I'm trying very hard not to think about anything I'm doing. Of all the iffy things I've ever done in my life, I've never had to ditch a body before. While it's giving me a migraine right now, I think the fact that I'm not an expert on corpse disposal says a lot of good things about me and my life choices.

--James Stark, having a rough day.

Sandman Slim is an urban fantasy series by author Richard Kadrey, and it is darker than--and roughly as gritty as--asphalt.

The series opens up with the main character, James Stark, waking up smoldering in a cemetery in Los Angeles after spending eleven years in Hell. He isn't dead; he was just sent there by a group of asshole magic users he considered his frenemies led by asshole extraordinaire Mason Faim. Now, after spending over a decade split between fighting in literally hellish gladiatorial battles and being a personal hit man for Azazel, Stark has crawled his way out of the Pit and is ready for revenge. To aid him, he has the Veritas, a semi-sentient magic coin that answers questions truthfully, Azazel's black blade, which can cut through anything (and also steal cars!) and the Key to the center of the universe-- the Room of Thirteen Doors-- lodged in his chest, as well as his friend, the alchemist Vidocq (yes, that Vidocq and a few unlikely allies he comes along the way, including (but not limited to) Allegra (who starts off as the token normal team mate but gets progressively more awesome), a zombie-killing pornstar named Brigitte, and Candy, who likes anime and is a Jade (think vampire crossed with spider in a human body).

This series gets real dark, real fast, but it's liberally sprinkled with absurdist and gallows humor to blunt the existential horror. This is a universe where God not only undeniably exists, but is also fallible (and actually sorta incompetent) and mostly a jerk, Hell is a dystopian version of LA, angels are assholes, Lucifer is just a job title, and there's a dude who spends a few books running around with his head stuck on a mechanical doohickey that makes him look like a spider.

You know things are bad when Stark is pretty much the most morally upstanding character for a good chunk of the series, and he's got the whole Angry Anti-Hero thing going on so hard that you start to wonder on occasion where "anti-hero" stops and "anti-villain" begins. Heck, at one point, Stark gets his hands on the History Eraser Button, and when he tells everyone to back off or he'll blow the place to smithereens, the villains lay off because they know he'd press it.

Though the series is continuous (none of the books take place more than six months apart from each other, and all current six books happen within a a single year), the series can sort of be considered (at this point) split between two major narratives: the first one in which Mason Faim,sorta spoiler, and also sorta spoiler are the main antagonists with the war with Hell as the ongoing conflict in the background, and the second storyline wherein the Angra Om Ya are the main bad guys.

As of this writing, there are six books in the series.

1. Sandman Slim, which is the straight forward revenge plot.
2. Kill the Dead, which has zombies and porn stars and The Devil trying to make a movie.
3. Aloha From Hell, in which Mason Faim is an asshole and everybody goes to Hell.
4. Devil Said Bang, in which Stark has a split personality and gets a magic 8-ball, the universe runs on dreams, and ghosts will cut you up. This is also where the Angra storyline starts coming into play.
5. Kill City Blues, in which God has a split personality, angels are still assholes, and Stark and company get to go spelunking in an abandoned shopping mall full of crazies and monsters.
6. The Getaway God, in which everything Stark has done up to this point tries to bite him in the ass and the Angra try to smash the universe.
7. Dying Pretty, in which Death is forced to take a holiday, and we are introduced to the new Big Bads; Wormwood.
8. Perdition Score, in which angels are drug addicts and everyone goes back to hell.

This series is loads of fun. Stark is an asshole, but he's an entertaining asshole, and usually he's the only one with any sense (even if the sensible reaction at the time is to lop somebody's head off). In the earlier books other characters (and occasionally Stark himself) wonder if all that time in Hell hasn't fucked him royally in the head, but when eldritch abominations from outside the scope of the universe are trying to break in and asplode all of creation, psychological analysis gets put on the shelf while the flaming gladiuses are broken out.

Go read these books.

“Chasing a burning girl down a city street is a lot harder than it sounds. Civilians tend to stop and stare and this turns them into human bowling pins. Slow whiny bowling pins.”

--James Stark, having another rough day.

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