Sandman Slim is a goner. Seriously, for-real-this-time, no take-backsies dead. Sure, he’s been dead before, but mostly on purpose, and this time feels different. For one thing, instead of heading right to Hell (oh, come on, like he’d go to Heaven) he ends up on the far edge of the Tenebrae, the grim, bleak land of the lost dead. Within about 3 pages, he ends up in conflict with – and then, in true James Stark style, being recruited by – the Havoc, a tribe of crusaders traveling the desert lands, led by the Magistrate – a ruthless True Believer. Now, Stark’s goal is to survive the Havoc, figure out if the Crusade is real, or just madness, help end the war started by rebel angels in heaven and somehow get back home to LA for tacos with Candy.
The Kill Society is the best Sandman Slim book in ages. Yanked out of his safety zone (Drinking at the House of Dolls, stealing cars and getting into fights, sniping at his frenemy Kasabian and mooning over Candy, his Jade girlfriend), he’s forced to improvise, think on his feet, and actually push his skills to the limit. The whole thing reads like a supernatural Mad Max noir thriller – all dust and violence; endless nothingness and paranoia; drunken carousing and brutal, senseless permadeath (yes, there’s a death that sends you even lower than the Tenebrae or Hell.
That said, this is no joyless gore-fest. Slim is as snarky as ever, and in fact is so mouthy you wonder if he doesn’t maybe have some sort of undiagnosed impulse-control disorder: he literally cannot prevent his thoughts from coming directly out of his mouth even when he recognizes that now may not be the best time to express this thought. He manages to piss off friends and foe alike, but really, it’s part of his charm. He is blunt and straightforward, and as much as he thinks of himself as a monster (“the monster who kills monsters”), he is fundamentally principled and has a deep sense of justice.
There’s also an amazing cast of side characters. Even when they’re bad guys, or on Stark’s bad side, or just plain unlikeable, the characters are engaging and complex and vivid.
Father Traven, the sin-eating, action-oriented badass priest is back! Doing research mostly, but he’s back! He’s Giles to Stark’s Buffy, providing a listening ear, much-needed empathy, and good advice that Stark generally ignores. And of course, Samael (the ex-Lucifer, now Death) returns, as stylish, charming and manipulative as ever.
Kadrey also continues his streak of writing in great female characters (heroes and villains and all those grey areas in between). Daja, at first seemingly a brutish thug and antagonist to Stark, gradually earns his grudging respect and affection (and he hers), as they fight, struggle, and butt heads in the wasteland. Doris, a murderous housewife – turned murderous warrior is both terrifying and adorable (she’s clearly the mother of the group). Mimir, the oracle, who turns out to be a not-that-welcome blast from Stark’s past (and not the last he’ll encounter before the story is through) who is messy, complicated, and out to save her own skin.
This book was utterly howlingly mad, in the best possible way. Watching this motley collection of lunatics massacre their way across the landscape was electrifying. When they talk about “pulse-pounding action” this is what they mean. My only regret was that (even at 400+ pages) it was over too soon.
Provided by Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
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