Aloha From Hell by Richard Kadrey (Sandman Slim, Book 3)
Read by MacLeod Andrews
Length: 14 Hrs 8 Mins
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Quick Thoughts: Kadrey’s visions of the worlds of the afterlife, and his spin on characters that you thought you had known pushes this series past your expectations for Urban Fantasy and puts the Sandman Slim series in a category all of its own.
With a bit of sadness, I must declare this Halloween audiobook review my final post for the October Murder, Monsters and Mayhem blog event hosted by Jenn from the wonderful Jenn’s Bookshelves blog. This month we have tackled all sorts of evils including vampires, zombies, werewolves, summer camps, child molesters, released mental patients and of course, demons. I think it is quite appropriate to end our trip in the place were evil meets its final rest, the Devil’s Playground, Hell. Now, personally, I don’t want to go to hell, but I have always enjoyed literary trips there. I wrote a bit about the reasons behind my fascination with Hell in my review of Chuck Palahniuk’s Damned, so I won’t repeat myself, but I was intrigued that three books were released this month giving us unique and fascinating looks at hell. Today I am reviewing Aloha From Hell, the third novel in the Sandman Slim series by Richard Kadrey. I have listened to and reviewed the first two in this series this year, and it has quickly become one of my favorite urban fantasy series. Sure, I’ll admit that in the initial novel I was totally frustrated with the main character, James Stark, but like a fine fungus, Stark grows on you. What I really loved about the first two novels was the mythology that Kadrey has developed for this series. It’s a fascinating mix of Biblical and world myths with his own unique twist that just works perfectly with the world he has created.
A great series is like a work of art, in a physical sense. With the first book, you create the framework, and set the canvas. Done right this works as a piece of art all its own, but also preps the recipient for what is to come. The next book you add in the background, and truly begin to develop your theme. What comes next are the details and colors that make your work fascinating and allows it to stand out from other pieces of art in its vein. With Aloha from Hell, Kadrey takes the framework he sets in the first two novels, and pushes his art to a whole other level. Aloha from Hell is a story in two parts, the first half centering around Stark and his allies investigating a botched exorcism that lead to a young man, seemingly possessed by strange demon to go missing. You get a lot of trademark Stark attitude and brash impulsiveness that makes this series so compelling. Yet, the second half of this novel is a game changer in the truest sense of the word. Stark must return to hell to save the soul of a friend and stop a war that may not only lead to the overthrow of heaven and hell, but to the end of the our universe in total. Kadrey shakes and bakes his mythology is so many wonderful and fascinating new ways as Stark travels the many levels of the lands of angels and demons. With each of Stark’s actions and inaction, the foundation that Kadrey has created becomes twisted and cracked in ways you never expected, leading to an ending that would only work in the world he has created. Kadrey’s visions of the worlds of the afterlife, and his spin on characters that you thought you had known pushes this series past your expectations for Urban Fantasy and puts the Sandman Slim series in a category all of its own.
It is so hard to explain the wonderful things that narrator MacLeod Andrews does with this series. Of the many narrator’s I listen to, Andrew’s is one of the best at taking well reasoned risks with his narration and these risks almost always pay off perfectly for the listener. Instead of just using his default narrative voice as the voice of the main character, he uses the persona that Kadrey has created for James Stark, and builds a voice around him. As a listener, you feel that Andrews really knows these characters. With some narrators, you feel like they have stock voices, old-grumpy man, crazy guy, sexy siren, etc, and they just plug them into the characters of the story, almost like vocal stereotypes. You never feel like the characters that MacLeod Andrews creates are boilerplate in the least, they are fully fleshed out detailed interpretations of the author’s creations. Aloha from Hell did something that doesn’t happen often, it surprised me and blew away any expectations and assumptions I had about a series. I just can’t wait to see where James Stark and his allies and enemies go next.
Note: A special thanks to the people at Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for Review.