Review: Sandman Slim
There are beliefs, of sorts, in the writing business. A good author can take the most cliché, horrible idea, and make it work. A bad author, however, could have the most amazing idea, and make it seem second-rate drivel. SANDMAN SLIM, by Richard Kadrey, takes a little of both of those. Poorly written, clichéd drivel. Awesome huh? (Yes, that was sarcasm.)
There is a blatant attempt in this novel to have a Harry Dresden-style character be super dark and gritty. The main PoV, James Stark (a magician, of course), was sent to Hell by his “friends.” He fought demons “Downtown,” (as the character calls it) Gladiator style for eleven years, and then managed to escape. This is where the book picks up–Stark waking up in a graveyard in L.A. after escaping Hell. Stark wants revenge on the people that sent him down to Hell. Oh, and there is a war between Heaven and Hell that Stark is in the middle of (GASP!). Were there enough clichéd archetypes and motifs in that paragraph for you? That’s just scratching the surface. Oh, and the title? It comes in randomly a little over half-way through the book.
Look, the whole going (or being sent) to Hell thing has been done. A lot. Even T.V. shows have done it. A lot. This isn’t to say you can’t do the “going to Hell and back” thing…well actually that is exactly what we are saying. Give it a decade of rest. If you absolutely MUST do it, at least write it well enough to make us not want to gouge out our eyes.
Back to our PoV. It’s OK to want to have an anti-hero character. It’s OK to make him gritty and dark. It isn’t OK to accomplish this by having the First-Person narrative tell you “Hey, I’m dark and gritty.” He needs to SHOW us through his actions and thoughts who he is and what makes him different. And no, swearing a ton doesn’t make the PoV dark and gritty, it just shows a limited vocabulary. (Except in Nick’s case, because we all know he is brilliant.) As readers, we were often subjected to long metaphoric monologues and commentaries on society, followed by Stark saying, “But I don’t give a ****.” If he doesn’t care about anything, why should we the readers give a crap about him or his revenge story? Not only that, but half the time the metaphoric language and word choices don’t mean a freaking thing. It is nonsensical garbage strung together to sound intelligent to the uneducated.
There are quite a few areas, like the poor wording above, that show Kadrey didn’t research much. It may seem like a quibble, but at one point Stark spots an Escalade from a distance and says something akin to, “And I decided I wanted to steal that Escalade right there.” One problem. Stark was in Hell when Escalades began to be manufactured. He wouldn’t know what it is from a distance. Not only that, but he alternates between calling it an SUV and a van. “SUV” has been a common term since the early 90’s, so he would know the difference. It’s little things like this that can really pull a reader out of the story. Either Kadrey doesn’t know the difference (doubtful), or he initially wanted to have the character steal a van, and never changed it. Bad editing…though to be fair, the editor probably was busy stabbing his/her own eyes out.
Humor is a difficult element to pull off in literature. Authors like Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, and Terry Pratchett get it right. Kadrey misses completely. We know what you are thinking, humor can be very subjective. It’s true. If you think saying “F-you” is a hysterical comeback for all situations, then you will be rolling on the ground laughing. We, however, didn’t think it was particularly funny or clever the first time, much less the hundredth. Once again, the main problem here is a show vs. tell. Show us funny stuff, don’t have the main PoV tell us, “Look at me, I’m funny!”
Dialogue is terrible in SANDMAN SLIM. Steve listened to the book on audio, and it was worse than listening to Megan Fox say, “I’ll drive. You shoot” in the first Transformers movie. MUCH. WORSE. Nick read a physical copy, and it was just as bad sounding in his head (at least that’s what his voices told him…). If you, as an author, make one of your characters say, “I think I’ve been waiting for you all my life,” then you need to rethink your approach your dialogue creation process. Yes, that line is in SANDMAN SLIM. It’s like Michael Bay writing a novel…
Unnecessary info? We got that too! The author wastes the reader’s time by explaining that vampires like to kill people and drink their blood (shocker!), and that without blood they will DIE! (OH NOES!) We know what vampires are, thank you. Don’t act like you are original for including them in an Urban Fantasy story (There is one line where Stark tells the readers, “Yes, there are vampires. Try to keep up.” Thanks for clarifying that, chief. Have you read any Urban Fantasy in the past decade?). And don’t treat readers like they are 2-year old kids in need of explanation filler.
And that’s not all. After the climax of the novel, it just keeps going. It was a little reminiscent of the end of The Return of the King movie (only much, much, much, much worse) where you just kept having more and more tacked on. Kadrey wanted to make sure we all knew there would be a sequel. Essentially, the author has his main PoV tell the reader “This book is better than ALL other Urban Fantasy because I SAY SO. And I will write SEQUELS that are already the BEST EVER!” Instead, the reality is this novel won’t even be worth the paperback price when it comes out, and certainly isn’t worth the current $23 hardback price-tag. And no, we won’t be reading the inevitable sequels. We are confidant that the writing in them will suck (in a non-vampire way) just as bad as SANDMAN SLIM.
If you want a grimmer version of the Dresden series, go read Mike Carey’s Felix Castor novels, the first of which we reviewed here. If you want a gritty revenge story DONE RIGHT, read Abercrombie’s BEST SERVED COLD. Avoid SANDMAN SLIM. Like. The. Plague. (To be fair to plagues everywhere, SANDMAN SLIM is worse than any plague.)
On last thing. Kadrey sets out to be irreverent towards everything religious. Angels and Demons are idiots, God is a screw-up, and Satan is inept. Aside from it being boring as Hell (lulz), there is a chance people may get offended by the made-up creation story Kadrey puts in. We found the whole religion aspect to be be very heavy-handed and forced, but others may very well be offended.
Recommended Age: If you absolutely MUST read this (into self-torture are we?), then be 18 years-old.
Language: Tons and tons. It really adds nothing of value to the story.
Violence: Yeah, but the word choices in action sequences make it all sound stupid.
Sex: Lots of innuendo and references, but no actual scenes.