by Richard Kadrey
I would say Richard Kadrey demonstrates a rapier wit in his novel, Sandman Slim, but it's less like a rapier and more like a sawed-off shotgun. James Stark, the protagonist and narrator of this story, is brash and about as antihero as a character can get. Hell, this guy makes most antiheroes look like boy scouts.
Stark has a pretty good reason for being so pissed off, though. He's been in Hell for more than a decade, and upon learning his girlfriend has been murdered back on Earth, he's busted out of Down Town (Hell's nickname for itself) to return to L.A. and find the people responsible: his former circle of magician friends who sent him to Hell in the first place.
I suppose this novel fits nicely in the urban fantasy genre, what with it set in Los Angeles predominantly and has plenty of demons and magic, but the tone of the novel seems to defy the conventional idea of that sub-genre. There's more anger permeating through the text--it is a revenge tale after all. The quick-witted one-liners and fight scenes do lend themselves to that action-oriented fantasy adventure.
The beginning of the story sets the stakes really well, introducing important characters and alluding to others that appear later. But the first act seems to spin its wheels for a bit. It kind of meanders, or deviates, from the overlying mission Stark is on. It's entertaining, yes, but I had to wait a hundred pages or so for the book to really kick into high gear. But when it did, the book was impossible to put down.
Another plus for this book is that it works as a stand-alone novel, even though it's the first book in a trilogy (or maybe series) that usually forebodes some kind of cliffhanger or "to be continued" moment. Sandman Slim is a very satisfying reading experience all on its own, so I was spared the aggravating feeling that comes with so many books that serve as jump offs for trilogies.
I'll be looking forward to reading the sequel, Kill the Dead, in 2011. Fantasy tales with a barbed-wire tattoo instead of a tramp stamp are a welcome change of pace.