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.

Audiobook Review: Devil Said Bang by Richard Kadrey

24 09 2012

Devil Said Bang by Richard Kadrey (Sandman Slim, Bk. 4)

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Brilliance Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 14 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Devil Said Bang is another solid edition in one of the more unique and riveting Urban Fantasy series out today. While it has the feel of a transitional novel in the series, it also is full of Stark doing his thing, and ties up many of the plot lines from the precious novel, clearing the slate to take the series in a new direction

Grade: B+

I have to admit, I hadn’t ever heard of Richard Kadrey when I started the Sandman Slim series. In fact, I pretty much believe that the reason I first became interested in this series was because I found the name "Sandman Slim" to sound badass. You know all that stuff about not judging a book by its cover, or some other arbitrary means, well, I am often guilty of that. I like to pretend I am all sophisticated and make well thought out choice when it comes my book selections, but often times it comes down to me pointing and squealing, "Me want the pretty." The crazy thing is, more often than not, it works out. I think there is a lowest common denominator in play here, and I don’t mean this in a negative way. If someone comes up with a kickass character name or an instantly intriguing book title, than more likely than not, I’ll probably like that book. It’s a matter of style meeting style. If I discover a book called Badass Jones, I am more likely going to be pulled to and probably end up enjoying it more than something called "The Philosophy of Arranging Flowers in the Snow" simply because someone willing to name a book or character Badass Jones appeals to me. Sure, the snooty title may end up being the better book, but, how can I resist something patently badass. It’s what appeals to me. Luckily, not only is Sandman Slim a pretty kickass character and title name, but it also is a highly entertaining series. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the latest edition of the series is title, Devil Said Bang, because, hell, who doesn’t love yelling BANG!

It’s not easy being on top, especially when you really didn’t want to be there. James Stark, aka Sandman Slim never wanted to become the ruler of hell, but when the original Lucifer stuck him with the job, he did what he could to keep hell from destroying itself. Now, unhappy and unwanted, Stark needs to find a way back to the women he left behind, without leaving hell, and the damned souls that abide there, in complete chaos. This is hard enough, perhaps impossible, yet to make matters even worst someone in his circle of hell is trying to kill him. Such is death for Sandman slim. I have to admit, after the brilliant Aloha From Hell, a game changing novel from Richard Kadrey, I was ready for a bit of a letdown. It’s hard to follow up a novel like that with something as strong. So, was Devil Said Bang as good as Aloha From Hell? Well… no. Yet, it’s still a pretty damn good novel. Similar to Aloha From Hell, the novel is told in two distinct parts, one taking place in hell, and the other back in our reality. While some of the fascination of Kadrey’s vision of hell, which was simply brilliant in Aloha, has worn off, he still tells an intricately plotted, punk rock version of a Game of Thrones type tale. Stark is the type of character that can carry a weak plot, but sometimes get in the way of a strong one. He is a presence and Kadrey uses that to it fullest. It would have been interesting to see some of the machinations of hell without the filter of Stark, and his quest to get back to Candy, but this is Stark’s tale, so we go with it. When we finally get out of hell, the plotting is a bit messier, but Stark carries it all on his back with the force of his personality. The plot can get a bit confusing, dealing with ghosts and the magical establishment and more people trying to kill Stark, but there are some genuine creepy scenes particularly between Stark and a child ghost who is attacking the living. One element I really liked is that Stark seemed slightly less impulsive and learned to think some things out before acting. This is an interesting development, particularly due to some of the events at the end of Aloha that made you think the opposite would happen. Much of Devil Said Bang seems to be about tying up all the loose ends that Aloha left floating and putting Stark back together again. Yet, even though it has the feel of a transitional novel, it’s a lot of fun, and done with the typical in your face Kadrey style that fans love. Devil Said Bang may not be as brilliant as Aloha from Hell, but it’s still full of Stark doing his thing. Stark is quickly become one of my favorite urban fantasy character, and one who can carry a book by the force of his will. Devil Said Bang clears the plate setting things up for a lot more great Stark adventures yet to come.

MacLeod Andrews simply owns Stark. His reading of this series is total punk rock. It’s gritty and gruff and just the perfect tone for this entire series. It really is a lot of fun to hear a talented narrator like Andrews take on everything from demons and Jades to snooty hotel employees and reclusive Satanists. There is a lot of things happening, and a multitude of strange and quirky characters, and Andrew’s shines in a production like this. His delivery and pacing is always on point, allowing the tale to develop around him as he builds authentic characters. It’s no secret I am a huge MacLeod Andrew’s fan and would probably enjoy listening to him read the phone book, as long is it’s a gritty version of a phone book for hell and it’s surrounding municipalities. Devil Said Bang is another solid edition in one of the more unique and riveting Urban Fantasy series out today.


Audiobook Review: Aloha From Hell by Richard Kadrey

31 10 2011

Aloha From Hell by Richard Kadrey (Sandman Slim, Book 3)

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Brilliance Audio

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.

Grade: A

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.

Audiobook Review: Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey

3 05 2011

Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey (Sandman Slim, Book 2)

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Brilliance Audio

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: A stronger book than it’s prequel, Kadrey adds to a mythology that you think you know, but you really, really don’t.

