Friday, December 30, 2011

Review: "Aloha from Hell" by Richard Kadrey

Life’s settling into something comfortable for James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, after he narrowly saved the world from destruction by a zombie hoard in Richard Kadrey’s last tale, “Kill the Dead.” As “Aloha From Hell” ($23.99, Harper Voyager) begins, Stark is waiting for his video store to be rebuilt, exploring his relationship with his new girlfriend Candy, and taking the odd job here and there – like stealing magical artifacts.

Life is pretty good, as Stark’s goes, and he’s almost abandoned his mission to destroy his one-time friend Mason, who once banished him to Hell, where he was trained in the fighting pits and served as an assassin for demon generals. Lucifer has returned to Heaven to take his place among the angels again. Stark was offered the job, but he refused. Now, Mason is trying to put himself on the throne in Hell, and an exorcism gone wrong puts Stark’s focus squarely on his old enemy.

A rogue angel who seeks to take the throne of Heaven for her own has smuggled the soul of Stark’s murdered girlfriend Alice through the pearly gates and delivered it to Mason Downtown. Now, Stark has to march back into Hell to confront Mason and get Alice back to her rightful place. In the process, he may get more than he bargained for.

Though still far from a nice guy, Kadrey’s half-angel, half-human antihero has grown much more likeable as he’s regained a bit of his humanity over the course of the three books in the series. These days, Stark is much more apt to do something for the right reason than the monster we originally met in “Sandman Slim,” though you’d be hard-pressed to get him to admit that.

As you’d expect of a book that ends in a battle in the netherworld, “Aloha from Hell” is mean, gritty and nasty. But while the scenery, events and characters that pop up in the story are fascinating, Stark’s inner turmoil and the battle to rediscover his humanity is still the key to the story’s success. Sure, there’s that side of me that loves the idea of a romp through an apocalyptic vision of Hell alongside a guy that claims to be Jack the Ripper, but that only gets you so far.

In the wrong hands, Stark’s character and the story surrounding him could be a disaster, but Kadrey continues to impress and develop the character and story. It’s another winner in the tale of Sandman Slim, and it sets up more interesting times for our friend Stark in the future.

No comments: