needs in order to leave. Now it may or may not be better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven, I don’t know, but it’s definitely better to reign in Hell than be forced into arena pit fighting in hell for a bunch of psychopathic fallen angels, so there you go. Now in the previous paragraph I said that I felt like stepping back and starting over with this book, and the vibe that I got throughout this one is that Kadrey maybe felt the same way. Over the last three books, Stark managed to accomplish pretty much everything he had in mind, and while he is definitely a strong character he doesn’t exactly scream growth or anything. Making him the Lord of Hell has kind of painted him into a corner, since he’s not a political type.
Therefore, a lot of the Hell sections are pretty slow, where he’s trying to figure out who he can trust, which considering we’re talking about the demons of Hell here is pretty much nobody. About the best that he can do is have a job that no one else particularly wants to do, and the psychology of the denizens of Hell is pretty interesting. (They basically do a bunch of rituals all the time to avoid going stark raving mad.) But Stark’s not really into it, so after a while he finally manages to leave and go back to Earth. Once there he gets involved in a typical (for him) plot involving some magical conspirators, a nigh-invulnerable ghost assassin, and the tantalizing story of how the universe actually got made.
While Stark manages to more or less save the day, a lot of questions are left unanswered here and the end basically puts him back at the status quo of the second novel, rather than progressing. I got the sense that the whole thing was basically a bridge novel to put him back in a position to have “normal” adventures in future volumes, and therefore reacted accordingly. There are some great setpieces here, like when he’s quoting Epicurus on his souped-up Hellion motorcycle, but really this seems like a way to get from the third book to a future sequel and not really all that special in itself. That said, I thought the second book was the best so far so if they’re all going to be like that it’s worth it. Guess I’ll wait and see.