Thursday, May 28, 2015

Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey

Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey is the second novel in the Sandman Slim series published by Harper Voyager. A synopsis can be found here. Dead avoids the sophomore slump and improves in many ways over Sandman Slim. Kadrey, somehow, manages to up the ante with a book that ends up being even more outrageous while still preserving the qualities that made the first book so enjoyable. It is not without its flaws however with a few critical weaknesses that hold the novel back.

Dead continues its urban fantasy noir theme and in many ways finds a way to amp it up to eleven. Kadrey’s voice continues to be utterly unique and simply needs to be read to be believed. The Slim Series inventiveness continues with creations such as the Jackal’s Backbone. In all ways, Kadrey continues to produce the literary equivalent of candy coated crack; its addictive, playful, and probably not good for you but damn its fun.

Where Dead truly shines are the scenes between Stark and Lucifer. Lucifer oozes a sense of coolness that Stark only aspires to. Stark in return, is burdened with frustration, angst, and uncertainty; traits completely out of character for the persona of ‘Sandman Slim’. In many ways, this humanizes Stark and makes him more relatable. It also makes him all the more badass when he steps back into his Sandman persona.

Where Dead falls short is the continued weak handling of female characters and central storyline. Without exception, all of the female characters are victims. Even powerful females with agency, somehow become passive in this novel waiting to be rescued. Bridgette, the Czech Romany zombie hunting porn star, is reduced to little more than cheap titillation. Candy, a jade, does little beyond pine for Stark, and Allegra becomes a wallflower. All in all, its horribly disappointing.

The central storyline, the mystery of the zombie attack, turns out to be little more than a MacGuffin; a tool to move Stark from place to place and drive his interaction with Lucifer and set the stage for a showdown with his nemesis, Mason. As a result, the conclusion of this mystery lacks vitality and wraps up in an unimaginative, Hollywood-action-movie manner that I found unsatisfying.

Despite the negative, Kill the Dead is a blast to read. The setting continues to thrill. Stark’s character continues to evolve in new and interesting ways. I wish the female characters would share in the progress. Kill the Dead is an easy recommendation and I look forward to the next entry in the Sandman Slim series from Richard Kadrey.

Image Source: Harper Collins
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN: 9780062063205

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Veil of the Deserters by Jeff Salyards

Veil of the Deserters by Jeff Salyards is the second book in the Bloodsounder’s Arc published by Night Shade Books. My review of the first book, Scourge of the Betrayer, can be found here. Veil is that rare sophomore effort, second in a trilogy no less, that is better in all respects. Veil also gave me a newfound appreciation for Scourge and appreciation of Salyards’ abilities as a writer. Veil’s success lies in two key areas: the narrative structure and the tight focus on the characters. This produces another lean novel with great tension that is chockablock with great dialog.

Veil’s narrative structure, and the series by extension, is really good on a number of levels. The great sense of tension is the the most visible result. Salyards keeps the tension tight via the narrative structure through a series of continually escalating conflicts. Every fight is a little bigger. Every town is a little bigger and more mysterious. Every secret is a little more jaw dropping. As a result, every page turn builds expectation, and delicious tension, as you wait for the next reveal.

Veil also has a clear beginning and end. I would argue it is nearly a stand alone title. Yet, Veil expands the world of the Bloodsounder’s Arc considerably. In this way, Veil clearly avoid the trap many ‘middle volume’ books fall into -- being little more than filler before the finale in the third book. This sense of focus, possessing a clear start and finish, also keeps the narrative from wandering around and introducing pointless details, filling the pages up with exposition that adds little to the story. The book is charged with a satisfying vitality and identity that is often missing from the second installment in a trilogy.

The pages are full of dialog-- wonderful, vulgar, hilarious, and heartbreaking dialog. It is hard to overstate how great the dialog is in Veil. At a superficial level, it is simply brain candy. But, the conversations shine in how well they advance the plot, reveal the world, and develop the character. Salyards has an uncanny knack for employing it in a way that feels organic, avoiding the dreaded ‘voice-over’ quality that afflicts so much fantasy. This dedication to dialog ultimately helps draw the reader closer to the characters especially when combined with the first person perspective.

The first person perspective, via the scribe Arki, was a quality I very much enjoyed in Scourge. It continues to be a strong point in Veil. What I found very successful and satisfying is Arki’s evolution. Page by page, Arki is slowly adopting the mannerisms and customs of the Syldoon. It is fascinating watching the delicate restraint employed by Salyards in this long-play plot device. In my review of Scourge, I praised it as a means to create a relatable buffer between the reader and the Syldoon. By slowly evolving Arki, Salyards is bringing the reader closer to the Syldoon and by extension, the ultimate finale and conclusion to the series.

What is did not find satisfying in Veil were Soffjian and Skeelana. The characters themselves were interesting, I just wished there were more involved in the plot during the beginning and middle segments of the book. For the majority of the book Soffjian and Skeelana are primarily tools to advance Braylar’s and Arki’s characters. They are obviously going to be very important in the next book but in Veil, contribute little.

Overall, Veil of the Deserter’s is a great book and one of the best fantasy titles I have read in the past year. Veil eschews elaborate world building, complex magic system, and convoluted plots and instead focuses its efforts on characters and dialog. Along the way, smart choices on narrative structure create a lean, tense, satisfying reading experience that is easy to recommend to anyone. I eagerly await the concluding volume in the Bloodsounder’s Arc, Chains of the Heretic due in February 2016.

Night Shade Books: Veil of the Deserters
Image Source: Night Shade Books
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN: 978-1-59780-491-2