The Dirty Streets of Heaven, by Tad Williams (review + giveaway!)

dirtystreetsofheaven  Buy from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com

Author’s website
Publication date – September 4, 2012

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Bobby Dollar is an angel—a real one. He knows a lot about sin, and not just in his professional capacity as an advocate for souls caught between Heaven and Hell. Bobby’s wrestling with a few deadly sins of his own—pride, anger, even lust.

But his problems aren’t all his fault. Bobby can’t entirely trust his heavenly superiors, and he’s not too sure about any of his fellow earthbound angels either, especially the new kid that Heaven has dropped into their midst, a trainee angel who asks too many questions. And he sure as hell doesn’t trust the achingly gorgeous Countess of Cold Hands, a mysterious she-demon who seems to be the only one willing to tell him the truth.

When the souls of the recently departed start disappearing, catching both Heaven and Hell by surprise, things get bad very quickly for Bobby D. End-of-the-world bad. Beast of Revelations bad. Caught between the angry forces of Hell, the dangerous strategies of his own side, and a monstrous undead avenger that wants to rip his head off and suck out his soul, Bobby’s going to need all the friends he can get—in Heaven, on Earth, or anywhere else he can find them.

You’ve never met an angel like Bobby Dollar. And you’ve never read anything like The Dirty Streets of Heaven.

Brace yourself—the afterlife is weirder than you ever believed.

Thoughts: If more urban fantasy was like this, I would read more urban fantasy. And if this is any indication of what Tad Williams can do with an interesting concept, I also need to be reading more Tad Williams.

Books involving religious concepts usually don’t faze me, even when they’re not regarding my own chosen religion, provided the book doesn’t beat me about the head with conversion attempts and “My way is right, yours is wrong” messages. I knew in advance that this wouldn’t be a problem with The Dirty Streets of Heaven, by I didn’t expect as much diversity of opinion in a book that involved Heaven, Hell, and a host of demons and angels fighting for the souls of the departed. A point is made by one of the angelic characters saying that even they don’t know which religion has the right of it, if any.

That’s part of the fun of this novel. The angels, ostensibly on the side of Heaven and God and all that is good and light, are not just sweet little innocents or hard-nosed warriors, fighting for souls and territory. They’re varied. They have their opinions, their own gritty personalities, get jaded by the work they do, get depressed and go out drinking, and are wonderfully human, for all that they’re, well, not actually human. They sin. Sometimes spectacularly. They drink, they question, they argue about stupid pointless things, and you’re left with the overwhelming sense that these are real people, not just characters on a page.

The story focuses on Bobby Dollar, originally Doloriel, an angel advocate for the souls of the recently deceased. It’s his job to argue their cases well enough to get them into Heaven, or at least into purgatory where they can eventually work their way into Heaven. But when souls start to go missing, and demons develop a grudge against Bobby over a stolen item he doesn’t even have, Bobby’s life gets more intense than normal. Between emerging evidence of Celestial, Terrestrial, and Demonic conspiracies, dodging pissed-off demons with a thirst for his blood, growing feelings for one of Hell’s own, and a newbie angel advocate who’s as green as grass when it comes to the material plane, Bobby has his work cut out for him, just surviving one day to the next.

It’s so hard to review this book without resorting to major spoilers. The plot is so complex, “wheels within wheels,” that writing this feels like I’m deliberately making vague comments and it’s not coming across very clearly. That isn’t my intent. It’s just that it’s hard to talk about a complex multi-layered plot involving theology and multiple conspiracies without sounding horribly vague, unless you want to know the whole story in advance.

And I don’t want to ruin it for you.

Williams plays with mythology in interesting ways that still stay remarkably true to their roots. Guardian angels, determining whether a soul goes to Heaven or Hell once their body has died, the names of certain high-ranking demons and angels are all names and concepts I’ve heard before, but rather than being predictable, it added just another layer of realism to the story. Combined with the first-person viewpoint that actually sounded as though Bobby was talking to the readers (occasionally addressing us directly), this book felt like nothing so much as an accounting of real events, not just some random made-up stuff written down by an author in some far-away city. If more novels handled a first-person POV like Williams did here, that voice wouldn’t be so tired and overdone.

The story is a fast-paced action-filled exciting trip from beginning to end. Even the slower moments still hold tension and intrigue, due to the mystery element of the book. The characters are wonderfully real, and Bobby Dollar’s narrative tone… Let’s just say that I could read short stories about this guy going out to get groceries, because even that mundanity would be no doubt filled with biting wit, sarcasm, intelligent introspection, and knowing his luck, probably him falling over and then snarking himself for it.

If this book has any failing, it’s that it’s more than a touch predictable. That’s the drawback of working with so many classic noir elements. You know that Caz isn’t going to fall for Bobby so easily, that she’s hiding something. You know Clarence is involved in the conspiracies somehow. You know that Fox is going to remain weird and inscrutable, because the book needs someone who just defies explanation like that. But for all that you can see things coming, you can’t always tell what they are until they’re right in front of you. You get hints, inklings of deeper machinations, but the big reveal still comes as something of a surprise.

if you’re a fan of urban fantasy, or supernatural mysteries, or just highly intelligent and witty speculative fiction, then I can’t emphasize enough how much this book is for you. This was my first experience to Williams’s writing, and what an introduction it was! I closed this book feeling disappointed that this part of the story was over, and then excited because its sequel, Happy Hour in Hell, is being released very soon, so I don’t have to wait to continue the story and find out what happens next.

(Received for review via the publisher.)

And now it’s giveaway time! Courtesy of the publisher, DAW Books, I have 1 paperback copy of The Dirty Streets of Heaven to give away. And believe me, you don’t want to miss your chance to get your hands on this book.

All you have to do is send an email to bibliotropic.reviews@gmail.com by 11:59 PM, Tuesday September 3, with the subject line “SAT ON A PANDA.” Include your name and mailing address in the body of the email. US/Can addresses only, please. I will announce the winner on Wednesday morning, send their contact info to the publisher; no addresses will be retained by me.

9 comments on “The Dirty Streets of Heaven, by Tad Williams (review + giveaway!)

  1. Pingback: August in Retrospect | Bibliotropic

  2. Great review!

    Having met Tad in person, I found Bobby’s voice very close to Tad’s own. If you ever get a chance to go to a reading or something, do it – you might not get stories about Bobby getting groceries, but stories about Tad doing whatever are usually hilarious.

      • That’s what I thought before I met him… now it’s more “this incredibly nice, fun person who just happens to be a famous writer”. He’s amazing.
        And I’m trying not to descend into utter fangirling here. ;)

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