Friday, April 20, 2018

Sandman Slim

Sandman Slim
Richard Kadrey
There are some light SPOILERS down below. I don't give away anything super important to the plot but I do talk about certain things in depth. While it won't ruin your experience reading it if you're wary of any spoilers at all you may want to skip.

Sandman Slim has sat on my kindle unread for I don't even know how long at this point. I first downloaded it sometime around when I discovered The Dresden Files and urban fantasy as a genre but never got around to it even though the title, cover, and description had me incredibly intrigued. Plus, like Dresden Files, it's a pretty large series so I would have plenty to bite into. Now, after having discovered Lucifer, the show not the comic (as soon as I get home it's on top of my list though), and being on another urban fantasy kick (plus Kadrey having written for the Lucifer comics) I decided it was finally time to sit down and read this one. And I must say, I feel like it was a bit of a waste of time.

At first it really was a pretty engaging story. I liked the premise, I liked the character, and I liked what appeared to be the plot. The world build was meh but it's the first in a longer series so I wasn't that bothered until about the halfway point where two things became very clear: one, that there was way more violence against women (and just generally very poorly made female characters that were basically just invented to be looked at by the hero) than I was comfortable with, and two, that the plot was kinda stupid and bogged down with some of the same problems as Spider-Man 3, namely, that there was just too much going on and I didn't care about any of it.

So, the women. Where to start? With the dead girlfriend who is constantly on his mind? She's probably the least sexualized of the women in this story, but that's not saying much. The dead-women-before-the-book-starts trope has never gotten on my nerves until recently when it was pointed out how many dead mothers and sisters there are in A Song of Ice and Fire and, yeah, to say the least, it's so frustrating to be told that "wow this woman is awesome because x and x" but never see them be awesome because they're dead to make way for the men in the story to take a more central stage. But whatever, okay, Alice being dead gives him motive, sure. He needs to take revenge. Honestly, I like revenge stories, so I'm willing to let this one slide a little, especially since we do get plenty of flashbacks and the narrative leads you to believe there would be more in future installments. And, hey, it's urban fantasy so maybe she comes back.

But what about all the other women? Well, there aren't many of them. At least not main characters. I would say there are two solid secondary female characters, and when they're both introduced some of the first lines of description have to do with how they look... and not just how they look, but whether Stark, the narrator, finds them attractive or not. And one of them, oh yeah, he finds her very attractive and makes this very clear in many different passages. Any time he introduces a female character they pretty much immediately get sexualized in a very manic-pixie-dream-girl kinda way. Literally every single female character. One of the villains he wants to get revenge on? He doesn't like her looks/aesthetic/kink, however one would describe her using magic to look like an anime character in real life, and describes her as being bottom of the barrel and no one he'd be interested in sleeping with. He also degrades anyone who would. A minor villain, a nazi, actually, is also sexualized immediately: he looks at her, says he falls in love with her immediately and would love to fuck her, and then only really stops when she says something mean and insults him. Even random characters who have no dialogue whatsoever, such as a coffee/donut barista who dies two pages later or something like that, is looked at by Stark, he basically says he'd love to get her in bed, and then she dies and he mourns for one hot second before moving on with his life.

What's worse about all this? The female characters just don't care. Not that they're all that different from each other in the first place: it feels a bit like the author knows how to write one type of female character (and not a particularly realistic one if we're being honest) and just copy-pasted her to every single other woman in the story. They just have different roles to play in the grand scheme of things; but again, these roles really only relate to Stark and his own plot line.

But if that doesn't frustrate you then the plot of the book may do the job. What starts as a simple but engaging revenge story, complete with a talking severed head and a baddie whom he has a pretty strong connection with, ends up, somehow, involving the US government and creatures that are not demons or angels but also kinda are demons (?). Yeah, not too sure on that front. They tried to explain but the idea was pretty flat and they didn't even seem that dangerous.

Here's what, technically, happened (SPOILERS, but not really, I'll be pretty vague): Stark comes back from Hell (he isn't undead) and wants revenge; he meets up with an old friend who offers some help; the old friend brings him to a colleague who can help but really doesn't do much until the very end; then they go to a different colleague (seriously, these two colleague's could have been the same character and I wouldn't have minded) who has them do a side quest which results in pretty much nothing plot relevant nor was it really that interesting; then Stark gets involved with a street gang that is also the Nazi's that are also some otherworldly creature trying to take over earth; then Stark gets "kidnapped" by the FBI which are still technically the FBI but also some division that deals with magic and stuff; then he meets an angel who wants to kill him; then he still tries to get revenge but the otherworldly creatures that were introduced pretty last minute become the real baddies then he basically gets revenge but not really. And the whole time there's also some other magical police force keeping tabs on him and Lucifer, the devil himself, is also keeping tabs on him. Yeah, way to much happening and I stopped caring about halfway through because of it.

Will some people like this book? Most definitely. I think that if I read it at a different time in my life, or if I didn't care so much about the way fictional women were treated, I could have enjoyed it. I am still somewhat considering giving the next book a shot just to see if it remedies anything (I had issues with the first Dresden Files book-- not issues like this, much lesser issues-- and only because I got to book three do I love that series to death) but that probably won't be for a while and I'll definitely be checking it out of the library instead of spending money on it. In the end, though, I just can't recommend this one. I don't have much time anymore for disappointing books, and I certainly don't have time for books that disrespect women.
TL;DR I disliked how women were treated in this book and I disliked how the plot evolved but I think some people may enjoy it. If you weren't interested before I'd say stay away but if it's been on your radar approach with caution.
Can I just mention that while writing this review and getting increasingly frustrated at the book I lowered the rating from the original three stars to two.

Supernatural fantasy has a new antihero in Sandman Slim, star of this gripping, gritty new series by Richard Kadrey.
Life sucks and then you die. Or, if you’re James Stark, you spend eleven years in Hell as a hitman before finally escaping, only to land back in the hell-on-earth that is Los Angeles.
Now Stark’s back, and ready for revenge. And absolution, and maybe even love. But when his first stop saddles him with an abusive talking head, Stark discovers that the road to absolution and revenge is much longer than you’d expect, and both Heaven and Hell have their own ideas for his future.
Resurrection sucks. Saving the world is worse.
Darkly twisted, irreverent, and completely hilarious, Sandman Slim is the breakthrough novel by an acclaimed author.
Richard Kadrey is a writer and freelance photographer living in San Francisco, best known for his Sandman Slim novels. His newest novels are The Everything Box, released April 19, 2016 and The Perdition Score (Sandman Slim, #8), released on June 28, 2016.
 Book cover linked to Goodreads. Book cover, and description taken from Goodreads. 

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