Please note: I don't review to provide synopses, I review to share a purely visceral reaction to books and perhaps answer some of the questions I ask when I'm contemplating investing time and money into a book.
I'm going to share an uncomfortable truth with you here. This is not the best book in the series, and in fact it's not even a very good final episode. One of the things I've always liked about this series is the frenetic pace; "no rest for the wicked" and all that. This book, however, doesn't really start to take off until around the 50% mark. Once it picks up a lot of long lingering plot lines are resurrected and thrown into the mix, the tension builds until the last 20% of the book, and then SPLAT! The apocalypse blows it's load into a climax that's - we're friends, I'll be honest - is disappointing.
The casual cynicism, saucy word play and nonstop pop culture references are still in abundance, and once the violence gets started it's a good as any of the other books. All the things we love about Sandman Slim aka Jim Stark are here, and the weird little circle of friends he's accumulated are just as weird and fun as ever. Reading this book felt a lot like getting in touch with some old friends.
This book shows a deeper interior life for Stark, and I think Kadrey worked very hard to develop the character and round him out. Unfortunately, this happens at the expense of a lot of action and intrigue. I don't believe in an either/or dichotomy between actioning and adventuring OR feeling and relating. I think what happened was the author tried too hard to grow the character and lost track of his cadence, and let the interior development drive too much of the plot.
We're told many times that the apocalypse is upon creation, and several details are repeated to this effect: nonstop rain and flooding in LA and Hell for example. But I never felt any impending doom. Maybe because Stark and Candy are too busy lovingly quipping at each other? Maybe because there's not enough time spent with the supporting cast to get a feel of how the world is falling apart, because are protagonists are too wrapped up in themselves and their relationship with each other? All I know for sure is that any sense of impending doom was told rather than shown and this really didn't help me to get to the final conflict.
The final conflict was... I've already used the word "disappointing" once in this review, so let's say it was "unsatisfying". Unlike the final conflicts in the other books, I knew what he was working on ahead of time. I love to see a plan come together in unexpected ways. But I wasn't surprised. In fact, the whole battle felt like it was phoned in. The oldest of the old gods is invading creation to take it back from god, and the best we can do is tear up a few blocks of LA across a couple of pages? It just felt like it was too little too late and didn't engage me. I didn't feel afraid, I didn't feel cosmic forces wreaking havoc on all the physics I've ever known, I didn't feel like these characters that I've known for 5 or more books were ever in any real danger. It just felt like I needed to consume the words to get through the pages to reach the conclusion.
A whole host of lingering plot lines were brought up in this book, but most of them did not end satisfactorily - see "phoning it in", above. I suppose the ends are loose enough to squeeze a few more novels out of some of them, but at some point I think epic characters in long series' need to find a new set of Major Antagonists to up the stakes and move the whole arc of the world into new territories. I feel an opportunity to do just that was lost here.
If this had been the first book in the series, I don't think I would have read any of the others. I feel really bad writing such damning words. Maybe this book is just mediocre, but the rest of the series is so much fun and so well written that it feels like The Getaway God is worse than it really is. I do know that I hope this review doesn't put anyone off of starting the series; up until this installment, they've been top notch rollicking good times and a total hoot to read. It's entirely possible I brought too much expectation into this book, and my disappointment has nothing to do with Kadrey and everything to do with what I wish I had read.
Is this the last Sandman Slim novel? My halfhearted attempts at googlefu don't turn up any interviews saying so, but the book ends on a note that's suitable to end the series. On the other hand, it also ends on a note that leaves room for a nearly infinite stream of sequels. I guess it's a matter of what Kadrey wants to do with the series. Personally, I'd like to see him baby the thing into a Netflix miniseries a'la GRRM and GoT.