BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After saving existence once again, James Stark finds himself stranded in Hell. This time things are different though. James is in charge but that doesn’t make life any easier or less dangerous.
PROS: Lots of cool ideas and interesting approaches to overdone tropes.
CONS: Almost too many ideas and a convoluted plot.
BOTTOM LINE: Fans of Sandman Slim will be pleased and urban fantasy readers in search of a unique series may have a friend in Kadrey.
After the events of Aloha From Hell, demon hunter James Stark (aka Sandman Slim) finds himself stranded in Pandemonium. The Devil decided it was time to abandon ship and left him in charge. Stark is given a crash course in Hellion politics and court intrigue, rebuilding Hell and dodging assassination attempts to boot. Things aren’t much better back in L.A., with a serial killer ghost causing havoc and a secret cabal plotting to rewrite reality. It looks like Stark has some killing to do.
I read Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim, the first book in the series, a while back. Despite all the praise I was pretty disappointed and so I ignored the series. That is, until I was given the opportunity to read Devil Said Bang. The bold, brash, ballsy premise won me over and the inner cynic got stuffed into a cabinet as I decided to give Kadrey another shot. For the most part the risk paid off, as Devil Said Bang is a wonderfully absurd, devilishly funny, heavy metal urban fantasy novel and the key to enjoying it is not taking it so seriously.
Stark is a magician, an ex-gladiator, and a hitman. Now he is the new Lucifer, plagued by nightmares of memos and city planning committees. As it turns out, being the Devil is a lot less fire and brimstone and a lot more paperwork. The thing about Stark is that he wouldn’t seem to know a good thing if it came up and stuck him with a hot brand. He spends most of his time as the Devil complaining and trying to find a way back to civilization. As far as anti-heroes go Stark is sort of light on the “anti.” He really talks a lot of talk but his follow through leaves something to be desired. Stark isn’t nearly as hardcore as he likes to think he is and I think this is what first turned me off to the character. Accept it at as is though, and he is far less offensive. Devil Said Bang is populated with all sorts of colorful characters, most of which I was able to recognize from the first book.
I think that I disliked Sandman Slim so much because it talked up as gritty and dark. That could not be further from the truth. Despite the subject matter, Devil Said Bang is a blasphemous action comedy. Kadrey smothers his writing in hilariously twisted similes and pop culture references. Much of the time it is not nearly as witty as it could be but that still couldn’t keep me from smirking along. Stark’s narrative voice (when he isn’t whining) is snarky, irreverent, and profane. Kadrey’s version of Hell is a culture of bureaucracy, rituals, and infighting. God is a basket case, demons are suicidal, and being the Devil isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If you’re not reading and laughing along then you need to get in on the joke. Read Devil Said Bang without a sense of humor (as I tried to do with Sandman Slim) and you’re going to have a bad time.
As entertaining as it is, sometimes I felt like Kadrey was making it up as he went. This was especially the case with the assassination subplot. Devil Said Bang is laden with wicked sweet ideas. Kadrey’s take on the urban fantasy genre’s biggest cliches (particularly regarding Heaven and Hell) is stimulating. I love the portrayal of Hell most of all and I wish more of the novel had been spent exploring it. The problem with all these cool ideas is that Kadrey sort of just goes and throws as many of them as he can at the wall, hoping they will stick. At any one moment Stark has three or four objectives to attend to, it’s sort of like going overboard accepting quests in a Role Playing Game. It doesn’t help that there are no chapters to break the flow and give readers a reprieve. There is so much going on that it can be difficult to keep track of everything and this really bleeds through at the end. The overarching plot ends up more than a little convoluted and the finale is a little lack luster.
All this complaining and you might be wondering why I bothered giving Devil Said Bang three and a half stars. The plain and simple answer is that I enjoyed it. I had a fun time reading the book. I laughed frequently and admired the magnitude of Kadrey’s vision (if not the execution). This is a good beach read. You can kick back, relax, and take pleasure from the endless stream of scumbags Stark puts The Smackdown on. I would comfortably bet that fans of the series thus far will find much to love and I would even recommend this to urban fantasy fans in general. There are obvious faults here but that just means there is room for Kadrey to improve with future entries.