by Richard Kadrey
I won this book in a giveaway by HarperCollins/Eos Books and wasn’t really sure what to expect, not having heard much about it previously. What I got was a wickedly enjoyable read. James Stark, the narrator, is a magician turned pit fighter and assassin after 11 years in Hell – from which he has just escaped. He is a sarcastically hilarious and cynical character, whose time Downtown (as he refers to Hell) has also turned him into a bit of a vicious brute with handy self-healing powers, and Kadrey doesn’t pull any punches when describing all of the violence and gore – and there is plenty. Or the lewd and crude, either, which normally bothers me more, but with Stark’s dry and sharp delivery just adds to the humor. The story follows him as he tries to piece the reality of his life on Earth back together (there’s an interesting scene when someone has to explain 9/11 to him, since it happened while he was gone) and take revenge on those who killed his girlfriend and sent him to Hell in the first place, all while dodging agents of both Heaven and Hell and something else besides. Stark is definitely a shoot-first, ask-questions-later kind of old western throwback hardass, but he isn’t completely cold and brutal; he has a very human side as far as emotions, he just generally chooses to focus on anger and annoyance, as they seem to him more productive. He also genuinely cares for the few friends he has on his side (a vampire, among other creatures). All in all, it’s an irreverent, clever and grittily violent ride into a magic-riddled Los Angeles, with biting humor and an antihero you can’t help but cheer for as he thumbs his nose at both sides of the divine war. The fact that he may be the world’s only chance of avoiding utter destruction and chaos is kind of a ironic, pain-in-the-ass side gig, and the ending was certainly a surprise for me. I give this book a hearty recommendation, though not for the faint-of-heart or devoutly religious.
I give it 4/5 stars.