Killing Pretty (Sandman Slim 7) by Richard Kadrey

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Stars: 4.5 out of 5.

This books marks a turning point in James Stark’s life, and a sort of reboot of the series as a whole. After all, Stark saved the world from the Old Ones in the previous book and got rid of his arch-nemesis Mason once and for all (hopefully). So he should be able to live happily ever after, right?

That’s precisely what this book covers – how do you live after you fulfilled your purpose. Stark saved the world, but lost the Room of Thirteen doors in the process, so he can’t travel through the shadows anymore. So for the first time since he came back from Hell, he is stuck on Earth. No more popping to see Lucifer for a drink, heck no more zipping through LA from shadow to shadow. He has to brave the horrible traffic like any other shmuck. But more importantly, they had to fake Candy’s death at the end of the previous book, so she has a new face, new name, and is trying to build a new life for herself. Which means their relationship is basically starting over. Oh, and did I mention that Stark never got paid for his efforts to save the world? So he is broke as well. So no money, no girlfriend, no easy means to travel… and no purpose in life. Stark is not a very happy boy.

It was interesting to see our protagonist struggle with what to do with his life now that he doesn’t have a big bad to defeat or even a little bad in the face of Mason. Stark is questioning his own choices and actions in this book. This is especially visible in his relationship with Candy/Shihiro. Yes, it’s the same person underneath the glamor, but he still feels like he is cheating on the old Candy when he is with her new persona. And the things she told him in the previous book keep haunting him as well. Is he using her? Is he trying to mold her to be a monster like he is because he wants somebody like that by his side? Does he really love her or the image he created of her in his head?

I also had a lot of fun watching him function like a normal(ish) human being in LA – battling traffic, workplace rules, and having a boss he had to report to. As you can imagine, it failed horribly. Stark is not cut out to be an investigator – he is not the meticulous type who can sit in a stakeout for hours or go through surveillance footage. He gets bored and then his destructive tendencies kick in. And I think he finally came to terms with the fact that kicking doors and busting heads is what he does best. Now, he will have to figure out how to put this talent to use and earn some  money in the process. Maybe working with the new Augur would turn out to be a blessing in disguise. 

All in all, I really love where this series is going. This is a more subdued book, compared to the previous one, but that’s exactly what we all needed. Time for retrospective and reassessment. 

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