The Sandman Slim series of books by Richard Kadrey are about a man named James William Butler "Sandman Slim" Stark who is a talented magician (not a wizard! Wizards are Harry Potter) living in our world where magic is under the Masquerade. When he trusts the wrong people, the group who he thought were his allies (or at least not asshole enough to pull a stunt like this) sends him on a one-way trip to hell. For eleven years he's forced to participate in gladiatorial events for the entertainment of demons and fallen angels, then recruited as hitman for Azazel. When his girlfriend back on Earth is killed, he steals a key that can take him anywhere in the universe and escapes to the mortal world to hunt the killers down, including their leader Mason Faim and his pet thug Parker.
Basically Stark is Harry Dresden minus any sense of morality and on permanent god-mode. No wait... What's higher than god-mode?
Kill The Dead: Taking place six months after the first book, James kills some vampires, has to find a woman's son, and becomes Lucifer's bodyguard during a filming of his life story. To top that off, he accidentally begins, and consequently has to stop, a Zombie Apocalypse.
Aloha from Hell: Taking place two months after the events in Kill the Dead. After a successful break-in with Vidocq, Stark gets a job to find a possessed nineteen year-old named Hunter, who is addicted to a psychic drug called Akira. As he later finds out, he was the younger brother of T.J., one of the members of Stark's old circle. When he finally finds Hunter, it turns out to he's not possessed by a demon but by Mason himself. Mason tells Stark that he kidnapped Alice, his dead ex-girlfriend, from heaven (thanks to Aelita). He then proceeds to tell Stark that if he wants to save her, he literally has to go back to Hell. After informing the Kissi, Josef, and his fellows about the situation, Stark then crashes his car to get to Hell. (But not before burning down the garden of Eden.) There he breaks into Eleusis to get Alice and a demon general out of Tartarus to fight against Mason. Then he kills Mason in a game of Russian roulette (Stark cheats, of course). This makes Stark the new Lucifer in hell (much to his displeasure).
Devil Said Bang: Taking place three months after the events in the last book. Stark is not enjoying his time ruling Hell the new Lucifer, when three Hellion assassins attack Stark, and are defeated by him. This leads to Stark investigating who is plotting to kill him. He find an 8-ball that is in actuality the Qomrama Om Ya. He then kills one of the main conspirators, then returns to Los Angeles, to see how his friends are doing, only to find himself not being warmly welcomed back. As it turns out Stark's angel-half, now called "Saint James", is accused of killing the mayor's son; and, a ghost is going around killing members of the Sub Rosa. He later meets Cherry Moon as a Jabber (a ghost that haunts its own corpse). Stark learns that the ghost is killing Subb Rosa members called dreamers (that hold reality together by, well... dreaming), while being controlled by Teddy. Teddy had become a ghoul because of a pact his grandfather made with Lucifer and Lula a skinhead and was a member of Josef's group (and was in love with him). Aelita was the reason behind everything and when Stark used the "8-ball" on her she captured it and escaped with it. At the end Mr. Munnin becomes the new Lucifer and reintegrates "Saint James" back into Stark along with the key of thirteen doors.
Kill City Blues: Taking place one month after the events in the last book. After surviving an attempt on his life, Stark chases down the assassin only for him to walk into an oncoming bus. During his investigation he finds out where Aelita hid the Qomrama Om Ya (the "8-ball") in an abandoned run down shopping mall known as Kill City; it's infested by bottom-feeding Sub Rosa families, tribes of Lurkers, and the ghosts of former employees and construction workers that died the day Kill City collapsed. When Stark and crew get there they find the mad ghost that was said to be guarding the "8-ball" in the Roman baths. The mad ghost turns out to be one of the parts that split from God, Nefesh. After he tells Stark where the "8-ball" is, it is taken by Medea Bava of the Inquisition. She then calls Aelita who is then unceremoniously killed off by her with the "8-ball". Medea Bava then reveals her true goal to use the Qomrama Om Ya to summon the Angra. But then Father Traven— a sin-eater— hits her in the back of the head with a piece of concrete then dumps all of the sin he stored up into her; however he dies during the process. Then Stark and crew have to escape a now collapsing Kill City as it slides into the Pacific Ocean.
The Getaway God: Coming soon.
This series provides examples of:
- Adaptive Ability: A side-effect of Stark's Healing Factor. Each time he recovers from an injury, enchanted scar tissue forms that makes the same attack to the same area far less effective the second time. He gets to use this power a lot.
- Archangel Uriel: He shows up in the first book, but is going under the name Doc Kinski. And also is Stark's father.
- Asshole Victim
- Batman Gambit: Mason Faim's modus operandi. Mason ordered Parker to kill Alice so that Stark would tear a hole in the universe that would open the gates of Hell. Of course, the real plan was to trick Stark into sending him to Hell so he could turn Lucifer's generals against him.
- Becoming the Mask: It is revealed that Alice was a Muggle Born of Mages hired to spy on Stark before actually falling in love with him.
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Francois Eugene Vidocq, a self-made immortal (in an accident) from France.
- Black-and-Grey Morality: The "good" guy prefers being back in the arena, killing demons and fallen angels. His enemies are worse.
