The Short Version: Lucifer abdicates his throne in Hell and closes up shop, giving the keys to Morpheus – who is then beset by emissaries from just about every pantheon (except the Greeks), asking to be given control of Hell. Lucifer heads to the beach.
The Review: I get the sense that, when Mr. Gaiman came up with all of these plots, he was laughing. Again, not out of any particularly funny thing… but out of enjoyment. Lucifer on the Australian beach at the end of this novel is a pitch-perfect moment that you have to laugh at. The Devil, having given up his throne, watching the sunset and saying “the sunsets are bloody marvelous, you old bastard” to God? It makes you want to shake your head with a laugh, does it not? It’s brilliant.
Other things that are brilliant: the entirety of this novel. Self-contained, again, but also broadening the scope of things. We see a “family meeting” of The Endless – which is cool and a little terrifying, actually. Delirium – what the hell happened to her? There’s something about seeing that “family meeting” that opened something in my brain that feels like I’m right on the edge of some sort of Lovecraftian gibbering mind-blowing understanding that will crush my mortal soul because it’s just too big to be encompassed by my brain.
…I hope that isn’t too weird of a sentiment. But screw it, man – we’re talking about The Sandman here and we are well and truly in it now. If you aren’t already onboard by the time you get to this volume, there’s no hope for you. You’re expected to know what’s come before – and there are no concessions for entry-level readers. We’re talking callbacks to things that happened a while ago – and Gaiman drops them in subtly, just to remind us that that plot’s still happening… but then he is away again, off to the big action. It’s enough to make you wonder what might’ve happened if he’d been in charge of, say, LOST. Just throwing that one out there.
Genuinely, I enjoyed the machinations of the plot this time around. I was curious to see how it would all get resolved and a little palace intrigue is always enjoyable. I will admit to being genuinely surprised at Lucifer’s gambit – because I didn’t understand it. I still don’t, to be honest. Is he REALLY just hanging out on a sodding beach? Was his idea of torment for Morpheus simply to make sure everyone was banging down his door? I wonder if there was something greater involved here…. and so I was thinking about it the whole time, hunting for clues, etc. I also liked the way that religion was, in general, handled. I like the mythic quality of God/Lucifer stories – but I also like that there are other universes running co-dependently with ours. That the Norse and Egyptian and Greek, etc etc, gods are all not mutually exclusive with the Roman Catholic tradition. The universe is way more fun that way, anyway.
Speaking of, the mini-Ragnarok that Odin had created… interesting to see The Sandman himself pop up again – and interesting to hear Odin’s mention of things creating themselves out of nothing. Things that he did not put into that bubble universe were there nonetheless – which could set off an entire philosophical discussion! But here, Gaiman believes his readers are smart enough to think about it on their own – or ignore it at their leisure. It shows a remarkable respect for the readership of these stories as well as an incredible intellect in the creation thereof. It’s the rarest of literary talents that can plant an idea and then walk away – and feel satisfied leaving it there.
Rating: 5 out of 5. A strong story, interesting character developments, strange and oblique tangents that nonetheless hold up on their own (another mid-novel digression to see some of the back-to-life dead nearly stopped the momentum of the story but also, at the same time, held up as its own entity), and so much cool stuff. I’m a sucker for old gods and I’m a sucker for the idea of a library that has books never written or only written in dreams. HOW COOL IS THAT? The Man Who Was October sounds like my kind of novel.