Audiobook Review: Kill City Blues by Richard Kadrey

8 08 2013

Kill City Blues (Sandman Slim, Bk. 5) by Richard Kadrey

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Harper Audio

Length: 10 Hrs 11 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Kill City Blues is a Dantesque ride through a true retail hell. While  mostly a set up novel to the coming epic confrontation, Kill City Blues is in no way a let down. It’s a chance to hang out with a group of some of the most intriguing characters in Urban Fantasy today, before they quite possibly need to end all of existence.

Grade: A-

I’m not sure how my God-fearing, drag me kicking and screaming to church three days a week mother of my childhood would have reacted if I told her that one day, one of my favorite literary characters would not be a single Lucifer, but a trio of characters who held the title of the Prince of Darkness. Nowadays, mom has resigned herself to the fact that I’m a Stephen Kind loving, hard rock playing fan of all that is dark and spooky, and just shakes her head and deals. I mean, hell, I’m an adult, if I want to ride the highway to hell, I guess that’s my call.  Yet, if I had revealed this side of me back in the days where I sat happily in the church basement singly "The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me" as a precursor to another felt board telling of Joseph and his coat of many colors, that secretly I would have loved to seen Joseph’s coat among the looted wastelands of a post nuclear America full of dragons and unicorns and robot zombies, then I probably would have been rushed to the local exorcist who I think was named Pete. You see, where I grew up, it was never Mick Jagger declaring his sympathy for the devil, but Greg X. Voltz and the boys of Petra singing "Angle of Light, I see your glow in the night, but you only bring darkness to my soul" or those wonderful guys who make up The Lost Dogs asking the important theological questions, "Why is the Devil Red? Why ain’t the Devil Blue?" Yet, all this anti-diabolical propaganda instead fostered a fascination with Lucifer and his hordes of fallen angels. I have read lots and lots of fictional explorations of hell, the devil, angels and demons, and by far my favorite depiction of the underworld and its leader is in Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series. I love his depictions of Lucifer, whether it be the original suave Fallen angel who held the role, the newest incarnation who was at one time, at least in part God, and even Stark’s poor attempt to hold the role. Honestly, I think if Richard Kadrey was my Sunday School teacher, church would have been a heck of a lot more fun. Of course, I’m not sure how much mom would have appreciated it, but at least Pete would get lots of business. 

As you begin Kill City Blues, you simply know that Richard Kadrey is building the series up to an epic confrontation between the powers of this universe, and some Lovecrftian demons who may have been the original powers of our reality until the entity we call God stole it away for them, but like any continuing series, this means he needs to set all the pieces in place with a few set up novels. Because of this, I was expecting Kill City Blues to be a bit of a let down, the calm before the storm. While, in fact, Kill City Blues is a set up novel to the big war to come, it in no way let me down. In Kill City Blues, Stark, and his cadre of complicated cohorts are on a mission to relocate the Qorama, a weapon capable of killing the immortal. Stark once had possession of this device, but the rogue angel Aelita stole it away from him and hid it in the depths of Kill City, an abandoned Mall taken over by a strange menagerie of beings and souls.  Now Stark has a lead on it, yet he must take a Dantesque trip through a true retail hell, Kill City. Kill City Blues is another excellent hardcore trip through the otherworldly side of existence. Sandman Slim remains one of the most original characters in Urban Fantasy, and even though his edges have softened a bit, he is still a harsh as that first shot of whiskey. Kadrey does a lot in this novel. While the core story is the search for the Qorama, along the way we get to see Stark get into a bit of a power struggle with the Lucifer’s, take a trip into the coldest corners of hell to rescue a friend,  fix some of his strained relationships, and forge some intriguing new alliances. Kill City Blues lacks some of the focus of the traditional Urban Fantasy. Kadrey surrounds the core of his story with little side trips, yet these side trips give the tale it’s heart, and allows for moments of humor to balance out the rocket fueled pace, and apocalyptic import of Stark’s mission. This style gives the tale a vivid reality where not everything moves straight from A to Z, but need to make a few out of order alphabetic pitstops that would drive the most anal muppets to drink  Kill City Blues felt almost like a recharging for the series. It’s offered some true vital tasks for the continuing storyline, but also allowed us to hang out with these characters we love for another fun adventure, before they quite possible need to end all of existence.

One of the biggest pleasures of audiobooks is when a narrator becomes the true voice of a series, to a point where you just can’t imagine it without that voice. For me, MacLeod Andrew’s whiskey soaked sneering voice will always be Sandman Slim. Andrew’s totally embodies this character to a point\ where I can’t help wondering if perhaps he spent some of his own time vacationing in hell. One of the true talents Andrew has is his ability to naturally transition between a large cast of quite different characters. It can’t be easy to slip between Socal girls, old French thieves, crazed underground hillbillies, angels, demons, defrocked priests, god, talking disembodied heads, the devil and other assorted hellion and earthly creatures, and have it all sound natural.  Yet, Andrews pulls it off, allowing you to feel like you’re immersed in some infernal coffee klatch. Andrew constantly drives the pace forward, turning the underground Kill City into a otherworldly amusement park on a rollercoaster ride that never slips the track but still manages to scare the crap out of you. This series turned me into a fan of MacLeod Andrews, and I love every chance I get to return to it. It’s one of my must listen to annual audio experiences, and really, dammit, it should be one of yours as well.

