James Stark has escaped Hell after 11 long years confined to its depths, fighting in the arena for the twisted amusement of Hell’s denizens. He’s back in Los Angeles, a hell in its own right, and he is *ahem* hell-bent (sorry, I had to) on getting revenge on the man who sent him to Hell in the first place.
I’m on the fence about whether or not I liked this book. Conceptually, it was good. Brand new, interesting system of magic, demons, angels, the battle between Heaven and Hell. The world building was definitely intriguing. But – and if you’ve ever read this blog, you probably know what’s coming – James Stark was a jerk. And it was not OK.
In my last review, I wrote about how Miriam Black in Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig was not a likable character, but that was fine because she wasn’t meant to be. I don’t think this was Kadrey’s intention with James Stark. I think the reader was supposed to believe that Stark turned out the way he did due to the horrors he endured in Hell. Perhaps we were supposed to be sympathetic. Except the way Stark acted didn’t inspire sympathy, for me it inspired annoyance. Sure I could believe being trapped in Hell for eleven years made him unwilling to trust and want his own way. I could buy that he didn’t want to work with the denizens of Heaven. But he didn’t listen to anyone, ever. Not even his friends. In fact, he went out of his way to be an ass towards his friends – and not for any sort of supposedly noble reason, like he wanted to protect them. Nope, he was just a jerk who decided no rules applied to him.
I think the problem with Stark was that we, as readers, didn’t know him well enough to get behind him acting this way. If, for example, this was the third book in the series, and we were totally invested in Stark and believed in him, it would have been fine that he flaunted the rules and did as he pleased. But we barely knew Stark, aside from the fact that he stole cars whenever he pleased and indirectly got his girlfriend killed. It was too soon for these sort of actions from the protagonist.
Two and a half stars for this book. Almost three. It was a surprisingly tough choice because I wanted to like this book. I did like the world building. But when you don’t like the person telling the story, its distracting and obviously makes the book less enjoyable. I don’t know if I’ll read the next book or not. Maybe once I get a little farther through the 900+ books on my To-Read list.