This is the first volume in a Paranormal Fantasy series – by a male author, so unsurprisingly there is not much in the way of Romance here. This is mostly in the vein of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novels, except considerably trashier and even closer to the Noir roots of the genre. In fact, even though there are many supernatural elements (magicians, demons and angels, for the most part), Sandman Slim reads more like a noir pulp novel from the fifties than a paranormal fantasy from the early 21st century – there is no private detective here, and law enforcement in general is mostly absent, but the novel’s protagonist – back on earth after eleven years in Hell (literally) and out to get the people who put him there – is on a mission of vengeance and he has few, if any, scruples to remove anything out of the way that gets between him and his revenge.
The novel’s first person protagonist does the the usual wisecracking that appears almost mandatory for this male variety of Paranormal Fantasy (which, on a side note, makes one wonder when exactly wisecracking became an indicator of masculinity – and why. I’d wager that there is some element of wish-fulfillment fantasy involved…), with the marked difference that Kadrey’s Richard Stark has an outlook on life that is much more cynical than that of his colleagues – but will ring very familiar to any reader of noir fiction. Stark’s attitude is not just a hommage to the genre of hardboiled crime novels, however, but makes sense in the context of the novel’s plot, too – being forced to spend the best part of one’s life in Hell (literally) because one was betrayed by one’s friends seem like sufficient motivation to turn even the most blue-eyed and naive into a hardened cynic.
The action is relentless and keeps going without a pause; Sandman Slim mainains a very high speed throughout – so fast, in fact, that the reader is in danger of running out of breath and falling behind. While stringing one action scene after another certainly contributes to the novel’s high entertainment factor, I think the narrative would have been overall more effective if Kadrey had left readers time for an occasional breather, and his characters for some development or even emotional moments. Instead, he just keeps throwing stuff at you, and more stuff, and then some more on top of that. It’s all stuff of the wildly inventive kind and a lot of fun… but it does get a bit much and in the end rather overwhelms the reader, at least it did this one – I’m already having a hard time remembering everything that happens in the last two hundred pages, and might have been experiencing some dizziness as well as having a slight headache coming on by the time I closed the book.
I hope Kadrey will work on his pacing (well – will have worked, as by now he is four volumes into the series – as usual, I’m a bit behind on things) as it’s quite likely that I’m eventually going to read the sequel as well. When I do, I’m going to keep some aspirin handy, though, just in case.