* Warning: This review, like all my reviews, contains spoilers. In fact, I talk about the big reveals and the ending in detail so if you don't want anything ruined don't read this.
This was my forth encounter with the masterfully created Sandman and it has been the best encounter yet. The plot is on par with the first volume which introduced us to Morpheus and provided a decent amount of his background and the other characters here are the most fascinating I've seen so far.
It begins with a meeting of the Endless and we get to see Morpheus' interactions with the other members of his family- Death (whom we've seen in previous volumes and know that Morpheus is closest to), Desire, Delirium, Despair and for the first time Destiny who is so intriguing that I could happily read volumes upon volumes on just him and the endless tales contained in that book of his. It's a brief encounter but it wets the appetite so well that one can't help but pray that the upcoming volumes of the series will go into a lot more details about these fascinating characters.
Anyway, back to the plot: Death confronts her brother about an action he took ten thousand years ago in which he sentenced an ex-girlfriend of his to an eternity in hell (full story of the worst break-up ever contained in volume 2). After telling him that it was a pretty rotten thing to do he concludes he's gotta get her out of there so off to hell he goes.
The stakes are high as the last time he was there (Volume 1) he had an encounter with a demon that lead to him showing off a bit and angering Lucifer so he goes in expecting to find a seriously pissed off Satan waiting for him. He is shocked to find Hell all but empty and Lucifer closing all the gates explaining that he's done with the whole thing. Why? Well, seems he didn't really like the role that his creator put him in and after so much time was tired of it all so he decided to turn in his wings and try spending some time on earth, taking a vacation from the whole thing. Why Dream coming to spring his ex from the eternal slammer catalyzes this departure I couldn't say, but Destiny seems to know. Lucifer hands Dream the key to hell before his departure, leaving our MC with a lot more than he bargained for.
Demons, Fairies, Order and Chaos, Odin and his sons and a pair of angels from heaven come knocking on his door as soon as he's arrived back in the dreaming (his kingdom) pursuing various goals, most surrounding a quest to obtain the key and use it for their own ends. There's never been a piece of real estate more sought after and the stakes are pretty high, especially since one of the demons kidnapped the ex-girlfriend Dream had sought in the first place.
A banquet is held and then Dream invites each visitor to talk with him one on one plead their case. These characters come from a pantheon of myths, archaic scriptures, and other comics and point to so many other series I couldn't name them all. Each one is pretty fascinating in their own right and I found myself feeling poorly read for having little to no prior knowledge of them- but I get the feeling someone well-versed in mythology would be giddy with all the references.
A free-standing chapter shows the devastating consequences of hell's now homeless damned returning to earth and provides us with the title of this tome by way of the mist that covers everything with all these spirits roaming around wreaking havoc on the living and giving Death so much work she can't keep up with it. I found myself wanting more detail about this particular element of things and I hope future volumes will at least reference it.
Back in the dreaming Morpheus is sparred the ultimate decision, thankfully for him, when the angels observing everything get an order from the almighty to take over in Lucifer's place since he wants people from his organization to continue running things. A final encounter with the demon who kidnapped Dream's ex proves anticlimactic and he has a final goodbye with her during which we find out that she was kept prisoner not by his will but by the same internal belief that kept all the other souls there: the idea that they deserve it.
From a theological perspective this was the most fascinating concept of the whole thing- seeing Lucifer as a rather simple angel waiting for his creator to allow him to leave rather than an all-powerful tyrant happily torturing the occupants of his kingdom and seeking out souls "like a fishwife come market day" as he explains it. The chapter in which Lucifer tells of his downfall and time in hell is by far the best one of the entire volume and I find myself seriously thinking about looking into the Lucifer series once I'm done with this one.
The last chapter wraps things up with the demons and the damned returning to hell to resume things as they were but finding that the new sheriffs in town run things a bit differently than their previous landlord. The implications of the new system of pain as a payment for redemption are staggering and leave one wanting a follow up as to how this new system will be working ten thousand years from now. And Lucifer's last shot is sort-of staggering- the devil's due never looked so good.
All in all, this may be my favorite volume of one of the most amazing series I've ever read. I'm thrilled to pieces that he returned to a more traditional novel format after the short stories of the previous volume and I can't wait to read the next one. In fact, I'm starting it right now.