According to Milton, Satan claimed reigning in Hell is better than serving in Heaven. In Devil Said Bang, the fourth novel in Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series, protagonist and narrator Richard Stark gets to decide the truth of that statement for himself.
Railroaded into taking the job by its original occupant, Stark finds that there truly is no rest for the wicked. Most of the fallen are either suicidal or in rebellion. Maybe he shouldn’t have joked that “Hell is hilarious, if you’re the one in charge.” Even worse, Stark may be wearing the devil’s armor (the only thing keeping him alive), but he still hasn’t discovered the powers that were supposed to come with the job.
Written with the same crude, dark, sarcastic and irreverent style that has become a guilty pleasure for fans of the series, Devil Said Bang plays a shell-game with the plot; just when you think it should be over you realize you’re only a third of the way through. Saying more would spoil the fun. The action picks up just where Aloha from Hell, the third in the Sandman Slim saga, left off, and the plot leans heavily on the first three books, making Devil Said Bang difficult as a stand-alone novel.
Kadrey may have had that in mind when he penned a related short, Devil in the Dollhouse: A Sandman Slim Story, made available as an ebook through Amazon. For less than a buck, new readers can get a 100-page taste of the Sandman story, and fans can whet their appetite for the carnage to come.
The magically gifted and golden-skinned Vaerli were once rulers of their ever-shifting world. But 300 years ago a man rose seemingly from nowhere to decimate and scatter the Vaerli, stripping them of their magic and cursing them so that if two so much as touched, they would die in agony and flame.
This man is now the Caisah, the despotic ruler of the realm that once belonged to the Vaerli. Bound to the Caisah by honor and magic, Talyn the Dark is one of the few remaining Vaerli. Reviled by her own kind, she serves him as bounty hunter, assassin and puppet, all in the hopes of destroying him and ending the curse on her people, regardless of the cost to her soul or sanity. But signs of change manifest everywhere, and Talyn must decide if the course she has plotted still leads to freedom.
Author of the fantasy series Chronicles of the Order and the steampunk Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels, Philippa Balantine launches a fantasy series with Hunter and Fox. Weaving a tale of a world on the cusp of physical and social upheaval, Balantine tells a story of mighty magics, pacts made and broken, betrayal, sacrifice and redemption. Hunter and Fox is a worthy feat of world-building, with Balantine cleverly giving new clothes to old fantasy tropes so that those familiar trappings (recognizable only under close scrutiny) come across fresh and wondrous.
Balantine is also quite evidently a master of the cliff-hanger ending: She ends the book with almost every major character stepping into the unknown. Though a recommended read for any fantasy fan, Hunter and Fox will sorely test your patience; you’ll have to wait for whatever comes next.
John Williford is a writer in Miami.