After finishing the Dresden Files, I felt the need to finally sit down and complete the current (as of April 2019) set of books written by Richard Kadrey, known as the Sandman Slim novels. This series, much like Dresden, is an urban fantasy series featuring an eclectic cast of characters headed by a magical private investigator. Further, reading both series back to back made me realize just how much they have in common in style, while their tone is so vastly different.
First, Sandman Slim is the story of the life of James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, the Monster who kills Monsters. At the start of the very first book we are treated to Stark crawling out of a flaming hole into a graveyard, with an explanation that he just escaped Hell after being trapped there for 11 years. The reason for his entrapment was a group of people who were part of his Magical Circle having consigned him to Downtown, led by a man named Mason Faim.
Early on you can tell that these books are not going to be happy go lucky or even optimistic. Stark as a character is pessimistic, violent, and angry about pretty much everything. He is brutal, and really only has one skill and that’s killing things. However, as the books progress and we learn more about who Stark is, how the mythology of the world is setup, and why things are the way they are the fatalistic tone of the world makes sense. Things are, in a phrase, fucked up yo. In fact, one quote that Stark uses in a later book that has stuck with me is that Life is a journey all about carrying a barb wired covered basket of shit, and trying to find someone who can help you carry your shit while you help carry theirs. Stark himself does grow as the books progress, becoming slightly more attached to his friends, and he does show a softer side. Some fans are unhappy about this but I prefer my characters in a long running series like this to grow and change. No one is static. By the end of the latest book Hollywood Dead Stark has gone through a sort of rebirth and is ready to kick things back into action, and I was happy as to how things had progressed up to that point.
Now, what really fascinated me as the fact that as I read the Sandman Slim novels, I started to notice a surprising number of similarities in style / world building / tropes to Dresden. Stark and Dresden both are magic users, and both do private investigative work. However, Stark calls himself a magician, and Dresden calls himself a wizard. Both have a pair of potential love interests (Candy and Bardo for Stark, Susan and Karrin for Dresden) and those love interests are similar as well! Susan and Candy are both “monsters” while Bardo and Karrin are both mortals trained to deal with Supernatural threats. Both series features bars (The Bamboo House of Dolls for Stark, Macnally’s Pub for Dresden) that are used as central meeting points for the protagonists and their friends. Both have friendly Bartenders (Carlos for Stark, Mac for Dresden). Both book series have men of faith (Father Traven for Stark, Michael Carpenter for Dresden). Both have magical “Councils” that are in charge of the hidden world (The Sub Rosa for Stark, The White Council for Dresden). Both feature father figures for the protagonists (Vidoq for Stark, Ebenezer McCoy for Dresden). Hell even the story paths for Stark and Dresden are similar in a lot of ways, with both characters late in the books having a major event (the SAME SORT OF EVENT IN FACT) happening to them, removing them from their respective worlds for a long period of time, and they later come back to find everything different and yet the same and having to deal with the fallout of their absence.
Dresden did come out way before Sandman Slim so I am not surprised to see Butcher’s influence on Kadrey. Additionally, the Sandman Slim novels are very different in tone vs the Dresden books. The stories Kadrey tells here are much more brutal, violent, bloody, and pessimistic. Stark is not afraid to kill, not afraid to use magic to kill, and unlike Dresden there are no laws of magic that prevent him from throwing down. Also, most of the Stark novels deal with the concepts of Heaven and Hell and the goings on in both locations, rather than featuring a broader mythology like Dresden with its Fae, rogue wizards, and other supernatural creatures. With Stark you tend to get Heaven and Hell and Elder Gods more than anything like Vampires and Werewolves and such. Oh and a lot of government interference as well. Turns out the US has its own supernatural agency. Honestly I would like to see more of these sort of creatures and event, and maybe see the series evolve a bit away from the endless constant war of Heaven and Hell, but I do not see that happening any time soon simply due to where the overall plot has gone.
Structurally the series is much like Dresden. You have a giant meta plot centered around Stark’s life and adventures, with smaller groups of books making up Arcs. The first 3 books could be the Revenge Arc, the next 3 could be the Old Gods arc, the 3 after that could be the Afterlife War arc, and then the latest book (at the time of writing this) Book 10 could be the start of something very new. Further there has been the Wormwood Meta Plot as well pretty much the entire time that sort of ties the world together.
Overall I adore the Sandman Slim novels, and feel that for any fan of Dresden who likes the way those are written but wants something grittier with a much darker tone, they should look to the adventures of James Stark, the Monster who Kills Monsters. I am eager for Book 11 whenever that happens just as much as I am for Book 16 of Dresden, and I wanna snatch both books up the instant I can.
My next Series Review is going to be on the insanely large (last count I think it’s up to 22 novels and novellas with a 23rd coming soonish) Camp Halfblood series by Rick Riordan, which can be broken up in to a bunch of smaller groups of books but is all set in the same shared universe. Good thing I love these books.
A Look at Sandman Slim: Series Review