The Perdition Score

Courtesy of goodreads.comIt’s been awhile since I had a Sandman Slim novel to chew on. And they do tend to be chewy. Kadrey is never an easy read. It took me ages to get through the one non-Sandman Slim he’s written that I’ve read. Still, I like James Stark. He’s my kind of asshole. And since I don’t know when this book was released (sometime this year I think?), SPOILERS be here.

Richard Kadrey’s latest Sandman Slim novel is The Perdition Score. Stark is legit now and doesn’t like it, can’t handle it really. He’s got a job working for the newest Augur, Thomas Abbott. He’s got a place to live and Candy (now called Chihiro) is alive and well and also with a job (one that used to be Stark’s). Most people would be happy that things were quieter.

Stark is not most people. He’s suffering from raging headaches and suffering from acute boredom. The only way he relieves both of those things is via an underground fight club. It’s very…Fight Club. I’m a little mad that Kadrey never really gets to whether these headaches were because of something physical or if it was psychosomatic. He did mention a few times that when the action started, the headaches went away, but that could be adrenaline.

In this book, Stark has two problems: A missing kid and Wormwood. Turns out that these two things are, of course, linked. It takes Stark a while to put it together because he gets side-tracked by a new and poisonous substance called black milk. It’s given to him by a dying angel and it gets him into trouble almost immediately. Naturally.

There’s a good chunk of the middle of the book where Stark is pretty convinced that Wormwood is targeting him by setting up terrible things at places he knows and people he’s met. And he’s right. Eventually, they go after his friend Vidocq directly and almost get him too. It’s this that triggers Stark going back into hell for the millionth time.

And hell is where Wormwood is now headquartered in a way. Norris Quay, whom he killed in the last book (if I remember correctly), is running the black milk scheme from the Griffith Park part of hell. Oh yeah, apparently hell is a copy of LA. Makes sense to me.

At any rate, black milk, once refined, makes berserkers out of angels. Stark finds this out first hand earlier in the book. Samael (now angel of death rather than Lucifer) sends a trustworthy angel down to assist Stark in hell and when she finds out what black milk is, she destroys the stock of it using her own blood. Stark is more messed up by this death than pretty much any other death in the series, which I find a little odd but maybe we’ll find out more in the next book.

This is the second book I’ve read recently that’s finished on a cliff hanger. ARGH! So irritating but at the same time, I know that another book is coming. As for this one, I don’t think it was the best Sandman Slim I’ve read but it was a decent read. I think that whenever the next book comes out, you could probably skip between the one before this and whatever comes after and not really miss much. This whole book was just an engine for James Stark to die. Like really die this time and not just seemingly die. It was good enough for me to devour in two days but I also couldn’t settle on reading anything else, so…I’d say overall it’s a good filler between books that you really, really want to read. Rating: B-.

Killing Pretty

Courtesy of goodreads.comI love the Sandman Slim novels. Richard Kadrey’s writing reminds me of a mix of Simon R. Green’s evocative descriptions and Jim Butcher’s snark peppered with a hint of the dystopian. A hint is all I need really, I’m not generally a person who reads full on dystopian books.

The latest Sandman Slim is Killing Pretty. This book picks up where the last one left off, pretty directly. Stark is resented by a lot of angels, his girlfriend Candy is ‘dead’ (she was ‘killed’ pretty spectacularly in front of a lot of cops but it was a fake out. A glamour making her a Japanese woman is all that keeps her safe these days) and he no longer has access to the room of 13 doors. This is the major bummer as that was his big trick, the one he relied on more than anything to help him figure out what was going on.

But the big thing is that someone has killed Death. Or rather, they managed to stuff the Angel of Death into a body and then kill that body. It didn’t take, so Death crawled out of where the body was and went to Stark for help. Because he’s working as a PI for a woman who used to be a marshal, she ends up working the case.

This is the big case, the name maker that will make sure that she and Stark remain in business. Because while Death is stuck in the body of a mortal, people aren’t dying. It’s a little Torchwood Children of Earth, honestly, but the mechanics of what’s going on at least make a little sense in this universe.

I highly recommend this whole series, and this is a pretty good one. You don’t need to read the whole series for this to make sense but there are a number of callbacks to prior novels that make more sense if you’ve read them. I do know that this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea so be warned there is a lot of cussing and graphic violence, as one would expect with Sandman Slim. Rating: A

Angels of Light and Darkness

I can’t really remember if I’ve posted about this before but since my current aim is to re-read all the Nightside books by Simon R. Green, I figured I’d review them all in order as well. So after Something from the Nightside we move on to Angels of Light and Darkness. This one is one of my favorite Nightside novels. Not sure why but I really love reading it.

