Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Kill City Blues

Holy wow guys. So, I just finished Richard Kadrey's Kill City Blues, the latest in his Sandman Slim series. I got into this series a couple months before the last book, Devil Said Bang, came out, devoured them all straight through, and have been anxiously awaiting this next installment ever since. And let me tell you, it didn't disappoint.
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Where to start? If you haven't read any of the Sandman Slim books, you're missing out. One of the most powerfully voice-driven series I've read and a personal favorite of mine, these are dark, gritty, hard hitting, bloody, sassy books with great characters, great dialogue, and delightful action. The series is set mostly in LA, and as a So Cal native I love the way Kadrey rips open the city and shows us its ugly innards, both the ones that are there in life and the magical, mystical, and fantastical ones he weaves in with them. These books are akin to paranormal detective stories, but instead of a detective, we get James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, who is more likely to punch, hack, slash, and kill his way to answers than "detect" anything. He's a (literally) hell-hardened, gun slinging, magic wielding badass who's continually stuck saving the world from all assortment of magical and mystical baddies.

I'll admit that Devil Said Bang left me a little wanting - without spoiling any plot points for those who haven't read them, it felt a bit like Kadrey had written himself into a corner, and DSB was him writing his way right back out of it. It was by no means a bad book (really, still a better read than most), but compared to the rest of the series it was a tad halting, without the same intense, unstoppable forward motion of the rest of the series. But if DSB felt like getting the series back on track, Kill City Blues was a fantastic, fresh new start. The story continues the series' overarching conflict, of course - a battle between heaven, hell, and the powers above and beyond them - but in this book we're back in LA, the band is back together, and a maybe slightly more sober Stark is ready to beat his way to some answers.

The first half of the book is enjoyably familiar territory - Sandman Slim pissing off powerful people, making enemies, and generally kicking ass - but it's around the half way point (when we get to Kill City) that the book hits a whole other level. Kill City, the abandoned ruins of a megamall, is maybe my favorite setting in the whole series so far. Kadrey's description of the decay is so vivid and tactile I found myself actually holding my breath as the characters crept through the darkened ruins. The whole place has a tribal, apocalyptic feel, and the place and its inhabitants are so realistically crafted you feel like you could practically step right into Kill City yourself, assuming you were dumb enough to want to. The violence is cringe worthy and intense, the stakes consistently high, and the twists and reveals made me squirm and gasp and squeal out loud. More than once, I felt like I needed to stop and catch my breath, but couldn't stand to put the book down.

The secondary cast also got a lot more face time in this book, which I really enjoyed. We get to see some characters put in a room together for the first time, and the play between them is incredible. They get a chance to riff off each other instead of just Stark, and the resulting  rapport of dialogue is not only gut splitting hilarious, but also helps round out the characters in really interesting ways.Stark's friends have started to befriend each other, and feel less like a sprawling cast and more like a team, which has me even more excited for what's to come.

As with all the other books in the series, Kill City Blues has more denouement than climax, but really the wrap-up is often among the most enjoyable parts of the books, especially the Deities and Drinks portion that shows up in (I think?) every one. From start to finish, the book was deeply engrossing and compulsively readable, and my only real disappointment is that I'm going to have to wait another year for the next one.

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