The Kill Society: There are parts of Hell even Sandman Slim hasn’t seen

The Kill Society by Richard KadreyThe Kill Society by Richard KadreyThe Kill Society by Richard Kadrey 

The Kill Society (2017) is the ninth SANDMAN SLIM book, even if Stark prefers to go by Stark now, rather than the name he was given when he fought in the arena in Hell. Hell is not the eternal absence of God, or some theoretical dimension of punishment; it’s a county, a landscape. And Stark, alive or dead, is very familiar with it. In The Kill Society, Kadrey takes Stark, and us, on a tour of a previously unseen area of Hell, the Tenebrae. Even Stark is not very familiar with the desert-like stretch of Tenebrae with its mummified ghost towns. He’d prefer to be in Pandemonium, the capital, but he has no choice, because he’s been captured by a charismatic, mad soul who calls himself The Magistrate, and his caravan of killers called the horde.

(This review may contain mild spoilers for earlier books.)

This is a fairly short book, with a Sandman Slim novella filling it out at the end. A lot of the touchstones that make the Stark books so much fun are missing: The Bamboo House of Dolls, Kasabian, Candy. What’s left is Stark’s wit and expertise at killing, a new set of characters who grab our attention, and a plot involving a weapon that might kill God.

Before he woke up on a hill above Tenebrae, Stark managed to open the gates of Heaven. A group of rebellious angels decided that they preferred Heaven as a gated community and began locking out all human souls, even the good ones. Now there is a full-fledged civil war. The Magistrate hopes the weapon will end the war, but he is reckoning with two groups of angels, the God loyalists and the new rebels. There is a spy within the horde, the Magistrate doesn’t trust Stark, and one more thing… The Magistrate is crazy.Sandman Slim (10 Book Series) by Richard Kadrey

Tenebrae and the under-the-mountain river that plays a part in this book reminded me of Kadrey’s earlier phantasmagorical book The Butcher Bird, but the two books are nothing alike. The tone in The Kill Society is acerbic and gritty, unmistakably Stark, even without his usual sidekicks. In this book, Stark meets up again with Father Traven, a damned priest (no, I mean literally damned) who is a pretty good guy, and he reunites with first love Alice, who is now a full-fledged angel.

Among the new characters are Daja, a loyal follower of the Magistrate, and members of a group Stark calls the Dog Pack. I especially liked Doris, a very different take on a damned soul. Doris did bad things, very bad, when she was alive, but I could understand why, and gosh-darn it, I kinda liked her. Doris is an example of the kind of absurdity Kadrey pulls off flawlessly; well, sure, she killed people, but can’t you see her point?

The strengths of this short book are in the descriptions of the desiccated countryside, the weapon called the Light Killer and the ingenious way Stark uses it. Secondary characters like Daja, Doris, Father Traven and adversaries like Johnny are well-depicted. Kadrey’s ear for syncopated, snappy, noirish dialogue is unparalleled and this book revels in the art of the quip and the clever putdown.

The novella, The Devil in the Dollhouse, actually answers a question that is raised in The Kill Society. While the first two-thirds of it were compelling, the end was too long, recapitulating the beginning of Devil Said Bang.

I liked this book, but it was not my favorite of the SANDMAN SLIM series. As wild and vivid as the landscape and the people are, Stark functions best in LA, surrounded by his peeps and by the weirdness that is humanity (and Los Angeles). I’ll be glad when we’re back there.

Publication date: June 6, 2017. Sandman Slim returns in this stunning, high-octane ninth thriller in the series, filled with the intense, kick-ass action and inventive fantasy that are the hallmarks of New York Times bestselling author Richard Kadrey. Sandman Slim has been to Heaven and Hell and many places in between, but now he finds himself in an unknown land: the far, far edge of the Tenebrae, the desolate home of the lost dead. Making his way inland with nothing but his unerring instinct for trouble to guide him, he collides with a caravan of the damned on a mysterious crusade, led by the ruthless Magistrate. Alone and with no clue how to get back home, he throws in with this brutal bunch made up of human souls, Hellion deserters, rogue angels—and Father Traven. Slim didn’t land in Tenebrae by chance. His little stunt of trying to open Heaven has set off a tsunami across the universe. Now, the afterlife is falling apart because of the ensuing warfare. And when Heaven finds out Slim is close by, the angels put a fat bounty on his head. It’s one thing to ride with a ferocious criminal pack across the treacherous plains—it’s another to do it when everyone in the land of the dead is itching to keep you there permanently. But Slim’s not too worried. He’s been fighting cosmic forces bent on destroying Heaven, Hell, Earth, and him for years. A pack of vicious bounty hunters, vengeful angels, and dangerous enemies with friendly smiles isn’t going to stop him fixing the chaos he’s caused . . . one way or another.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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