We start out with John Taylor on a very tough, possibly deadly job. His job was to find out what  major player Jessica Sorrow the Unbeliever is looking for. The problem with that is in the adjective for Jessica Sorrow, the Unbeliever. She can ‘unbelieve’ you right out of existence. So John is sitting in the one really Christian church in the Nightside, an old and cold stone edifice called St. Jude’s (fitting name for a Nightside church). He has a shoe box with him, with what he hopes will stop Jessica Sorrow from storming about the Nightside. Turns out that in the box is a teddy bear. Jessica’s own teddy bear and it is, in fact what she is looking for.

Taylor is beyond relieved that he survived his tete-a-tete with the Unbeliever but before he can leave St. Jude’s, someone else come’s running in, clearly distressed. Being who he is, John hides himself in the abundant shadows of the church, keen not to get involved in something dangerous so soon after his last harrowing job. A man in black (not that kind) with his eyes stitched shut runs right for the altar, begging for sanctuary. Something comes flowing in after him, a blackness darker than any shadow, moving across the floor.

The blackness demands that the man turn over the Grail to them. The man, clearly traumatized, agrees and hands over the package he was clutching to his chest. Turns out that the package did not contain the Grail. Irate, the blackness turns the now screaming man into what looks like a white statue, frozen in fear before it departs. John decides very firmly that he wants no part of this (which comes back to bite him shortly) and he heads off to Strangefellows.

Once in the bar, John finds out that it isn’t the Holy Grail that has come to the Nightside but the Unholy Grail. This is, at least in this story, the cup that Judas Iscariot drank from at the Last Supper. The cup is a curse object so powerful that it brings out the absolute worst in people. Previous owners are said to include Torquemada and Hitler. Needless to say, it never seems to bring good luck to the owners.

At this point, John hired by an emissary of the Vatican itself, an undercover priest by the name of Jude. Insert obligatory “Hey Jude” joke here. The price is 50,000 pounds up front plus an additional quarter million upon delivery of the  “somber chalice”. John agrees and that’s when a target really gets painted on his back. Because of John’s gift of being to find pretty much anything, it means a lot of people want him to find the Unholy Grail, either for pay or under threat. John Calmly deals with all comers who accost him at the bar and sets off to do two things: find a private place to use his gift to find this thing quickly and to collect Suzie Shooter for protection.

He really should have found Suzie first. John ducks into a dark doorway and settles down to use his gift when angels rip his mind right out of his body and transport him up to what Green calls the Shimmering Realms. Turns out the angels on both sides want this thing to win their war against the other side. So naturally, they need John Taylor to find it for them because neither side is actually capable of doing that. John declines and when the angels don’t look like letting them go, he pits one side against the other and sneaks away in the confusion.

With the use of his gift right out, John collects Suzie and starts shaking down people for clues. He goes to an S&M club called the Pit and intimidates the owning cabal, the Demon Lordz. Despite the silly spelling, the Demon Lordz are actual demons. They’re low guys on the totem pole who escaped from the actual Pit for hot showers and coffee (no, really). They finally cop to the fact that they heard that the Fourth Reich has it.

The Fourth Reich are, as you may have guessed, next gen Nazis. No one in the Nightside cares for that lot apparently but they still get money from somewhere. So John and Suzie are quite looking forward to kicking ass and taking names but someone has clearly beat them to it. Every single member of the Fourth Reich is dead so no one can answer any questions. They do, however, find a clue. And that is another white human statue, a man made of salt (see what he did there). They’re fairly certain that this man has a connection to the one that John saw in St. Jude’s but he’s not wearing anything that would identify who or what he’s with. But in his pockets is another clue! And a weapon.

The weapon is the Speaking Gun. The principle is this: everything has a hidden name from the time that god created the universe. The Speaking Gun is designed to find/know this hidden name and to speak it backwards, thereby unmaking/unraveling the thing it is pointed at. Its a hideous thing made out of someone’s living flesh and bone and it hates everything and everyone. If you try to use it, it will try (and most likely succeed) in taking over your will.

The clue is a card from another player in the Nightside, the infamous Collector, who we met in the last book. The Collector does just what his name implies, he collects anything and everything that the is unique and/or historically significant. He doesn’t care who owns it. He doesn’t care who wants it. He is a horder. He wants what he wants and he will not give it up. So either he has the Unholy Grail or he is actively looking for it.