- Black Speech: Hellion. A language composed of unpleasant animal noises. According to Stark, it is almost impossible to say anything in Hellion that cannot be interpreted as a threat.
- Blood Magic: Stark uses it in Kill The Dead to add power to a spell.
- Bloody Murder: Stark's blood is poisonous in some cases due to the nature of his birth.
- Blue-Collar Warlock: Stark works with the Golden Vigil and works in the video store Max Overdrive.
- Brick Joke: Functioning as Book Ends for the first trilogy. When Stark returned to Earth, the first he did was attack Kasabian with the black bone blade, allowing him to decapitate the guy without killing him. In the last chapter of the third book, Stark realizes that the design specs of a hell-hound (basically, a four-legged Brain in a Jar) would be the perfect solution for Kasabian's lack of a body or a proper body prosthesis.
- A Chat with Satan: literally.
- Chronic Hero Syndrome: From the very first pages, where Stark comes out of Hell and saves a woman from a carjacking, the guy has a lot of difficulty trying not to help out if something awful is happening in front of him and he gets major guilt when he can't. For all his boasting of how nasty he is morally, the guy's actually a big softie.
- Cloning Blues:God. He was once one being, but over the years he split into five separate beings Muinn, Neshamah, Ruach, Nefesh, and Chaya.
- Cool Key: The Key to The Room of 13 Doors — it's the only way out of Hell, and Stark has it lodged in his heart. He doesn't need to actually pull it out and put it in a lock for it to work; he just has to step into a shadow, through the room, and from there through his door of choice.
- Deader than Dead:
- To Dr. Kinski/Uriel or any one in Tartarus
- Doubly so for those fed into the cosmic furnace in Tartarus.
- Depleted Phlebotinum Shells: Ammunition dipped in Spiritus Dei oil can kill pretty much anything.
- In the later volumes, there's a video library where you can hire films from alternate timelines. Not much detail is provided, but it's mentioned that their two most popular titles are a version of Apocalypse Now with Harvey Keitel in the Willard role (in our world, Keitel was fired after a week of shooting and replaced with Martin Sheen) and Buckaroo Banzai Versus the World Crime League, the never-made sequel to The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.
- Enemy Within: Stark's inner angel sometimes screams inside his head; he often ignores it.
- Enemy Without: Stark's inner angel (now called "Saint James") leaves Stark at the end of Aloha from Hell, and screws things up in Devil Said Bang.
- Escaped from Hell: The main character is a modern-day magician, betrayed and sent to Hell where he kills countless demons in the fighting pits until he is recruited as an assassin of demon lords and ultimately escapes. The book begins when he first returns to Earth, looking for revenge.
- Eye of Newt: The basis of alchemy, particularly the Drifer bite cure.
- Extra-Strength Masquerade: So a Zombie Apocalypse was averted. Half of Los Angeles was in flames. Fast forward six weeks and not a single Muggle has gone public with any solid evidence of what really happened. I guess it helps that all the Drifters turned to ashes.
- Fallen Angel: Hellions, which are the ones that got kicked out with Lucifer. Also Kinski, AKA Uriel.
- First-Episode Resurrection: Not technically dead, but the series starts off with missing-presumed-dead Stark crawling out of a cemetery after being in hell a good eleven years. Close enough.
- Flaming Sword: All angels have this. In Kill The Dead, after Stark becomes a Drifter/Nephilim, he gains this in a fight with Aelita. Then lights a cigarette with it. In Aloha From Hell, it is revealed that certain Hellion generals (such as Mammon) have secretly retained their angelic ability to generate one of these. It turns out to be a Cover-Blowing Superpower when Stark has to use one to win a death match in a Hellion arena.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Heaven and Hell are both scared shitless by this dude by the end of the book.
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: Stark is covered in scars from head to toe from his time fighting in the hell arena. He acquires some new ones earthside.
- Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Stark is a cigarette smoker who is an example of both types, since he's technically a monster, but saved the world in the process.
- Half-Human Hybrid: James Stark is revealed to be a nephilim (half-angel). This explains why he is such a badass
- Insistent Terminology: Stark is a magician, not a wizard. Wizards are Harry Potter.
- Inverse Law of Utility and Lethality: Before Stark went Downtown, his magic was far more versatile but hardly dangerous. Now, after eleven years in Hell, his magic isn't good for anything else besides hurting people and destroying things.
- It Gets Easier:
- Kryptonite Is Everywhere: The Key to The Room of 13 Doors allows Stark to efficiently teleport between any two shadows in the entire known universe. Yet, he can't ever seem to find a shadow when he needs a quick escape.
- The Lost Lenore: His girl is dead. Begin the revenge plot.
- Mage Species: The Sub Rosa are humans who are genetically predisposed towards magic. Magic only works for a human being if they are Sub Rosa. The one exception to this rule is alchemy. This type of magic is less about natural talent and more about Eye of Newt dialed up to eleven.
- Magic Items: Tons. From smart-ass Hellion coins that seem to know everything to objects that could destroy the entire universe, Munnin either has it laying around in his shop or knows where to find it. Not to mention a certain key tucked inside Stark's ribcage next to his heart.
