Pro: fantastic story, fantastic characterisation, many guest appearances.
Con: does not stand alone, must be read in conjunction with other volumes for full appreciation
I came late to Sandman. When I finally got tired of muscle-bound, spandex-clad Americans beating each other up I started off reading Preacher and then on to Sandman. Even then I started with The Wake (volume 10).
The Kindly Ones is the largest volume and arguably the most affecting. To me it is the climax of the saga, with The Wake being more of an epilogue that an actual chapter.
If you disregard the various culs-de-sac The Kindly Ones is about Morpheus (the Sandman), Lyta Hall, her son Daniel and the eponymous Kindly Ones.
In previous volumes Morpheus, king of dreams, was imprisoned for decades. While he was gone a man took on the mantle of being Sandman. He was married to Lyta and fathered Daniel. When Morpheus returned the pretender died and Morpheus said Daniel was his since he was born “in dreams”.
In this volume Lyta goes on her first “date” in years and returns to find Daniel gone. You must understand that Daniel has been her entire world for so long. She snaps.
Then ensues a mixed hallucinatory/supernatural journey where she meets various incarnations of the Kindly Ones (who might be The Norns or The Fates, depending on your mythology professor) and tries to enlist their aid against Morpheus, whom she blames.
Bear in mind that every being, no matter how powerful, is subject to the Kindly Ones (perhaps with the exception of Death, but that’s a philosophical debate). If Lyta Hall succeeds in activating them it could spell serious trouble for Morpheus and his kingdom, The Dreaming.
The execution of this story is as near-flawless as any narrative you’ve ever read. The cast of “extras” includes Lucifer, Loki, Puck, Odin, Tatiana, and more. Thessaly, the witch, is at her most chilling and most human.
The sorrow, the emotion drips off each page and you see Morpheus not as the embodiment of dreams, but as a “man” bound by his own traditions and customs, searching for a solution, a way out. The desperation is evident mostly in Morpheus and Lyta Hall.
The art deserves particular mention. It is stylised, superb and appropriate. I have had days when I just flipped through the pages of this book without reading the words.
1. First, something you must not do: for the love of all that is holy do not read the introduction by Frank McConnell until you have finished reading the book.
2. Sandman, The Kindly Ones is book 9 of 10. If you haven’t read 1-8 you may find a lot of things going over your head. I’m not saying you can’t follow if this is the first Sandman volume you read, but I can guarantee it will be less rewarding.
Neil Gaiman has done a great thing here. Be part of it.
Summary: You have “much to gain, nothing to lose”. Read It.