“Devil in the Dollhouse” by Richard Kadrey (2012)
In the timeline of the Sandman Slim series by Richard Kadrey, this is designated as number 3.5 since it comes after the third book in the series, Aloha From Hell and before Devil Said Bang, the fourth book. The story happens three days after the end of Aloha From Hell, and finds Stark trying to, literally, survive his first days as the new Lucifer and King of Hell.
Stark refers to his predecessor as Lucifer 1.0 so I’ll continue with that to keep it simple. There Stark is, sitting in Lucifer 1.0’s office, when two spies appear and tell him that in order to solidify his position as the new Lucifer, Stark needs to complete a quest that Lucifer was about to begin before he managed to return to Heaven. Though he has no real desire to pursue the quest, he agrees, and “Devil in the Dollhouse” becomes a kind of quest tale and eventually presents with a figure that maybe is supposed to resemble the Fisher King, or at least Hell’s version of it. Stark’s mission is to make his way to Henoch Breach, a kind of waste land fraught with perilous trials that he must overcome to reach his destination–which is to destroy the monsters who live there and exist as nightmares for Hellions. As he moves toward his destination, Stark must go through a series of “rings”–one of fire, one of regret–and then he must also successfully survive the monsters and reach the fortress where the father of the horrible monsters the Hellions fear resides. On his quest he is given a guide, Geryon, who is a scholar and is able to tell Stark the myths and origins of Henoch Breach.
The witty, snarky and sarcastic tone of Stark’s first person narration is very much present, though there does seem to be something missing–maybe that’s because this is a short story and there’s not enough “space” to give everything more depth. Though, I love the way the Stark starts to tell his story. “Hi. I’m the Devil. No, Seriously.” I also really like the way the story ends, which I won’t spoil here but it definitely makes you wonder how or if this little episode will affect Stark in the novels that follow. Ultimately, I think this short story is an interesting glimpse into what Stark’s new life as “Lucifer 2.0” will be like, what struggles he’ll have to deal with if he ever intends to make it back topside and how he was finally accepted as the new Lucifer and not just a pretender to the King of Hell’s throne. It’s worth your time if you like this series.