As much as I love the Sandman Slim books from Richard Kadrey and all the gritty noir elements of each of those novels, Dead Set is a welcome departure showcasing a much different, but ultimately still engaging and fascinating, side of Kadrey’s writing. The style, tone, and diction are hugely different from the Sandman Slim books, so if you’re expecting more of the same, then you’re better off re-reading those volumes because Dead Set is a unique dark fantasy tale that offers a rich reading experience.
Our female protagonist is an angst-ridden teen, but you’re not going to find any comparisons to Bella Swan here. Zoe has every reason to be morose–her beloved father passed away recently, leaving her with a mom struggling both emotionally and financially to be the glue that holds them together. She’s not doing much better at school either, although she does befriend a fellow outsider at one point, even if her circle of friends turns out not to be the best.
Zoe goes into a record shop and encounters a man, Emmett, who tells her that he can give her the power to see her father again. Of course, as with all of these types of arrangements, there’s usually a hidden catch and a hefty price to pay associated with it, which Kadrey more than delivers on. Zoe also has an interesting relationship with Valentine, who she believes to be her brother, that she interacts with only in dreams, until the second part of the story unfolds and she finds out about a land called Iphigene which is unlike anything she could have ever imagined, but not always in a good way.
In the past few years, dark fantasy and horror authors have been making more creative uses of Greek mythology, in both novels and short stories, and Kadrey’s take is, while expected in a way, still original and makes for a well-told tale. Even for those readers reluctant to try this book because of the departure from the style of Sandman Slim, I would say they’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much they end up enjoying this book. The story has a lot of heart to offer, and I would say that because of the departure in Kadrey’s trademark Sandman Slim style, the book is a lot more subdued and toned down, but in a good way, as I think it will also open him up to young adult readers. If you’re a YA reader and wanted to try Sandman Slim but perhaps thought it was too gritty for your taste, definitely pick up Dead Set and you’ll be enthralled with the story.