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Audiobook Review: The Wrong Goodbye by Chris F. Holm

12 11 2012

The Wrong Goodbye by Chris F. Holm (The Collector, Bk. 2)

Read by Brian Vander Ark

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 54 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: The Wrong Goodbye comes at you like a slow boil, building in tension as the pieces fall into place, resulting in a well executed mad rush of a "should have seen it coming" ending. This series is breathing fresh new life into an Urban Fantasy Trope that I never even realized it desperately needed. If you were a fan of the wild, action filled Dead Harvest, then you will delight in the next steps the story takes in The Wrong Goodbye.

Grade: A-

Sam Thornton, the protagonist of Chris F. Holm’s Urban Fantasy series, is a Collector. It’s quite easy to mistake him for a Grim Reaper, but his job is much different. Within the mythos of The Collector series, a Collector gathers two very specific types of souls. One type is those whose actions are so heinous, so evil that Hell claims their soul right away. The others is the souls of those who struck a deal with some demonic force, selling their soul for some temporary earth bound advantage. Now, I know what you are thinking, what sort of idiot would risk eternal damnation for some temporal reward. What gift would be worth having now that would make up for years of torment at the hands of the denizens of hell? For those of you who are thinking, nothing…. nothing is worth giving up my soul, well, I’m with you. Except, that I know myself too well. Intellectually, I know that 10, or 20 or 100 years of health, wealth and happiness would not make up for an eternity of suffering. Of course, intellectually, I also know that blowing $50 at the bookstore when I have rent, and a crap load of bills coming in doesn’t make sense. Yet, for some reason, my bookcases keep getting fuller. I’ve never been great at delayed gratification.  Growing up poor, portly and pretty much unlucky with the ladies makes me tend to grab on to whatever luxuries I can manage, often times knowing it will come with a price in the future. As I have grown, I have learned more discipline, but it’s been an uphill battle. I am lucky that the younger me never came across that strange man in the crossroads offering me a taste of the good life for the mere pittance of my soul. I’d like to think I would have turned down that deal just as I’d like to thigh my frugality and good decisions have created a comfortable little nest egg. Unfortunately, I probably blew all that for some nice pretties for my nest, and plenty of eggs.

While tracking a particularly evil drug dealer through the South American jungle, Collector Sam Thornton comes upon a grisly scene. His quarry is found ripped apart, soul missing, with a message for Sam carved into his body.  There is only one being who could pull this off, another Collector, and one that Sam shares a complex history with. In The Wrong Goodbye, Chris F Holm again offers a look into the otherworldly domain of the collectors. While there are many urban fantasies out their today dealing with angels and demons, very few are as unique and fascinating as the world Holm has created. Holm shrugs off everything you think you know about the afterlife, stripping away the Sunday School mythology and offering you a well conceived world that makes its own rules. In The Wrong Goodbye, Holm gives you a slower more complicated plot than in Dead Harvest. While the action is there, it does not come at quite the breakneck speed as the first novel of the series. Instead Holm concentrates on creating a clever plot, expanding his mythology in creative new directions and presenting us with some of the best characters that I have met in an urban fantasy. What I really liked about The Goodbye was how Holm flips the traditional hero roles. None of his characters are what you would consider good guys. They are drawn from the dregs of society, mafia goombahs, con men and the like, yet they have more heart, and more potential for heroism than the nearest Boy Scout. Many of these characters know they are destined for an eternity of torment, but they step up and surprise you. The Wrong Goodbye comes at you like a slow boil, building in tension as the pieces fall into place, resulting in a well executed mad rush of a "should have seen it coming" ending. This series is breathing fresh new life into an Urban Fantasy Trope that I never even realized it desperately needed. If you were a fan of the wild, action filled Dead Harvest, then you will delight in the next steps the story takes in The Wrong Goodbye.

Now, to be perfectly honest, I’m not yet sure I’m 100% sold on Brian Vander Ark as a narrator. Now, I think he does a great job here in The Wrong Goodbye. As a first person narrative, Vander Ark really captures the essence of Sam Thornton. There is a certain hesitant gruffness in his reading that really enhances Sam Thornton as a character, capturing the often "deer in the headlights" noir feel that the narrative creates for Sam. The rawness gives the reading authenticity, but it also offers some negatives. Vander Arks pacing is uneven at times. As the action speeds up, Vander Ark does a good job conveying the urgency of each scene, but there is often an awkward feel to the slower, more contemplative scenes. There are also some distracting noises throughout the reading. I’m not sure if they were lip smacking or other mouth sounds, but there were noticeable at times throughout the production. Yet, I think that in a way, the rawness and awkward pacing sort of worked for this novel, but I’m not quite sure it would work in something else. I would be quite interested to hear Vander Ark taking on a third person POV or multi POV story to see if some of the flaws that worked here where a conscious choice or just the limits of his skill. No matter my complaints, I really enjoyed the audiobook production and encourage people to give it a listen.