To figure out which it is, they go after a group that is known to work for the Collector, the Bedlam Boys. The Bedlam Boys used to be a 90s boy band. When they’re popularity in the real world tanked, they joined the Nightside and fell in with the Collector. In exchange for their (meager) talent, he grants them an awful psychic gift. They bring out people’s fears and use it to terrorize people into giving them what they want. The Bedlam Boys are in the midst of shaking down a chili joint (Hot n Spicy, 3 toilets, no waiting) when John and Suzie confront them.

John felt that they could stand up to the Bedlam Boys if they just lock down their minds enough. Turns out, that wasn’t the case. John is confronted with his worst, mommy related fears. And that makes him angry. And you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry (yes, I went there). John breaks free of their spell and breaks Suzie free from her fears. Now fair warning for this bit, it is graphic and disturbing. Possibly the most graphic and disturbing thing that Simon R Green has ever written. I won’t go into detail other than to say it involves incest. You read this bit at your own discretion.

At this point, they see their first angel in person. Angels, for some reason are bland, grey men in bland, grey suits. You can’t quite look at them but you know they are there. And they are far scarier than the Bedlam Boys ever were. The Bedlam Boys are turned into salt statues as the angel goes through them toward John and Suzie. John pulls out the disturbing Speaking Gun and frightens the angel off with it. But it takes all of John’s willpower to pry the gun from his hands. Its frankly traumatizing to hold it. This time Suzie carries it under the logic that she’s very good with guns (she really is).

They rifle the Bedlam Boys for clues and find a business card for a performer, Nasty Jack Starlight. They go to an old and shut down theatre called The Styx where Starlight is said to be playing. The Styx was shut down long ago because someone tried to open a Hellmouth during a performance of the Caledonian Tragedy (aka The Scottish Play, the one whose true name you can’t say for fear of bringing bad luck during a performance). Starlight is performing at the Styx for a group of undead with his partner, a life sized rag doll that may have at one point been a human woman).

Starlight claims not to know anything and tries to scarper when another angel arrives on the scene. Nasty Jack Starlight goes up in flames, which makes me fairly certain that this was an angel of the light and Nasty Jack was just too nasty to let live. Suzie this time brings out the Speaking Gun and runs the angel off and she too has a traumatizing experience with the gun. Once she and John pull themselves as together as they can be, they’re out of ideas on where to look.

Luckily, a bit of deus ex machina is on our side and Razor Eddie calls John up. He knows precisely where the Unholy Grail is but he won’t say over the phone. John and Suzie agrees to meet up with Eddie in person, at the warehouse of an arms dealer (not unusual in the Nightside at all). Eddie tells them that he himself had retrieved the Unholy Grail from a bunch of Warriors of the Cross (very hard core Christian crusaders – in all senses of the word – determined to bring down the Nightside) and delivered it to the Collector. However, once he did that, he started feeling like that was a very bad thing to do. So he tells John that the Collector is currently hiding his possessions on the moon, under the Sea of Tranquility (because awesome).

That doesn’t help them get up there, but they know someone that might. They’re headed out when they’re waylaid by Walker. Walker had previously said that he’d been ordered to move his people out of the Nightside and let the angels fight it out. Things have changed since the angels (which side we don’t know) contacted the Authorities and demanded they find the Unholy Grail. So Walker is determined to use John (in all ways possible) to find the Unholy Grail and he doesn’t care who he turns it over to. It isn’t his job to question the Authorities, just do what they ask.

He threatens Suzie and Eddie and when John quite rightly points out that the pair can handle themselves, Walker’s trump card shows up. A mercenary woman called La Belle Dame Sans Merci (Belle for short) who likes to make trophies  out of her conquests. A werewolf pelt is grafted to her back (regeneration), dragon’s hide as a breast plate (impenetrable) and boots made from the leg skin of a minor Greek deity (speed) among other things. She guts Suzie and throws Razor Eddie out a three story window.

John takes her down in a suitably hard fashion and uses Belle’s own werewolf pelt to regenerate Suzie. Walker, of course, disappears in the confusion which is just as well as another angel shows up. Razor Eddie takes the Speaking Gun and distracts it long enough for John and Suzie to make a run for it. They don’t get far. Angels from both sides have zeroed in on them.  With no other choice, John uses a special card made for him by Alex Morrisey and transports them both directly into Strangefellows.

John’s plan is not a very nice one. John needs Merlin. The Merlin, who just happens to be buried under Strangefellows. Of course, that can only happen if he manifests through his descendant, Alex Morrisey, and it isn’t very pleasant for Alex. Regardless, John forces the transformation using his gift to find the trigger in Alex. Merlin is powerful enough, even dead over a thousand years, that both sets of angels instantly stop their approach.

