by Richard Kadrey
Review by Steve Sawicki
Harper Voyager Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780062283016
Date: 29 October 2013 List Price $22.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Zoe is a teenaged girl trying to cope with the loss of her father, a mother that is not managing anything very well, and a move to a new neighborhood and school. Zoe also dreams, and in her dreams she has a friend by the name of Valentine who she confides in. She tells him everything, at least until she starts to dream of the big, black dog that follows her.
Mixed into all of this is the record store and the strange proprietor who offers to sell her a view into her father's life. This is something that Zoe desperately wants and maybe needs. The price? A lock of her hair. Zoe says she has to think about it and when she returns the next day she does have hair but not hers. The man takes it and puts an odd helmet on her head and then plays a record that is supposed to be her father's life. Zoe is transported to that life and gets to see her father at a much younger age.
Afterwards the proprietor hints that Zoe could actually meet her father. The price? Her blood. Zoe is creeped out but returns anyway, with the blood, and is taken to an odd land where her father exists in a sort of purgatory. Zoe gets the chance to talk to him and the time is all too short before she has to leave.
A few days later, Zoe spies on the shop owner and sees him slip into a manhole. She follows and after a while ends up in the same purgatory town but this time it is dull, dreary and somewhat horrible. As is her father when she finally tracks him down. Seems that Zoe has stumbled onto a war in this odd underworld, a war that uses souls for currency with plans to expand into the living world at some near future point. Now, Zoe, with Valentine's help needs to figure out what to do and quickly.
This is a new book by Richard Kadrey and it is not set in the Sandman Slim universe. It does, however play with some similar themes, albeit in a much more serious fashion. Kadrey seems to enjoy playing with death and limbo and this time he's playing it straight. He's also taking a look at loss and the lengths to which we might go to avoid it. When Zoe chases after her father it's both literal and a metaphor for a need for guidance and an all knowing figure to help us. Or not, it's hard to tell what an author might or might not be exploring and maybe it's just the story that Kadrey wanted to write.
I enjoy Kadrey's writing. Love the Sandman Slim series and was curious about where he might go outside that playground. I was a bit miffed when it seemed that this book was also going to play with similar themes and settings but he managed to approach this in such a different way that I ended up not having a problem with it. Understand, this is no Sandman Slim. It does not have the irreverence and it does not contain the wise cracking and the mad cap pacing. Instead it is more gentle and reflective. No doubt that Kadrey's a real story teller. Definitely recommended.