One day, a long time ago, God decided to destroy the world. Not everyone thought that was an especially good idea, but when God sends a Flood there isn’t much time for disagreement. Fortunately for us and unfortunately for Him, us pesky humans survived and went on to irritate another day. The second time God tried to destroy the world He sent an angel to do His murderous bidding, and yet again the plan fizzled out. The angel lost the box with the key to destroying the world and humanity scraped by.
Cut to thousands of years later in glitzy, grimy Los Angeles. Coop, a petty criminal with an immunity to magic, is back-stabbed by his ghostly robbery partner and he ends up in a black site jail for magical criminals. His former BFF Morty Ramsey pulls some strings and gets Coop out early, but only in exchange for doing a job for mercurial gangster Mr. Babylon. All Coop wants to do is forget his jail time, eat pizza, and rekindle his relationship with his ex-girlfriend Giselle, but fate has other ideas. When the heist predictably goes bad, Coop is forcibly recruited by Giselle’s bosses at the Department of Peculiar Science to steal the stolen box back. And, of course, that heist goes badly as well so Giselle pulls some strings to get him hired by DOPS so he can set up yet another heist… well, you get the picture.
Meanwhile two cults compete with each other to steal the box and undermine bake sales, a Stranger wanders the countryside killing people and mooching sandwiches, and the perpetually unlucky Angel of Office Supplies tries not to mind the fact that he sleeps in an abandoned zoo. Coop is the only one who wants absolutely nothing to do with the blasted box, which makes him the epicenter of the chaos. Through kidnappings, heists gone awry, and schemes to out-scheme other schemes, Coop and his motley crew of low-level filchers have to do something about that damn box whether they want to or not.
Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series has been on my to-read pile for ages, and reading after The Everything Box it has rapidly risen in the queue. The story starts off simple enough but quickly spirals out of control with hilarious results. Pretty much everyone wants the box but no one knows what it contains or what it really does besides being involved in setting off the end of days. The angel who lost it has spent the intervening millennia with an on-the-fritz map that’s supposed to guide him to the box’s location. A mysterious stranger with devastating powers seeks the box for his own nefarious purposes. Two separate and warring suburbanite doomsday cults each want the box so they can trigger the apocalypse as dictated by their gods. DOPS is after the box to use it as a powerful weapon. And a gaggle of criminals want to sell it for extortionate amounts of money.
There are many ways a book like this could go wrong. The characters could be boring or insipid, the story asinine or so dense and complicated that it’s impossible to follow. The ending could fizzle out or rely too much on loose strings to set up the sequel. Or worse, it could be terribly or offensively unfunny. The Everything Box soars past all those possible detractions. It’s a wacky, wonderful, weird little book that is instantly recognizable but wholly original. If you’re as much of a pop culture nerd as an SFF geek, everything in The Everything Box will remind you of something else—Jinx Town is basically Neverwhere by way of Angel’s Wolfram & Hart, the Stranger smells strongly of Anton Chigurh, and the general plot is a cross between early seasons of Supernatural and Ocean’s Eleven.
There’s plenty of room for Kadrey to easily turn this standalone into a series. The worldbuilding is cracking and the cast is large enough to keep everyone busy. Magic is the through line here. Since Coop can’t cast spells and is immune to curses, the plot doesn’t depend on magic so much as use it as a worldbuilding tool. Mystical creatures abound—DOPS and Jinx Town are chockablock with vampires, zombies, ghosts, angels, demons, and a host of other wicked things that go bump in the night—but Kadrey never lets the quirk overwhelm the story or turn into a deus ex machina. The downsides to having so many characters on the page is that it both makes the plot imminently more complicated and limits the amount of time dedicated to getting to know each character. Giselle, Bayliss (one of the DOPS agents assigned to supervise Coop), and Morty could stand for a little more development, especially given how much of the story hinges on them. As it stands, they’re too paper thin to get terribly invested in their welfare.
As funny as The Everything Box is, I’d rather have fewer long jokes and more character development. When Kadrey slips into joke mode it can be hard to get him back to the plot. Occasionally a joke would drag on way past the point of being funny and just keep going. Most of his jokes land and keep the story rolling, so it’s not a huge problem, but it can be tiresome. Also would’ve liked to see more diversity in the characters, but at least gender is wonderfully handled. The many women characters have rich inner lives, are never fridged or damseled, and aren’t reduced to the Strong Female Character trope.
The Everything Box is in the same playground as How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe and Redshirts. If you’re feeling the classics, it shares the same genes as Good Omens and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Or to tie it to something a little more recent and similar: Adam Christopher’s Made to Kill, another oddball, genre-bending romp through an alternate SFF Los Angeles. The Everything Box is a frenetic story with a plot like layers of an onion—betrayals upon betrayals, deceptions upon deceptions, schemes upon schemes, kidnappings upon kidnappings—and is an absolute delight to consume.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Kadrey. I read a lot, much of it for work but a goodly amount for pleasure. I don’t always like what I read, but I plow through it anyway. With The Everything Box, I looked forward to every chance I got to indulge in a few chapters. It was a fun, fresh take on a stale trope and had me smiling from start to finish.
The Everything Box is available now from HarperCollins.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.