I’m not sure what’s wrong with me lately. I keep finding myself reading some gloriously blasphemous works of fantasy literature. I reviewed Jesse Bullington’s The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart and accepted that it could very well show up as a stain on my soul’s credit report. Now, having just finished Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim, I might as well file eternal bankruptcy.
James Stark was betrayed and sent to hell for 11 years. While in Hell he learned a few things like killing, drinking heavily, and swearing like it was an Olympic sport. James Stark’s only goals are payback for his banishment, and revenge for the murder of his one true love… Anything else that happens along the way is just a bonus.
Stark’s one-track mind makes him seem a little self-centered. Combine that with his colorful vocabulary, and Stark is nearly unapproachable. On the other hand, he’s also funny, tremendously powerful, and becoming a better person despite his best efforts to the contrary. Stark grew on me, and by the end of the story I ranked him among my favorite characters in fantasy literature.
Kadrey’s writing is solid and surprisingly eloquent in its own way. You literary nerds who just spit your drink on your monitors, please clean off your screen and hear me out. Richard Kadrey has a way with words; his descriptions and images are vivid and creative and his metaphors are simultaneously both funny and accurate. For example, when Stark walks in on a dark magic ceremony, he comments:
Don’t devil worshipers have any imagination? It’s like a Hot Topic Halloween party.
Or when he tries on some Kevlar:
I’ll wear the liner under the over-coat and hope it’s not so bulky I look like a robot in a bathrobe.
In just a couple of concise sentences, Kadrey lets me know exactly what the scene looks like — and he makes me laugh. The verbiage is also very modern. It’s rife with pop-culture references and slang, so in 20 years it will feel a little dated, but who chooses a fantasy book purely based on its potential future relevance? I also didn’t mind the vulgarity, and found it quite refreshing compared to the politically-correct word choices in a lot of today’s books.
Sandman Slim hit the bull’s-eye for me. It contained humor, a gritty style, and a fast pace — everything I love about urban fantasy.