Grade: B+

If anyone read my review of Sandman Slim, the first novel in the “Sandman Slim” series, you would know I had mixed feelings about the novel. Most of my issues with the novel came from that fact that the main character, anti-hero James Stark, was such a brash, petulant unlikable character, at least on a surface level, that it made him hard to cheer for. Not that there wasn’t anything redeeming about that character, there was, it was just mainly that despite a strong group of supporting characters, that actually supported and cared for him, he found ways to piss even his friend off, despite their good advice and intentions. What I really did like about Sandman Slim was the mythology created by Richard Kadrey. I like urban fantasies, unless they are about sexy Euro-trash Vampires, but often times the mythologies aren’t too original. Kadrey took something that most kids who spent too much time in Sunday School knows about, heaven and hell, angels and demons, and twisted it onto its head, smacked it on its ass, and threw in some extra spices for flavoring. In fact, it’s this intriguing world where US Marshalls answer to Angels, and Lucifer’s Generals play their sadistic own Game of Thrones, that brought me back to the Universe to check out book 2, Kill the Dead.

With Kill the Dead, my feelings are far less mixed. Kill the Dead is a heavy metal ride through the magical subcultures of Los Angeles. Kadrey builds on his mythology that was so intriguing in Sandman Slim, adding to it one of the most unique spins on zombies out there. I really thing that Kadrey’s main skill is to take something you think you know, laugh at you evilly, then show you that you don’t know shit. Even better, the James Stark character was actually much easier to take, and heck, even at times sort of heroic. Yeah, he’s still a brooding mess, full of petulance and overly obstinate, but, this time, he was actually right. It’s tough to write an anti-hero that people can truly get behind, yet, slowly Sandman Slim is becoming someone you can cheer for, even if it’s secretly while publicly denouncing his juvenile behaviors. Kill the Dead has a lot of subplots, and at times I worried that things were getting overly muddled, but Kadrey managed to pull most of the threads together, making for a exciting and satisfying ending, while leaving just enough open ended to allow you to bemoan the fact that we have to wait until October for the next installment in the series.

MacLeod Andrews is truly on of the best narrators out there at encompassing the main POV character. For each series or standalone novel I have listened to narrated by Andrews it is almost like a totally different person telling us the story. This is because he actually gets into the head of the character and becomes him. A lot of narrators just use their “regular” voice for the main character, then changes tones and accents for the supporting characters. Andrew’s doesn’t do this, and it adds a lot to his reading. Some of his supporting characters came off a little cutesy at times, but for the most part, he was dead on in his reading. In future editions to this series, any narrator change will be quite distracting. Andrew’s and Kadrey make such a good team, a writer who can actually write an original character, along with a narrator that can authentically portray him. 

Audiobook Review: Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey

18 03 2011

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey

Read by MacLeod Andrews

Brilliance Audio

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Despite some flaws, Sandman Slim is an original, entertaining, albeit irreverent Urban Fantasy.

Grade: B-

I have only recently begun reading/listening to novels in the subgenre called Urban Fantasy. For the longest time I have been skeptical of the whole urban fantasy thing. The way I would define the subgenre is magical or fantastical things occurring in realistic non-fantasy settings. Yet, what I feared most urban fantasies were about was basically sexy vampires and I am not a huge fan of sexy vampires, nor of sparkly variety. Yet, upon the urging of people I respect I began listening to The Dresden Files. To be honest, I was sort of ho-hum about the first few novels. The audiobook releases of the Dresden Files series was a bit weird, with the early books, and the more recent books being released pretty close together, but some of the middle books getting a later release. Being someone who likes to read a series in order, I waited for a while for the middle novels to be released. So, after months off from listening, I re-entered Harry Dresden’s world. My feelings of ho-humness were shattered almost immediately. The adventure, emotion and humor won me over so completely, I began to search out other Urban Fantasies to ease my wait until the next Dresden Files novel. I found some good ones, specifically Thomas E. Sniegoski’s Remy Chandler novels, and a few not so good. So, with this search for quality urban fantasies, I stumbled upon Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey.

From the beginning of the novel, I had mixed feelings about Sandman Slim. Our main character, James Stark, pulls himself out of hell, determined to kill those who had betrayed him and killed his girlfriend. Stark is a brash, petulant character… a sort of Anti-Dresden. He is brutally opinionated, and mouthy. He’s that kid you see in the punk rock T-Shirt who has no respect for anything, and stares at people, mouthing criticism under his breath and just making everyone around him uncomfortable. He has this air of superiority that hides under an outer self deprecating attitude. He believes his ideas and actions are right, yet with each move he makes matters worse, drives away his friends and allies, and makes unnecessary enemies. Yet, part of you, deep down in those dark areas of your black soul, can’t help but sort of like the guy. What won me over as a listener though, despite my issues with Stark, was an original and intriguing mythology. Sandman Slim isn’t a cookie cutter novel, it is full of original concepts, yet grounded in established mythologies. The world Kadrey creates, from the arenas of hell, to the void, to Rodeo Drive, all fit well into this story. One word of warning, if you don’t like lots of profanity and irreverent attitudes towards basically everything, you probably won’t like Sandman Slim. Yet, if you are like me, and don’t mind a ton of F-Bombs, and the occasional sacrilege, you should take a chance.

MacLeod Andrews is a very talented narrator. Sometimes a talented narrator has to make a tough choice when voicing a character, especially a first person POV character. At first, I was a bit worried with Andrew’s choice to voice Stark as almost a bratty teenager, yet, the more you get to know Stark, the more Andrew’s interpretation of him fits. Despite the fact the main character is around 30 years old, he had been stuck in hell for 11 years, and thinks and acts like a 19 year old. This snarky, sneering voice plays out perfectly for this conflicted character. Andrews has fun with the rest of the characters, from a 200 year old Frenchman, to an egomaniacal Angel, and his enjoyment of the challenges of the novel comes through in his reading. Sandman Slim isn’t without its flaws, and its definitely not for the faint of heart, but the original concept and excellent narration makes it a positive listening experience.