- Nephilim: What Stark is and it's the reason why he's able to thrive in Hell. Humans are basically snacks in Hell.
- Noble Demon: James says there are a few in hell. Possibly Lucifer.
- No Man of Woman Born: It is said that the leader of the Gobah cannot be killed by any human, angel, Lurker, demon or Hellion. Stark notices that Nephilim isn't on that list and wisely deduces that his status as "an abomination" makes him the exception. It turns out he was right.
- Not Using the Zed Word: Stark and his people all refer to the walking dead as "High Plains Drifters", or just Drifters. Or Zeds. Or Zots.
- Omnicidal Maniac: Stark seriously considers destroying all of creation before ultimately deciding against it. Mason would've gone through with it.
- One-Man Army: Averted in Kill City Blues, Stark fights a couple of magic-using knife nuts in the mall and they utterly curbstomp him and his crew. It was so bad, that Stark was helpless to avoid getting tortured to the point where his rapid healing could barely keep him from falling on his face. In other books, he averts it too by usually fighting alongside one of his friends and rarely taking on more than 2 or 3-to-1 odds.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: A very strange case. Everybody called Stark Sandman Slim well before he ever heard the nickname. But he took it on with glee as time passed.
- Our Demons Are Different: There are the Hellions and then there are demons, which are more like general negative-elemental-hungriness-monstrosies from beyond.
- Our Liches Are Different: The Giestwalds bite their children at birth to become Death Born.
- Our Zombies Are Different: Zeds/Zots/High Plains Drifters/Zombies are the old fashioned mindless eating machines that shamble along, Laccuna are slightly more intelligent running zombies, Savants/Sapiens are intelligent and still retain a soul, and the Geistwalds are kinda like vampire-zombie-liches.
- Professional Killer: for one of Satan's generals — in between monster fighting in Hell for the amusement of the demonkind.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Mason tells this to Stark about why his former circlemates suck:Stark: You want to rule this world, a not particularly great place, so you can take over an even worse place? Is that basically it? That why you ruined me, killed Alice, and fucked over everyone who ever trusted you?
Mason: Firstly, fuck all those people who trusted me. Except for Parker, every one of them was greedy and then turned jellyfish the moment you stuck your nose out of the grave. I gave all of them their heart's desire and they folded the moment things got a little weird.
Stark: You didn't exactly give Kasabian his heart's desire.
Mason: Yeah, I did sort of screw him, didn't I? But admit it. There's the opposite of love at first sight. There are people walking the earth that the moment you meet them, you want to punch them and keep punching them.
- In response to the last one Stark basically goes "Ye-ep."
- A psychic drug called AKIRA
- Also, a warrior angel named Aelita
- "Stark", "Parker", and "Mason" are all references to the works of Donald E. Westlake
- Shoot the Dog: What Parker and Mason do to Alice and pretend to do to Vidocq and Allegra. Later Alice reveals that she shot herself in order to prevent Mason from sending her to Hell like Stark.
- Simplified Spellcasting: Stark describes this as being good at bluffing his way through spells (he doesn't use the word "bluff" though). His freedom to forego the technical aspects of magic has often earned him the envy, jealousy, fear and/or hatred of his fellow Sub Rosa.
- Spin-Offspring: Stark is apparently a descendant of Wild Bill Hickok.
- Stalker Shrine: When Stark goes back to hell and takes on the job of Lucifer, he finds a room Mason left that's filled with pictures of him, as well as the bodies of mutilated hellions. Stark realizes that Mason must have spent hours down there, torturing and slicing up Hellions while staring at pictures of him.
- Suicide by Cop: The reason why Hell wants to invade Heaven. They know the loyalist forces in Heaven will curbstomp them into oblivion in a matter of seconds, but staying in Hell is so depressing that the fallen angels look forward to this.
- The Stoner: The three other employees of Max Overdrive Video, so faceless to Stark that he just calls them Dude (insert adjective here).
- That Man Is Dead: Literally. Stark was in hell 11 years and declared dead legally after 7. However, he also dislikes all the nicknames he was called by before he was sent to hell. Also In Kill the Dead, this is what Angel!Stark says about human!Stark after getting bitten by a Drifter.
- To Hell with This Infernal Job: Samael arranges a confrontation between the titular protagonist and his nemesis for who will be Lucifer, so he can go home to Heaven.
- Too Awesome to Use: When Stark was the reigning Satan, he demanded guns from a wealthy devil worshipper. One of the guns he got was a "mare's leg" shotgun. Stark thought the gun was an amazing find and too precious for combat, so he stashed it in his collection instead.
- Weirdness Censor: Aelita's team tends to rationalize the stuff that happens, but people still see what they want to see.
- Whip Sword: The na'at is the Hellion version of this and Stark's weapon.
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Mason's revealed to have a pretty damn good Freudian Excuse in the third book. If Stark were to have followed through with his killswitch plan, he would've been one too.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: Vidocq characterizes the experiment that made him immortal as "an accident."
- Wound That Will Not Heal: Lucifer has one of these from when God gave him the boot.