Butcher Bird: A Novel Of The Dominion
by Richard Kadrey
Review by Drew Bittner
Night Shade Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781597800860
Date: 15 July 2007 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
When Spyder Lee falls afoul of a demon in his favorite San Francisco watering hole, that should be the end of things right there. Lucky for him (sort of), he's rescued by the blind swordswoman Shrike... but soon finds that reality is not what he thinks it is. Angels fly above streets crowded with freaks and monsters, while smirking creatures in black business suits trade for pieces of living bodies.
His eyes have been opened to The Truth--and he wants them shut again, fast.
The only way to do that is to find Shrike and help her with a mission. Oh, and by the way, that entails a little trip through imaginary territories to the gateway into Hell itself.
Nothing any hero wouldn't give his left arm to do. Except that Spyder's no hero, he's just a tattoo artist in over his head, surviving (barely) by his wits and falling in love with a girl who just may be a princess from a fairy tale--if fairy tale princesses made their livings as hired killers, that is.
Such is Butchers Bird by Richard Kadrey. This is a lightning-fast, high octane freefall from normality into some very strange places, most of which are only tenuously linked to the real world.
Spyder is a streetwise twenty-something with a checkered past and a collection of friends, including his partner Lulu. Once his eyes are opened to the wider world, he sees that Lulu is in trouble with the Black Clerks. Much like the Agents in The Matrix, the Clerks cannot be stopped or even hurt, and any deal made with them involves selling off parts of yourself--body and soul--bit by bit until there's nothing left. Lulu is nearing her last few payments and Spyder jumps in to help out... then realizes he may have done something colossally stupid.
He seeks out Shrike and promises to help her with a commission if she can help him with his new debt to the Clerks. That may be a jump from the frying pan into the fire; Shrike has agreed to retrieve a book for Madame Cinders, an ancient, decrepit creature who claims to be the book's rightful guardian--before it was stolen from her by someone Shrike knows only too well.
And where is the book now? In Hell. Literally.
After rescuing Lulu from a murderous band of Spyder's former friends, the three set out for Hell with help from Madame Cinders' loyal servant Primo and the enigmatic Count Non. Their path won't be an easy one, however, as factions from every corner of the supernatural world want the book for themselves.
Their quest leads to some strange alliances, tragic losses and an epiphany for Spyder and Shrike both... as well as some treacherous bargains and a reckoning long overdue.
Kadrey has a flair for odd juxtapositions--the surreal co-existing with the ordinary in modern San Francisco, for instance--and his characters are complex, sometimes flawed but thoroughly interesting. Nothing is ever easy, though there are rewards and things found that may replace what's lost.
Readers looking for a novel experience (no pun intended) will find Kadrey's heroes and their journey well worth sharing.