by Jesus Ibarra
This week we have a review of Richard Kadrey’s latest urban fantasy novel Devil Said Bang, an interview with Richard & a chance to win a copy of the book (details at the end of the interview).
James Stark returns in Devil Said Bang, picking up roughly three months after the events of Aloha From Hell. Stark has had his hands full trying to stay alive and trying to make his way back to LA after being stuck as the reigning Lucifer of Hell. But LA isn’t as Stark left it, his angelic half is running loose, something is eating all the ghosts, and some of the most powerful magic wielding people are planning something big.
With irreverent humor and an asskicking attitude Stark has his hands full, and it’s a thoroughly entertaining ride from start to finish. All the hallmarks of Richard Kadrey’s great writing are here: the wit, prose, the way his characters come to life, and the consistency of Stark himself. Not to mention there are some top-notch action scenes that play out incredibly well too. There also are a ton of eff yeah moments where Stark flexes his muscle as the reigning Lucifer, the only perk of his job really because being the ruler of Hell is not easy, and Hell is definitely a depressing place. That is definitely one of the things I love about this book–we spend time in Hell and through Stark get to know more about it and the monsters that live there. Some of the things we as the readers learn are well incredibly sad, yet very believable.
The other thing I loved is that although Stark is consistent in his established character, he is growing because how can you take over as Lucifer and not have it change you in some way. Also, some of the running jokes Kadrey throws in are hilarious, with Stark constantly questioning whether to tell people once he is back in LA that he is Lucifer, and reading each character’s reaction to his new status is endlessly entertaining.
My fears of how Kadrey could continue this series now that the original trilogy is done were quickly thrown out, because this doesn’t feel like a fourth book. It’s still fresh, has a good story to tell, and some of the best writing I have read. And again I have to say that I love that Kadrey has somehow interpreted an old story into an endless fascinating one with complex and interesting characters and an awesome mythology that rivals a lot of the best sellers today.
As with every book in this series, I have to say that if you are easily offended by writing that knocks around religion, particularly the Christian and Catholic religions, then you might not like this book. But if those things don’t bother you then you have to read this book, and the whole series frankly. If you haven’t guessed from my writing, I strongly recommend this novel and the whole series because it is definitely one of the best urban fantasy series out there today.
Interview with Richard Kadrey
Jesus: How different for you was it to write the Sandman Slim series from the other kinds of writing you have done before?
Richard: This is my first series and there’s been a big learning curve. In previous books, the story was contained within one novel. Now I have a story arc that hovers over six. It takes a while to learn how to write like that. What to reveal now and what to leave for later. What to give readers to keep them reading and what to tease out over time. My editor, Diana Gill, has been very helpful in walking me through this.
Jesus: What is it for you about LA that makes it a good setting for the Sandman Slim novels, and using it as a parallel to Hell? Living in LA, it’s fun to see you sort of peel back the veneer using Stark. Also, are the digs to Fresno, a reflection of an experience you have had there? I always get a kick out of it having grown up in the area.
Richard: The Fresno digs are just a cheap joke. I used to make cheap jokes about Houston, a town I lived in when I was a kid, but with Stark I decided to transfer the jokes to a California town because that’s Stark’s experience of the world. Except for going to Hell I don’t think that Stark has ever left the state for any length of time.
LA is great city for stories. There are so many layers to the city and so much twisted history that it’s easy to see from a hundred different perspectives. Also, I just love LA. People think it’s a party place but it’s really a company town. It’s an Appalachian coal-mining burg only instead of coal, people are breaking their backs trying to get into and stay in show biz.
Jesus: I know you are a photographer, and following you on twitter you sometimes tweet some of your photos and art; do you find that you have two creative outlets with writing and photography? Does your photography or writing ever inspire or inform each other?
Richard: Writing is the cure for images. Photography is the cure for words. Sometimes my head is so full of one or the other that I can’t function anymore. That’s when I switch between the two. Right now I’m working on a couple of books so I’m hardly doing any shooting.
Jesus: Was writing Devil Said Bang easier or harder with the conclusion of what I like to think of as the trilogy?
