Title: Butcher Bird
Author: Richard Kadrey
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Be quiet. It’s not necessary to fill every moment with your own voice. Silence terrifies you. You see your own existence as so tenuous that you’re afraid you’ll pop like a bubble if, at every opportunity, you don’t remind the world that you’re alive. But wisdom begins in silence. In learning to listen. To words and to the world. Trust me. You won’t disappear. And, in time, you might find that you’re grown into something unexpected. (p. 126)
In Butcher Bird I read many of the themes which make the Sandman Slim series so interesting.
It’s more than “what is real”. It’s about what happens when reality shifts and the way through is to accept things are scary different from our expectations.
One of the things I consistently enjoy in Kadrey’s work is the way he reconfigures religious myths.
in Butcher Bird, tattoo artist Spyder Lee lives a life he enjoys. He hangs out with his best friend and tattoo partner at their favorite bar, getting drunk and being raucous. He has a solid reputation for his tattoos and shop. But one night, Spyder steps outside to relieve himself and a demon tries to bite his head off.
Yes, literally bite his head off. And then a blind woman steps in and saves his life. Now Spyder can see the demons and monsters humans aren’t supposed to notice.
The key to this particular fight is one of Spyder’s tattoos. It’s a symbol he thought looked cool and didn’t know the meaning of, which calls the demon to him.
Then Spyder discovers that his best friend, Lulu, isn’t what she appears to be and he is really screwed. And in order to put everything back into some semblance of order, Spyder goes on a quest with Shrike, the woman who saved him.
I love a good quest story, and this one has great payoffs. Quests, on the surface, are about going from here to there in order to solve a problem, usually saving the world. Quests are also about confronting ourselves, our beliefs and what we thought we knew about everything.
Butcher Bird has everything a good quest story should have; unexpected blessings and obstacles, fights (sword play or something similar), evil (in this case in the shape of demons and monsters), tricksters, love, and a drive to put things right.
Reading Butcher Bird while in the midst of the Sandman Slim series, gave me a richer experience, because I already knew what Kadrey was up to. That appeals to the historian in me.