James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, is officially dead, but in his universe, there is all kinds of dead. While he tries to figure out where he is and why he’s there, he’s trying not to get deader. At the end of The Perdition Score, Death, formerly known as Samael, formerly known as Lucifer, has left him on a mountain at the edge of Hell looking at a sandstorm. The sandstorm is the Havoc, a Mad Max style caravan with a portable gallows led by a zealot.
Stark finds that once again, a soul he saved has not stayed saved. He joins the Havoc because his old friend, Father Traven, is a member. It’s clear that Death left him in the path of The Havoc for a reason, but the reason is unclear. What is clear is that there is no rest for Stark in death. He may have grown out of his desire to burn down the world, but he has managed to fuck a lot of shit up while saving the world.
Stark keeps trying to saved the damned and the downtrodden and he is thwarted by the structure of the universe itself. He can kill the wicked, replace the people in charge, he can upend the structures, and throw a monkey wrench into the very machinery of the universe, but all he has done so far is cause chaos. Still, chaos isn’t necessarily worse than the order he has upended. Chaos may bring war and leave space for extremists, but it also offers the possibility of hope where there was none before.
Reconnecting with old friends, allies and enemies, Stark is starting to get a handle on what his friends and enemies have been telling him all along – there might not be a right answer or a clear path. Even after everything he’s been through, Stark’s first instinct is to solve a problem by killing someone.
“Things have to change. Even if we win this war, there will be another and then another.”
“Then what’s the answer?”
He puts up his hands. “I have no idea. That’s why you have to continue the crusade.”
I smoke for a minute. “Ok, I’ll kill him and finish this thing right now.”
“Then you’ll have to kill the entire Havoc,” he says. “Are you ready to do that? I thought you were miffed about Raziel’s massacres and here you are proposing your own.”
Can Stark learn the art of playing a long game? Kadrey has a talent for highlighting the quagmire of life. You can’t control other people, sometimes there are no good answers, people will act against their own self interest, and some asshole always wants you to do the dirty work. Kadrey continues to tighten and focus his books while not losing the grandiose scale of the series. Stark is also becoming more focused.
As is my preference with this series, I listened to the Audible version performed by McCleod Andrews. I recommend it. It’s a remarkable performance. Kadrey specializes in operatic rollercoaster ride plots and Andrews’ voice brings the book to life and keeps the operatic scope tethered to humanity.
Oh man! If I die here and someone finds me, my headstone is going to read, “Here lies Sandman Slim. He died of donuts and self pity.”
The worst thing about mainlineing each new Sandman Slim book as soon as they are released is that now I have a year before I get more. The next book will be as bananas as all the previous books, but I suspect we will have a more patient and focused James Stark.
“Just because I’m an asshole doesn’t mean I’m wrong.”