John has Merlin pull the Collector into the bar, where he confronts the squirrely little man about the Unholy Grail and eventually browbeats him into giving it up. Merlin then transports John, Suzie and the Collector to the Collector’s base on the moon. The Collector doesn’t give up easily though, and attempts to have his guardian robots kill John and Suzie. They, however, just start blowing apart his collection as well as the robots until the Collector finally gives in.

Once back down in Strangefellows, Walker once more tries to push John into giving up the Unholy Grail. Only it doesn’t work because John is a bit more powerful than people give him credit for. For once, Walker backs down and leaves. And in comes John’s client Jude. Jude turns out to be Judas Iscariot. The Unholy Grail was once his cup. To render it useless, he pours wine into it and blesses it because he really is a priest now.  Finally, the angels leave because the Unholy Grail is now just a cup.

The book ends a little abruptly but I think that’s because he knew that more were coming. Again, I just love this book. I think it lends a bit of humanity to John and Suzie, despite how hard their characters are. So I highly recommend it. Rating: A.

Niki Slobodian

So I just read three books by author J.L. Murray. These were cheap on Amazon, so they were a little bit shorter than something you might see from a more established writer such as Kim Harrison or Jim Butcher. Still, they were rather interesting.

The first book is Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Niki (Nikita) Slobodian, as you might have guess from the post title, is the main character. Niki is of Ukranian (I think) descent. Her father is a mobster of some sort. Because aren’t all Ukranians(*SARCASM ALERT*)? At any rate, Niki is one of a minority of people called Abnormals (or Abbies for short). Abnormals are people with unusual abilities. They are also deemed criminals by this world’s standards. It’s a bit McCarthy-esque with a Registry and everything. Or perhaps X-Men-esque.

Niki can see ghosts and help them cross over. Niki had been placed on this Abnormal after a grand show trial. She was essentially put on trial because her father was the first ever Abnormal placed on trial for being Abnormal and like father like daughter. Being on the Abnormal Registry, she isn’t allowed to hold a job so things are getting rather tough financially and her godmother, Sofi, is undergoing chemo.  Its a desperate situation.

That’s when she stumbles upon a bar in the middle of a sketchy industrial area called The Deep Blue Sea. Inside the bar is the bar keeper (Janis) and one man, Sam. Sam has a deal for Niki. He has a job he needs done. He can’t do it, but she can. In exchange, she’ll get her name off the Registry, get her guns back and a hefty payment. Wary but needing the cash and wanting her name back, Niki agrees and gets saddled with an Abnormal partner named Bobby Gage.

Bobby is a Caster. He can cast any number of spells so long as he can find the proper books to read from. Niki and Bobby need to find something, a creature from hell called a Dark. So far as I can figure, Darks are a bit like the Dark Phoenix creature from the Marvel Universe. Darks are spirit beings that can possess humans (and Abnormals) and make them do anything, even against their will. Darks will do anything to, so long as they enjoy it. That enjoyment tends to be more death and dismemberment than a trip to the water park.

Niki and Bobby have to find this Dark, which could be in anyone, and return it to hell. So they have to follow the trail of destruction and death until they can finally figure out how to trap it. Once they find it and get rid of it, the Dark turns out to have been just a distraction from the real deal. A high level demon named Abbadon is trying to get a foothold in the world…with the help of Niki’s father.

How will she deal with this new threat? What is going to happen with her father? And just who, exactly, is Sam? Well, we get at least two out of three answers at the end of the book. 🙂 As I said before, it is a little shorter than an established author’s books might be but it has promise. And I bought the following two books which I will review shortly. So I’ll rate this a solid B. For 3 bucks, it isn’t a bad little read.

Archangel Series

So I’ve read a bunch of these books by Nalini Singh in her Archangel/Guild Hunter series. It started with Archangel’s Kiss. I was intrigued by the idea that angels and archangels (the most powerful of all angels and their leaders) made vampires out of some sort of poison in their blood. Either they made vampires and got ride of the poison or they’d go mad. There is a private company of people called hunters that are hired to go after vampires who run amok.

It started out with archangel Raphael hiring a hunter from this guild (see what I did there?) to track down not a vampire but another archangel, a mad one who is surprisingly good at hiding himself. This hunter, Elena, has  the nose that knows and can pick out individual people’s (vampires/angels too) scents.

This series started out promisingly enough but the main character Elena is presented as a seriously emotionally damaged woman who isn’t interested in relationships just work. What happens? The extreme UST between her and Raphael turns into a relationship. *sigh* Look, I like romance in my urban fantasy and I like urban fantasy in my romance. They are my Reese’s ™ peanut butter cups. But I am really tired of this ‘magical healing’….relationship.

