Life hasn’t been easy for Jim Stark, the protagonist of Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim. His old apartment isn’t his anymore, his lover Alice has been murdered, and, oh, yeah, he’s just spent the last 11 years in hell. Returning to Los Angeles to murder the cohorts who sent him to hell, Stark finds himself in the middle of something bigger, with the fate of the world at stake. In this showdown, the bad guys are terrifying and the good guys are only good by comparison. And Stark? He’s just looking out for his own.
Even for a work of urban fantasy, Sandman Slim is particularly dark and gritty without as clear-cut a sense of good and evil as many other books in the genre. Stark spent his time in hell fighting monsters in Hellion arenas for the amusement of the demons and Lucifer himself. Later, he became an assassin for warring Hellion generals. The result is an anti-hero who is hardened and violent—a monster who hunts other monsters. He is, in short, an intriguing protagonist for a promising series beginning.
The novel is not without its moments of humor, however, like the first time Stark sees a cell phone, describing it as the result of a union between a typewriter and a remote control. Some of the humor comes from his adjustment to the technological changes that occurred during his imprisonment in hell, while the rest of the (somewhat blacker) humor is the result of Kadrey’s knack for description. The language in Sandman Slim can get coarse, but it is not gratuitous.
This is a novel (and series) great for holding readers over between installments of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series. The snarky narrators and power dynamics within their respective magic communities are similar, though Kadrey’s vision is somewhat darker and more prone to shades of grey than earlier Dresden Files installments. Fans of dark humor and dark paranormal fiction will devour Sandman Slim.