“If any of Julie’s youthful illusions had survived her twenties, they were gone now, eaten alive by the realization in six months, she’d be thirty-one, still with nothing to show but liver damage, debt, and frozen dinners in an ice box that worked only half the year.”
Cassandra Khaw teams up with Sandman Slim author Richard Kadrey for The Dead Take the A Train, their new urban dark fantasy set in a riotous, magic-infused New York City. Khaw and Kadrey are a match made in hell, spawning horrific gods and demons who run amok in the rotten core of the Big Apple.
Freelance magic operative, Julie Crews, is a coked-up whirlwind of chaos, whose self-destructive tendencies are matched only by the unbridled mayhem she brings to her commissions. As the novel opens, Julie executes an anarchic job at a bachelorette party featuring a possessed bride-to-be who gives new meaning to the word bridezilla.
Despite her proven track record taking on the dirtiest, most dangerous jobs in a demon-infested New York, thirtysomething Julie can’t seem to get ahead in her career or social standing. It doesn’t help that her ex-lover, Tyler, takes credit for their work and is climbing the corporate ladder at a prestigious, deep-pocketed Wall Street-type firm.
Julie decides to summon a guardian angel to help pull her life together and advance her career. But the angel is actually a shapeshifting elder god bent on bringing global annihilation in a New York minute.
The Dead Take the A Train serves as a scathing satire of American capitalism, as Khaw and Kadrey skewer Wall Street culture and its obsession with climbing the corporate ladder. In many ways, The Dead Take the A Train feels like a nightmarish dark fantasy take on The Wolf of Wall Street. But at its core, the novel is also a feminist tale of a strong woman who accepts no nonsense as she blasts herself at the corporate glass ceiling.
The Dead Take the A Train also reminds me a bit of Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami, both dark fantasies that feature horrific creatures hidden beneath the surfaces of London and Tokyo, respectively. Compared to these novels, Khaw and Kadrey have moved the action to New York and significantly amped up both the horror and hysterics.
The Dead Take the A Train is a fast-paced madhouse of mayhem combining the best of Kadrey’s thrillers with Khaw’s gruesome Lovecraftian horror. It’s also blisteringly funny, striking the perfect balance between humor and horror. The writing flows smoothly throughout the novel, with Khaw and Kadrey finding a common voice that perfectly suits the irreverent nature of the tale. My only complaint is that the novel feels too long, and the plot could have been tightened up in several places.
Overall, The Dead Take the A Train is a blast and highly recommended for dark fantasy and horror fans looking for a good time. The story will continue with Khaw and Kadrey’s next volume of their Carrion City duology.
Review originally published at Grimdark Magazine.