Now this first book, Archangel’s Kiss was a good book and created an interestingly unique universe. But Singh just keeps adding more and more sex into these books until every other chapter is sex, and sex that doesn’t move the plot along. Seriously, I would have bought erotica if I wanted plot-what-plot sex.

I’ve read a few more books and stories in this series in the hopes that it will get back to the good writing of the first book and the really interesting universe. There’s a new book coming out that I’m not entirely certain if I want to pony up the dough to get. If it goes down in price, I might. And the beauty of the Kindle (also tm) is that I can get the first chapter as a preview.  So I can’t really, truly recommend this series but I wouldn’t exactly call it bad. Just…trite. Rating C-.

Angels of Light and Darkness

So I went on vacation this last week and I managed to not read the entire time. Weird, I know but I had wine to taste instead. 🙂 But before I went on vacation, I re-read the second book in Simon R. Green’s Nightside arc, Angels of Light and Darkness. In this book, John Taylor is hired by Father Jude who represents the Vatican. The Pope wants to hire Taylor to find a very powerful, very dangerous object. If it gets out into the world and the wrong hands, it could lead to the end of the world. Quite literally.

And the object? The Unholy Grail. This is (supposedly mind you, since I have absolutely no idea if such an object exists/existed) the cup that Judas drank out of at the last supper. Yes, that Judas. Yes, that last supper. An object like that would be very powerful an anyone’s hands. There really isn’t a ‘right hands’ or a ‘wrong hands’ in the Nightside. The whole place is very…in between.

But the Vatican isn’t the only interested party. When Taylor first tries to use his special gift to find the Unholy Grail right off the bat, his mind gets hijacked by Above and Below (yes, I feel that the capitals are necessary). Each side wants it for their own use, each wanted to bring about the end of days on their own terms. Each side believes that this cup will guarantee them victory over the other side. Taylor tricks his way out of the situation by pitting Above against Below and escaping in the melee.

With using his gift out, Taylor has to pound the pavement doing the usual PI bit of finding clues and rattling cages. He picks up Suzie Shooter (also known as Oh Christ, it’s her! Run!) and off the go, bashing heads, demanding answers and being general nuisances. Meanwhile, angels from both sides are in the Nightside, grabbing random people in search of the same thing. Unfortunately for the grabees, they don’t usually come back alive.

Taylor and Suzie follow leads, get the crap kicked out of them and run from the angels until they find out who exactly has the Grail. Of course they find it! It wouldn’t be nearly so interesting if they didn’t. 😉 But to find out who done it, you need to read the book! Please do. I’m rather fond of Simon R. Green and the more people read his books, the more he’ll write.

Rating: B. Solid book but not one of my absolute favorite Nightsides. Great intro into the series though, even if it is the second book and not the first.

Archangel’s Consort

I rather like the Archangel books by Nalini Singh. They’re a very novel take on vampires and angels. One of the latest books is Archangel’s Consort. The plot is intriguing but I was rather disappointed by all the sex. Yeah, that’s right. The first book was rife with UST (unresolved sexual tension) between Guild Hunter Elena and Archangel Raphael. It took them a long time to get to the sex. In the second book, they were constricted because of Elena’s injuries. In this book, there wasn’t any constrictions and the sex didn’t move the plot along. At all. There could have been much, much less of it and the book would be better off.

That being said, it was interesting to see the introduction of Raphael’s mother, Caliane. Caliane, and an unknown number of ancient archangels, are in a state called Sleep. Yes with a capital S. It seems that when these immortals get bored they basically hibernate until they’re no longer bored or have cured whatever injury or madness has ailed them. And unfortunately, Caliane was mad when she hibernated.

When a Sleeper awakes, the power of the individual will set off calamities around the world. Strange weather patterns, earthquakes, tidal waves and even aberrant behavior in vampires and angels. Even archangels.  Since it is impossible for anyone to know who is waking with certainty, Raphael fears that it is his mother and that she is still mad. If she is, he would have to try and kill her. In this arc, no maddened angel or vampire is allowed to live. The trouble being, how does one kill an archangel who is a good fifty thousand years old an immeasurably powerful.

That is why fellow archangel Lijuan tries to convince Raphael to kill his mother before she wakes, in violation of one of angel kind’s deepest and oldest taboos. Unfortunately, Lijuan has ‘evolved’ into something that is far more demonic than angelic and therefore does not exude trustworthiness.

In any case, the story itself is quite interesting. If the sex had been toned down, I’d have given it an A, as it is I’ll have to give it a B because it annoyed me. There is more to urban fantasy than just sex. Look at The Dresden Files or The Nightside books. Sex is sprinkled in sparingly and they are awesome.