Dead Set by Richard Kadrey wasn’t what I expected.
The basic plot summary is very much in keeping with Kadrey’s métier:
A teenage girl starts having strange dreams after her father dies. She’s in turmoil, she and her mom fallen on hard times, their life turned upside down. She discovers a record store with a room full of records which contain the lives of dead people… including her father’s. There’s an imaginary brother she relies on who only appears to her in dreams, and an underground world full of dead people, monsters and myth.
It’s the kind of dark, fantastical setting Kadrey is so good at. Literally underground, too, like most of his settings. Dead Set gives us a compelling main character, a satisfying story, and takes on important themes.
So, too, Dead Set has all the attitude and swagger, the sense of outsiderness, and it drips with a punk aesthetic.
So far—typical Kadrey.
But Dead Set is written with a markedly different tone than much of his other work. Kadrey’s Sandman Slim novels and books like The Everything Box are black comedies, overtly humorous, even ridiculous: Douglas Adams meets Clive Barker, in a James Ellroy setting, with a strong vein of snark running through it.
Dead Set isn’t a comedy. There’s no snark. What Kadrey delivers in this novel is a sincerity and an earnestness which caught me off guard.
Moreover, the teenage female protagonist puts this work into the realm of YA fiction—I can easily picture teenagers reading and relating to this book.
Sincerity and earnestness suit Kadrey just as well as snark and grim comedy. It’s rather wonderful to see him take on such a different writing style and pull it off. It’s a testament to his talent.