Richard: Devil Said Bang wasn’t any harder than the other books. We could have abandoned Stark at the end of book three but I knew the story went further and I knew where it went so when we had the chance to do more books I just plowed straight into it.
Jesus: What drew you to write about heaven and hell and the mythos around them, and ground it with a complex character like Stark, who really isn’t out to be the good guy, but these big cosmic things just sort of happen to him?
Richard: It all comes back to George W. Bush. When he was elected president I wanted to understand the evangelical Christians that had just taken control of the country. That got me reading books on the history of Christianity. Those lead me to various sects, such as the Gnostics. Those lead me to heretical writings. And those lead to thinking about religious and political control systems and that brings everyone to the history of Hell and the Devil. If you read all these books you discover that Christian doctrine is a huge mess. Before Constantine no one could agree on anything. Even after Constantine tried to nail things down, doctrine drifted all over the place. Sometimes deliberately and sometimes through simple mistakes. If you want to know what I’m talking about read Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman.
Jesus: I really like that throughout the books, you have kept Stark’s character consistent, although he obviously has grown since the first book, he is still the monster that kills monsters much to the chagrin of the people who love him. Is that an easy thing to write or does the Stark character just work out that way?
Richard: Stark has grown and matured but he’s still a little crazy and always will be. He’s a victimized human but also the last of the nephilim, creatures that were always tightly wound and prone to suicide.
Jesus: I know from your interviews, your social media sites, and some of your writing that you like science fiction and fantasy; what was the earliest thing that drew you into this genre? Or did you always find yourself drawn in?
Richard: I was never drawn in. I was always there. When I was a kid I never read The Hardy Boys. I read Doc Savage and H.G. Wells.
Jesus: I know you are extremely active on social media and are really good about responding to fans; how do you feel about the level of access people can have to you in general?
Richard: I enjoy it. Sometimes I have to pull back when work piles up but I enjoy being able to speak with people directly.
Jesus: I know there are more Sandman Slim novels coming, do you have any other writing projects you can talk about?
Richard: I’m finishing a young adult novel titled White Vinyl. I’m thinking about another novel series about a thief with supernatural powers and I’m doing some script work.
Jesus: Having killed Stark’s main villain Mason at the end of the last book, is coming up with more compelling villains like Aelita harder or easier?
Richard: Villains are like any other characters, no harder or easier. The circumstances of each story dictates who will or won’t be there.
Jesus: I have to know did you plan it so that there would be an Iron Man joke when Stark, was once wearing Lucifer’s armor or did you just realize it once you were writing?
Richard: The Iron Man joke happened while I was writing the scene. Once I saw it I couldn’t unsee it so I decided to run with it.
Jesus: The Sandman Slim universe hasn’t really had strict rules on how the magic works or at least they haven’t been explained thoroughly in the books by the characters, and in this book you definitely flesh more of that stuff out. Did you do this purposefully or do you have the big book of the Sandman Slim universe that basically sets how the story goes?
Richard: There’s the set magic of the Sub Rosa and then there’s Stark’s magic. I wanted people to know that there are rules in Stark’s world but I also wanted Stark not to have any rules. Stark’s approach to magic is similar to his approach to life: pure chaos. He pretty much makes things up as he goes along. He’s growing out of that a bit but he’s never going to have a 401K.
Jesus: Were you tempted to keep Stark separated from his angelic half longer than one book?
Richard: It was tempting but it felt like the joke could grow old. Stark already had Kasabian to spar with. He didn’t need an Odd Couple rerun playing in his head 24/7.
Jesus: Can you tease what’s next for Stark and his friends in the coming books?
Richard: Stark is still looking for the Qomrama Om Ya in the next book and that will take him to a part of LA called Kill City. Overall, things are going to get weirder and worse for Stark and the city. The Angra Om Ya, the old gods tossed out of our universe by the current God, are coming back and they’re pissed.
You can follow Richard on his Twitter @Richard_Kadrey and learn more about him and his books on his website. You can also read a review of another book in this series, Aloha From Hell, right here at KRL.
To enter to win a copy of Devil Said Bang, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Bang”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen September 1, 2012. U.S. residents only.