The Kindly Ones encompasses the direct consequences of the earlier volume, Brief Lives. In Brief Lives, Lord Morpheus (Dream) changes, for better or for worse. The actions that lead to such change must have ramifications, and The Kindly Ones details such repercussions.
In The Kindly Ones, Lyta Hall, a character who has made sporadic appearances throughout The Sandman series, is convinced that Dream has stolen her baby, Daniel. She goes to the women known as the Kindly Ones for vengeance, and even she couldn’t predict the outcome.
Making use of virtually every character in The Sandman mythos, The Kindly Ones is a truly epic tale that brings us to a point in Dream’s existence that would seem, based upon Brief Lives, inevitable. At times The Kindly Ones gets a bit muddled and verbose, but in the end, it was all worth it.
I’ve had the privilege of reading The Sandman series in completion and for the first time in the last few months, and The Kindly Ones is testament to the genius of Neil Gaiman. I don’t know if it was on purpose or a happy accident, but The Kindly Ones makes use of virtually every storyline preceding it and concludes such a mammoth story … it’s nearly unimaginable someone could dream up such a story.
My only suggestion: skip the introduction and read it after you finish The Kindly Ones. It does reveal a fairly major plot point, which, upon retrospect seems obvious, but even so, I would have liked to have avoided the introduction’s cataclysmic revelation.