This was one of the many, many books that I’ve picked up from a recommendation on Boing Boing. For the most part, this is a good thing. Without those recommendations, I wouldn’t have read The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl or Rainbows End, and while I wouldn’t have missed them for not knowing about them, I feel better off having read both novels. The thing is, it’s statistically improbable that I will like everything that comes recommended by the editors, and Sandman Slim is one of those novels that didn’t really grab me.
It actually has a lot going for it that I should have liked. It’s about a magician who was banished to Hell 11 years ago, and then arrives back on Earth with one goal in mind: Kill everyone who was involved with his banishment. It sounds like this guy would wind up being the bad guy, but in this case, he’s more of an anti-hero. It’s not just that he was banished to Hell to survive by battling in a gladiatorial arena almost daily, and wants to take that out on those who banished him; those people also killed his girlfriend, so his motive is a little more noble than it first appears.
The thing is, the risk you run with creating an anti-hero is that he winds up not being sympathetic enough, and I think that’s what happened in this story. You can understand the reasons behind his motivation, but in the end he winds up being incredibly selfish and boorish in his methods. After a while, it got to be very tiring, and it made me wonder what his friends saw in him to keep coming back and supporting him, even when he was being a major PITA.
In addition, the story started off well, but fizzled near the middle, and then petered out entirely by the end. I think part of it was that I was disappointed that the author intended for the book to be the first in a series, which is made clear by what becomes a larger plotline that extends beyond this particular novel. The story took some serious turns near the end of the story, as well. I think it was the author attempting to turn a singular novel into a series, but when you start off with a simple premise — take revenge on those who wronged him — and then turn it into a more grandiose, save-the-world, good-versus-evil sort of plot, it takes something away from the story. It tries to be two things at once, and I’m not sure if it works well.
It was still a compelling read, but I found myself wishing he had stuck with a more action-centered storyline, instead of attempting something bigger. If I’ve learned anything from the brutal noir style that Charlie Huston writes, it’s that you want to keep the story moving, not bog it down with a bunch of extraneous stuff.