Book Review: Aloha from Hell by Richard Kadrey

Aloha from Hell
by Richard Kadrey
$23.99 (hardcover)
Amazon | Goodreads
October 18, 2011
Review copy courtesy of HarperCollins Canada

Plot Description (from Goodreads):
All hail Sandman Slim, author Richard Kadrey’s ultra-extreme anti-hero and recent escapee from Lucifer’s overheated Underworld playground. Legendary author William Gibson (Neuromancer) called Kadrey’s first deliciously twisted Slim adventure “an addictively satisfying, deeply amusing, dirty-ass masterpiece,” and in number three, Aloha from Hell, the ruthless avenger, a.k.a. Stark, finds himself trapped in the middle of a war between Heaven and Hell. With God on vacation, the Devil nosing around in Paradise, and an insane serial killer doing serious damage on Earth, Stark/Slim is ready to unleash some more adrenaline-surging, edgy and violent supernatural mayhem—and even pay another visit to Hell if necessary—which is great news for fans of Jim Butcher, Warren Ellis, Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison, and Simon R. Green.

The Sandman Slim series is one of my favourites, if not my favourite, urban fantasy/supernatural horror stories in recent years. Very few authors make me automatically rush out to the store to buy their newest releases, because the quality of their writing simply isn’t worth shelling out $30 of hard-earned cash only to be disappointed by a lack-lustre, sub-par shadow of what the books used to be like. But with Kadrey, I never hesitate to buy his newest releases because he consistently delivers time and time again. And just when you think that he can’t possibly top himself, he absolutely does. I hope that as time goes on, the Sandman Slim series only grows in popularity and that more people read these amazing novels.

That said, if you’re new to the Sandman Slim books, Kadrey had written Aloha from Hell in such a way that even if you haven’t read the previous two books, Sandman Slim (Book One) and Kill the Dead (Book Two), you’ll still be able to follow along, because the narrative thread from both books continues in this one, and Kadrey does a wonderful job of grounding the reader in the current state of things and reminding them what has happened.

True to Kadrey’s form, Aloha from Hell starts off with a great heist scene gone wrong, with protagonist James “Jimmy” Stark/Sandman Slim’s always entertaining friend and sometime accomplice, Vidocq. They’re trying to break into a safe to extract a golden jewel in the shape of a scarab, but there’s a special type of greed demon guarding it, and the owner of the house comes out to kill them. It’s a suspenseful beginning that provides a killer hook and draws the reader right into the thick of things in a way that seems like you just stopped reading Kill the Dead yesterday.

(Warning: if you haven’t read Kill the Dead yet and don’t want to spoil things before reading Aloha, skip the following paragraph.)
Mason, the primary antagonist from the first book onward, is now in Hell. Lucifer isn’t around, because he has abdicated his throne, and gone back to Heaven. He now goes by his traditional angel name, Sammael. And as for the Sandman Slim himself, Stark now has the part angel side of him, due to being a nephilim, to grapple with, but I found it refreshing that the angel wasn’t too overstated or talking to him all the time, which can be distracting.

Stark gets partially conned into working a mysterious case that involves finding out what went wrong during a demonic exorcism involving a nineteen year-old boy, Hunter, who is now missing. One of the main reasons Stark agrees to investigate is because he was the same age when he ended up in Hell.

Mason’s influence is felt on Earth, something that ups the ante despite the fact that he can’t get out of Hell, which makes things trickier for Stark, because he is also lured into returning with the most tempting bait of all: his dead girlfriend, Alice. Things just keep getting more interesting with the Hunter case when Stark reveals that the kid’s older brother, Tommy, was in the same magic circle that Stark was in with Mason.

A now excommunicated Father Liam Traven is a wonderful addition to the case this time around, a cool ex-priest who is a paleolinguist; basically, he’s a specialist in dead languages and owns a lot of rare, mystical books. Even more interestingly, he’s a sin eater and comes from a long line of priests who would perform exorcisms a bit more…unconventionally than the Catholic Church. Turns out that what possessed the boy isn’t an ordinary demon. It’s older, and more like a god.

Aelita, the bad angel gone worse, also has her hand in the entire matter, and is as much a part of luring Stark back to Hell as Mason is, but she remains off screen for much of the novel, the reader hearing about what she has done and said, which I think works better, because Stark already has enough on his plate to deal with and adding in a more active speaking part for Aelita may have been overkill.

Kadrey just keeps getting better and better with his world-building, his inventiveness and creativity even better when it comes to his extensions on demonology, not to mention his concept of God is the most unique thing I think I’ve ever read–you have to read this for yourself to find out what he does; it’s brilliant. The humour is just as fresh as it was in the first book as well, and keeps getting better. For fans who have been waiting for more answers to our questions from the first book to be revealed, we get quite a few in this volume, which is an added bonus. The denizens of Hell are also badass as usual, General Semyazah in particular.

The final part of the book is the best part; it’s like riding a roller coaster that only slows down in a few places, and then you’re up again, screaming your head off at the rush. I would have liked to see more original descriptions of Hell, although Kadrey was wise to avoid the traditional limestone volcano caves. By the time you get to the ending, you’ll be so blown away by the new revelations and everything that has happened that you won’t help but want even more, which is why I’m glad to hear that there are more Sandman Slim volumes in the works.

Kadrey is one of the freshest, coolest, and most inventive voices to hit the fantasy shelves in recent years, and anyone who hasn’t read any the books in this series so far doesn’t know what they’re missing. HarperCollins has recently released the first book as a Kindle edition, and I guarantee that you will be addicted after you read the first few chapters. Here’s a link to read a sample from the first book, Sandman Slim.

As an easter egg to this review, here is a dramatic reading from Aloha from Hell read by Kadrey himself:

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: Aloha from Hell by Richard Kadrey”

  1. Great review. Once that bad boy’s out in paperback, it’s mine. Just read Kill the Dead last week and will have my review of it in March to go with my urban fantasy month.

    Stark is becoming one of my favorite characters too, and Kasabian is a hilarious sidekick. Loved it.

    1. Hiya Fox,
      LOL If you thought KILL THE DEAD was epic, ALOHA FROM HELL blows it out of the water ;-) I’ll make sure to look out for your review, and hell yeah for Stark being one of my favourite characters :-) Kasabian is too funny ;-)


  2. How did I not know there was a third book in this series?!?! Read the first two a while ago and LOVED the world building, the dialogue, the snark and sarcasm. Cannot WAIT to get back into the adventure. Thanks so much for the heads up and the awesome review!


    1. Hi Lori, LOL it sneaks up on you if you’re not careful! ;-) I’m glad to hear you’re also a fan because this is my FAVE fantasy series ever! And I totally encourage you to get book 3 :-)


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