It's been seven years since Richard Kadrey blew the lid off urban fantasy with Sandman Slim, a fresh, funny, mean and dirty supernatural hard-boiled revenge story like no other. Now, with the publication of book seven, The Perdition Score, Kadrey forces his antihero to confront his fiercest-ever opponent: his own violent nature.

As as I said in my review of the previous Sandman Slim book, Kadrey spent half a decade playing chicken with himself, putting James "Sandman Slim" Stark in ever-greater peril, with ever-higher stakes, until the very fabric of reality was riding on his shoulders.

But with Perdition Score, Kadrey focuses the action inward, on Stark's problems with himself — his uncontrollable violent urges, his fears for the people around him, his self-recriminations. At the same time, Stark's gone legit, having joined the elites of the supernatural underworld, both elevated and doomed to endless bureaucracy with people whose company enrages him.

But there's still use for his unique, violent talents: Stark is hunting down the representatives of Wormwood, the cabal of weird 1 percenters who have financialized the entire spirit realm, and who distort it endlessly in their quest to accumulate power. When a dying angel bequeaths Stark a vial of strange liquid called "black milk," and coughs out his last warning him of a war in heaven, Stark knows that Wormwood must be behind it.

Though this book only has half as much violence as any of the other volumes, it has at least double the tension. After 7 years with James Stark, I've come to root for him, to like him, and to worry for him. The idea of James Stark being his own worst enemy is perfectly believable and immediately recognizable. Though Stark's inner (literal) demons put most of ours to shame, the war he wages against them utterly familiar and scarier than any challenge he'll face in the world.

Though the book takes Stark to hell and worse, risks the lives of everyone he loves, and features some of the most epic battles ever written by Richard Kadrey, a master of the form, it's this internal struggle that kept me reading right through to the last page.

Previous reviews: Sandman Slim, Kill the Dead, Aloha From Hell, Devil Said Bang, Kill City Blues, The Getaway God, Killing Pretty.

The Perdition Score [Richard Kadrey/Harper Voyager]