Dead Set by Richard Kadrey *spoilers*

I’m not sure there is a whole lot I can say about Dead Set that has not already been said by other reviewers or  Kadrey’s fans, but I’ll try to say something.  From a quick Google search to make sure I was not entirely delusional, there is a definite Alice in Wonderland feel to the piece. By feel, I mean it seems to follow large chunks of Carrol’s story as a map guide. There is the swallowing of a pill – a candy given to Zoe during a metaphysical trip to Iphigine (apologies for any spelling mistakes, as I’m going from memory on them). There is a travel down a rabbit’s hole, as Zoe physically wanders through the sewers to make a literal, physical trip to the land of the dead. There is bizarre, dream like landscapes, twisted and contorted, as well as human/animal hybrids, and strange malformations. There is angry queen who rules over the land, who Zoe must take on and defeat in a far more literal and violent fashion than Carrol provided us.

This is not a bad thing. I am not saying it is derivative, but Kadrey fits himself in nicely with the history of of stories of people journeying to distant, fantastic lands (think Gulliver. think road novels.) and coming back changed, grown, to see the world differently, usually for the better. The journey Zoe takes allows her to move past the death of her father, who she saves, along with pretty much everyone else, in Iphigine, and to connect again with her mother, to push past the barriers constructed by their grief and loss. She does not just view her mother differently, though. Returning from her trip to the dead, from defeating a queen, she approaches life more confidently. She has less fear. She sees people as people instead of as groups of definable types, as she was prone to do earlier in the novel when she began her first days at a new school.  For the first time since her father’s death, perhaps in her life (who knows – the novel doesn’t specify, though she at least had a couple of friends from her previous school), she is able to not just seemingly connect with a person or two at arm’s distance, but to welcome them into her life whatever the repercussions may be (even liking them).

where I think the novel succeeds most gloriously is its portrayal of Zoe’s mother. Here is not a willfully neglectful parent. The newly single mother concentrating solely on her new life, leaving her daughter to fend for herself.  No, the mother is portrayed as a mother, albeit one who is suddenly confronted with a myriad of difficult choices and conflicting priorities, who is doing the damned best she can. And her daughter is really not very helpful being so closed off. This provides one of the few tripping points I had with the novel, though. Instead of allowing the mother to just trust her daughter at the end, when she is given this spectacular story of why and where she’d been for a week, Zoe must have proof. And gets it with a polaroid of the vengeful son seeking retribution for Zoe having killed his mother, the queen. A final physical confrontation between the two? Fine, I guess. It’s needed. But it felt a bit tacked on, a bit unnecessary. And Zoe having to have proof to convince her mother she had t old the truth weakens the mother a bit, right at the end when it was most unnecessary. But then adults are supposed to be ineffective and somewhat impotent in these stories. If they were not, then there would be no coming of age, no growing up, for the main characters.

All in all, it’s a good read. It’s a bit of a departure from the hard, nasty fun of Kadrey’s Sandman novels, but clearly exists within the same universe, the same dimensional tear in the literary world. It would not have surprised me a bit to have had Sandman Slim appear from the broken mirror rather than the sun, and then the queen would have met a much different fate.


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