After my last post about Justified, I thought I would stick with the theme of badassery. Yes, I know that isn’t a word, but it should be. I’m using it regardless. I could think of no better way to continue with this new theme than to talk about the book Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey.
Sandman Slim is a tale of urban fantasy set in Los Angeles. The book begins with our eponymous hero clawing his way out of hell with a mission of revenge on his mind. We quickly learn that Sandman Slim, also known as James Stark, has been alive in hell for the past eleven years. He had been sent there by his previous cabal of sorcerers who had also murdered his girlfriend before sending him to hell. What follows is a violent and vulgar trail of chaos as Stark searches out those who did all this to him. In the process, he learns that even the simplest plans for revenge can stumble upon things of greater import. The discovery of a greater conspiracy afoot lends weight and urgency to Stark’s simple plan of vengeance.
One of the things that I really enjoyed about this book was noir feeling that permeates it. Earlier, I used the term hero in reference to Stark when antihero would have a been a more appropriate appellation. Stark, like most of all the other characters you encounter in the book, has a gray fading to black morality. The sense of right and wrong stays muddled throughout the book and only becomes clearer as the grand conspiracy at the heart of the matter is revealed. This moral ambiguity made it easier to accept a very rough-hewn protagonist and also made it easier to showcase his penchant for badassery. One scene illustrates this point well. In his search for those who had wronged him we are given the impression that the supernatural maintains a low profile in staying with the tropes of the genre. Stark comes across one of the members of his old cabal during the day on a busy L.A. street. The expected result is that some trailing and stalking would occur but not so here. Fire balls are flung, windows and cars are shattered, and a chase up and down buildings ensue. This is definitely not something you would see Harry Dresden doing, but it makes perfect sense in the world of Sandman Slim.
Richard Kadrey has created a world and a character with great depth. Instead of a world where the supernatural entities had created their own society, he has given us a setting balanced between the polar opposites of heaven and hell. This provides for a different take on the normal denizens of urban fantasy especially James stark. Presenting a setting like this in a noir fashion adds unexpected depths to the narrative as well. You expect something based between heaven and hell to have a very inflexible moral code. Instead, Kadrey gives a world of grays where the characters that live in black and white are the ones that truly do not seem to fit in. He plays with ideas of vengeance, redemption and responsibility deftly against this gray backdrop. In this world, angels betray you to better their station and demons manipulate you to save the universe from destruction. Wouldn’t you claw your way out of hell for that?