Audiobook Review: Dead Harvest by Chris F. Holm

12 06 2012

Dead Harvest by Chris F. Holm

Read by Brian Vander Ark

Angry Robot on Brilliance Audio

Length: 9 Hrs 33 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Chris F. Holm manages to bring a believable noir feel to his urban fantasy, by creating a truly compelling character whose struggles with his very nature only adds to the  tension. While things go boom, and the stakes are world changing, Holm keeps the story centered by focusing on his character’s inner struggles.  Dead Harvest is a wonderful blending of the supernatural with urban crime fiction and an exciting start to a new series.

Grade: B+

I have only recently become a fan of Urban Fantasy, in fact, I only recently discovered that it was a genre. I had probably heard the terms, and I’m sure I may have read a book or two that fell within the genre’s definition, but I never was truly cognizant of it being a specific category until I began actively blogging and reading other book bloggers work. The first urban fantasy series that I recall reading is Thomas Sniegoski’s Remy Chandler series. After that I took on the Harry Dresden series, and I became more and more enamored with the concept. The major reason I was never more than a peripheral Fantasy fan, is that I preferred modern, relatable characters. Early on the majority of the Fantasy I read was portal fantasy, and I shied away from elves, dragons and the like. This is why I think I got drawn into the whole subgenre. The core of any good urban fantasy is the main character’s struggle with their humanity in a world where humanity isn’t the top of the food chain.  In a world full of magic, beings of power and the temptations these things bring, how does one maintain their soul? Urban Fantasy is wonderful escapism, but done correctly, it also shines a light on the human condition by displaying the conflict that those who have the opportunity to step outside it must undergo. It gives us a chance to ask the uncomfortable questions.   For us in the mundane, 40 hours a week, wage slave world, how much would we be willing to sacrifice for just a glimpse of something more?

In Dead Harvest, we meet Sam Thornton, collector of Souls. Existing in a sort of purgatory between life and death, Sam collects the essence of the damned, sending them to their final destination. Yet, when Sam is sent to collect the soul of Kate, a young women who was caught in the act of butchering her family, things go wrong and instead of taking her soul, he breaks her from prison, convinced she is innocent. Now Sam is being pursued by the cops, and even worse, creatures of heaven and hell, some of whom are ready to start a devastating war that could very easily destroy the world. In many ways, Dead Harvest is a chase novel in the form of an urban Fantasy. The novel moves at a relentlessly break neck pace as Sam and Kate barely manage to escape from the human and supernatural forces allied against them. Holm creates some stunningly complex yet vivid action sequences with near misses and skin of their teeth escapes galore. One of the frustration elements of the story is Sam, whose supernatural abilities could often aid in his escapes, chooses not to use the powers given to him as a collector. While I found it frustrating, it was also true to Sam’s character. Holm walks us through Sam’s regret filled past to show us a man struggling to keep hold of some semblance of his humanity. Unlike the majority of Urban Fantasy protagonists, Sam sees the powers he is given and his supernatural role as a curse, and has created a strict moral code to live by despite his belief that he is irredeemable. It’s a true testament to Holm’s skills as a writer that he can fully develop Sam as a character, while maintaining the run away rollercoaster pace of the narrative. Holm manages to bring a believable noir feel to his urban fantasy, by creating a truly compelling character whose struggles with his very nature only adds to the tension. While things go boom, and the stakes are world changing, Holm keeps the story centered by focusing on his character’s inner struggles.  Dead Harvest is a wonderful blending of the supernatural with urban crime fiction and an exciting start to a new series.

While Brian Vander Ark is no stranger to the recording studio, this is his debut as an audiobook narrator. Dead Harvest is a first person tale and Vander Ark gives Sam Thornton a gravelly voice that is an excellent fit for this character. Vander Ark manages to give the book the Hard Boiled feel of a Dashiell Hammond novel, while keeping up with Holm’s rapid fire pacing and elaborate action sequences. Vander Ark’s characterizations of the peripheral characters are a mixed bag. He is brilliant with the various lowlifes and demons that pepper this tale, yet, he struggles early on with Kate, and his gritty tones don’t always fit some of the smoother characters, particularly those of the angelic form. Yet, as the novel progressed, Vander Ark managed to get a hold on his characterization of Kate, smoothing her out and giving her a younger feel than originally portrayed. It’s not easy for male narrator’s to capture teenage girls authentically, but he manages a happy median with the character. While his performance wasn’t free of flaws I enjoyed Vander Ark’s narration and sincerely hope to hear him reading the next entry in this series.

Note: A special thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.