King Bullet by Richard Kadrey
With 2022’s King Bullet, Richard Kadrey brings the novel series about Hellion wizard James Stark, AKA Sandman Slim, to a conclusion. As Kadrey once said, Stark is a monster who wonders if he can become human. We readers figured out that answer a while ago, but in King Bullet, Stark faces the answer himself, along with an adversary who may defeat him once and for all.
L.A. (if not the USA and/or the world—we don’t know) is hunkering down in the throes of a devastating virus, one that often drives its victims to madness and acts of savage violence. Much of L.A. is on fire. One of the gangs belonging to Sub Rosa, the magical community that usually, as its name implies, kept a low profile, has gone wild, mutilating themselves, rampaging through the streets destroying, killing, often dancing in the light from their deadly fires. The gang, the Shoggots, are now headed by an even crazier messianic leader who calls himself King Bullet. Initially, Stark wants no part of this. He wants to hang out with his new gender-non-binary friend Janet, who is a musical composer and arranger, avoid Candy, who is with someone else now after Stark died for a second time (it’s a long story) and occasionally get donuts from Donut Universe, but the Shoggot bring war to him.
Before the book ends, Stark’s new love Janet, his true love, Candy, and all his friends will be put at direct risk by the mad and powerful King Bullet, whose hatred for Stark is personal. Stark will work again with Abbott, who leads the Sub Rosa, with predictable results, and with the angel Samael, who used to be Lucifer. He’ll call on old friends and old enemies before he’s through.
The clues to the identity of King Bullet are well laid out and I certainly had an inkling of what he was, even if I didn’t understand the exact nature of his connection to Stark. It’s a powerful one, and while there is nothing honorable or likeable about King Bullet, he is certainly understandable. The surprise for me was the reminder of just how many actual friends Stark, the punk wizard, loner, arena fighter from Hell, has, and how deeply he cares for them.
Stark wonders if he can become human again—scenes in this book give us the answer, even as heads fly off shoulders, entrails spill on various floors, and people eat their own fingers. If you doubt the answer, I’ll direct you to two scenes; Stark’s interaction with Keitu, the leader of the Dreamers, and a scene at a grave in the desolate Kissi universe. I will also point out that Stark is secure enough to wear a She-Ra, Princess of Power mask when he goes out in public.
As with all the SANDMAN SLIM books, there is graphic, gory violence with lots of blood and dismemberment. Just be prepared.
I was riveted by the growing sense of urgency, as Stark fails time after time, and people once again turn to betrayal to survive. At first the last few pages stumped me. Really? Then I reread the final three paragraphs, and decided this is absolutely the correct ending. James Stark, Sandman Slim, has finally found his way.
COMMENT Experiencing this book, of all books, in an audio format would indeed be interesting! I can only imagine, Olle....
I recently listened to the Libravox audiobook version of this one and completely agree with your assessment. The strange language…
I wish the media organizations publishing Best Of lists would commit to not including any works appreciably less than twenty…
It IS pretty hard to bee Fuzziman.
Hey, they had ME at Roland Fuzziman! 😂