Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Sandman, Volumes 1 and 2 - Preludes and Nocturne and The Dolls House by Neil Gaiman

A month or so ago I read Preludes and Nocturnes, the first volume in  The Sandman series of graphic novels. I was somewhat underwhelmed by the experience which surprised me as I had heard so many good things about the series. Actually, that is probably underplaying it bit. I didn't really like it much at all. I thought it was too dark, too gruesome and too disjointed for me. However, I was determined to keep reading, at least for another couple of volumes for several reasons. One is that this series is so well received that there has to be something good about them. Two is that it is Gaiman, who I have a bit of a hit and miss reaction to and three, my library has all of this series* so I don't have to keep on requesting them via interlibrary loans like I do for the Fables series.

Today, I am planning to blog about both volume 1 and 2.

In Preludes and Nocturnes, we were introduced to the Master of Dreams also known as Morpheus or The Sandman. He has been captured and imprisoned for 70 years, which has caused various reactions around the world. There are some people who have never awoken from sleep but never dreaming and there are others who have tried to take his place using his powerful artifacts to various ends.

In the first episode/instalment/whatever I should call them, Sleep of the Just, we see how it is that Sandman came to be captured, what the implications were and how he escapes. We meet some of the characters that I now know will appear in future episodes, including in the second collection.

In Imperfect Hosts, Sandman has to try and rebuild his strength and so retreats to the dream world but he must also try and recover the three artifacts that he has created in order to rule over his realm. The three artifacts have been scattered over the world and Sandman must track them down and recover them before he will be anywhere near as strong as he was previously. Not everyone will be prepared to give them up willingly though.

In the next three episodes (Dream a Little Dream of Me, A Hope in Hell and Passengers) Sandman searches for the artifacts - a sand filled pouch, his helm and the Ruby of Dreams - taking him literally to hell and back where he has to fight to regain his helm. We also what the effect of owning these artifacts has had on the humans who have become the owners of these items - sufficed to say it isn't good!

The most disturbing of the instalments for me was 24 Hours, where John Dee (the man who was in possession of the ruby) takes control of 6 people who just happen to have all been inside a diner. At first, I thought this was going to be a pretty harmless chapter but how wrong could I be. Dee forces these people to endure much including depravity, deceit, violence and more. Having said that, when one of the people in this instalment was referenced in the next book I knew exactly who they were and what had happened to them, so you definitely can't say that it wasn't memorable.

I can't necessarily say the same about the final two episodes, Sound and Fury and The Sound of Her Wings. I do remember feeling some sense of vague hope in the way this volume ended.

I ended up giving this book a rating of 2.5/5

Right from the first episode in The Doll's House (volume 2), I felt as though I was going to enjoy this book more and so it proved to be. Maybe I was just in a more receptive mind set now than I was a few weeks ago or maybe this volume is a better representation of the series as a whole. Who knows! I guess I will just have to keep reading to see.

There are two stories that I absolutely loved in this collection, and the first story, Tales in the Sand, is one of those so it was a great way to hook the reader into the story.

The Sandman team take us far away from all the places we have been previously and instead of the dark and gloomy world most of the stories are set in we are in the African desert. Here an African man takes his grandson out into the desert in order to perform the rites of initiation that will make him a man. After performing circumcision, the boy is told the story of the forefathers, of a life in a beautiful and prosperous city which was ruled by Queen Nada. However, Nada fell in love with one of the Endless, a love that could not be allowed much like the love that we see between humans and gods in Greek mythology. As a result, the city is reduced to dust and the people have been forced to live in the desert ever since. At one point the old man tells the boy that this is the man's version of the story and that he has no doubt that the women tell their own version as part of their initiation but they can never know each others version. Made me wonder what the other version was!

In The Doll's House, we meet Rose Walker who is the main character in this collection other than The Sandman himself. She and her mother have been summonsed to England to meet a woman named Ursula they have never heard of and they don't know why.  It turns out that she is a vortex, an anomaly that has been caused as a result of Sandman's absence and by the fact that four of the major arcana in his realm are off doing their own things. We also learn that Rose's family history, specifically the fact that her young brother Jed has been missing for many years.

In the next episode, which is titled Moving In, Rose returns to America in order to search for her brother leaving her mother in the UK to look after Ursula. The house that she moves into has a very unusual set f residents and we get to know them as Rose does.We also find out what has been happening to Jed over the years.

In Playing House, we find out what two of the missing characters of the arcana have been up to in Sandman's absence, which is in effect creating their own superhero version of the Sandman, which doesn't please him in the slightest. We see events through the eyes of the wife of Hector (the fake) who has been living in what seems to be a timeless void for a couple of years, with nothing changing around her, not even her pregnancy.

The next episode, Men of Good Fortune, is my other favourite in this collection. It moves away from the main story arc. We are taking back to a medieval pub where a man sits telling his friends about how he is going to choose not to die. Sandman takes him up on this and promises to meet Hob again in the same pub in one hundred years time and this continues on through the following centuries. Some times Hob is doing well for himself, and other times he is down on his luck but he is always at that pub on the exact day. I loved how you could quite clearly identify where in time we were with just a few words, or by the secondary characters (for example, Chaucer and Shakespeare). I just realised that my two favourite stories were actually outside the main story arc. Not sure what that says about me.

Back to the main story arc and Rose is on the trail of her brother in Collectors. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances she finds herself staying in the same hotel as a serial killer convention. This is a dark chapter, but it is fun as Gaiman and co poke fun at the convention scene in lots of ways.

After returning from the convention hotel, we are back in Rose's room in Into the Night. Despite being very tired she cannot sleep without dreaming, but the same is true of the other occupants of the house. We see into their dreams, their true desire dreams. Most of them were pretty much as you would imagine but one that I loved was that of Chantal who has fallen in love with a sentence, but now she cannot read it. So out there!

In the final story, Lost Hearts, we get to the final scenes between Sandman and Rose. He knows that he must destroy the vortex in order to save the world from destruction and that means that Rose must die. He doesn't believe that there is any other way despite the best efforts of one of the other arcana and Ursula. We also find out why Rose has become the vortex in the first place.

Overall, this collection was much, much better for me. There was a better balance between the dark and gloomy parts and the other parts. I will be interested to see if I continue to like the asides more than the main stories. Maybe part of the reason for that is that those stories need to be more fully contained in each individual issue rather than being able to finish them off in later issues.

I gave this a rating of 4/5

*Turns out volume 3 was declared 'lost' a month ago so I have had to request that one via ILL. Hopefully all the rest will be there for me.

Other artists for Preludes and Nocturnes include Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Todd Klein and Karen Berger.

Other artists for The Doll's House include Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Steve Parkhouse, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli and Todd Klein


  1. I'm also making my way through these and they definitely are getting better and more involved as they go along. I guess it takes a little time to build up the characters.
    I thought the serial convention was brilliant!
    Lynn :D

    1. When t first started mentioning cereal I was expecting farmers but did laugh once I got it!

  2. Too dark and too gruesome...that was pretty much my experience! I think I made about four volumes before deciding it was all a bit too twisted for my taste. I do remember liking the story with Hob though! That may have been my favorite...

    1. It will be interesting to see how the next couple of books in the series work for me.

  3. Too bad the first one was not that great. Despite the second being better, I'm not sure these are for me.

  4. I really must read on in these...

  5. I really liked Hobbs' tale as well! And found John Dee pretty horrifying .. but the complexity of the world always draws me back in, even when I've been put off by some aspect of it.