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Thursday, 4 November 2010

Neil Gaiman's Sandman. An Overview

Recently, we reviewed Dream Country, the third collection of Neil Gaiman’s landmark ten-volume series The Sandman. Further volumes will be reviewed in due time but before that we present here a brief overview of which volumes are most suitable for new readers. Note, for the purposes of this post we are dealing only with the Sandman ten-volume series itself, ignoring the additional volumes produced in later years and the spin-offs (though again, the best of these will be reviewed here at a later date).

Each of the ten volumes can, in theory, be read in isolation but in practice a little foreknowledge of what you’re getting into might not be a bad thing.

The chronological sequence of the series is as follows:

Volume 1- Preludes & Nocturnes
Volume 2- The Doll’s House
Volume 3- Dream Country
Volume 4- Season of Mists
Volume 5- A Game Of You
Volume 6- Fables & Reflections
Volume 7- Brief Lives
Volume 8- World’s End
Volume 9- The Kindly Ones
Volume 10- The Wake

The books with hyperlinks are those we have reviewed already.  Click through to find the review.

The Short Stories
Three of the ten volumes of the series (Dream Country, Fables & Reflections and World’s End) are collections of short stories. The stories vary greatly in setting, tone and cast. Most of these stories take place at different points in history, shifting between real world settings and fantastic ones, some featuring the series’ regular characters whilst other feature new ones completely divorced from the ongoing narrative.

As with any collection of short stories you’ll find here short, punchy stories and lots of them, especially Fables & Reflections that contains nine separate stories across its 258 pages.

The (recommended) Full-Length Graphic Novels
The remaining volumes of the series are full-length graphic novels collecting complete story arcs of the series. As previously stated, full reviews will follow in time but here are some precis of the four full-length collections I recommend:

The Doll’s House follows the Sandman and a young woman called Rose Walker as they embark on separate but linked journeys: Sandman to gather up dreams that have escaped his kingdom, Rose to find her long lost brother. It also contains the short story “Men of Good Fortune”, an interesting story of Dream meeting a man he has made immortal for a drink once every hundred years.

Season Of Mists has the Sandman, through a complex series of events, unintentionally acquiring the leasehold on Hell, which is apparently a much desired bit of real estate. What follows is a massive conference of otherworldly powers wishing to take the burden off his shoulders, each for their own particular ends.

A Game Of You sees the inhabitants of an apartment building travelling into the recurring dreams of one of their number, mixing character drama with the high fantasy narrative of the dream world.

Brief Lives is a sort of supernatural road movie as Dream chaperones his youngest sister Delirium as she tries to find their long-missing brother Destruction.

New Readers… Please Don’t Start Here
The remaining three volumes are ones I would not recommend to the new reader. The first volume, Preludes & Nocturnes suffers from some tonal issues due to the fact that DC did not know where they wanted to go with their new mature readers series. There are more explicit links to DC’s superhero comics than in later volumes which feel forced as if the writer is trying to force The Sandman to interact with a completely incompatible world. In mitigation, the volume does include “The Sound of Her Wings”, the story which introduced Dream’s older sister Death, one of his better creations and one of the best short stories the writer produced for the series.

The final two volumes, The Kindly Ones and The Wake, I don’t recommend for a very different reason. While the previous eight volumes are best read in order (as with any series) they can be taken in isolation. As the end of the story, tying up all the loose ends, the final two volumes really are best read last, especially The Wake. Though, in an act of personal irony, The Wake was the first Sandman book I ever read, take that how you will.


  1. Fantastic post :P
    Exactly what I needed!

  2. As I think I said on the oher Sandman post, the fancy new revamped editions are absolutely gorgeous - if you're buying the books new, I'd recommend getting the new editions (as and when they're all released, anyway).