“A moment comes in pretty much everyone’s life, or afterlife in my case, where they can’t help but wonder, What the fuck am I doing here? I have more of those than most people (a couple a week, on average) but I’d never had one quite like this before. See, I was just about to walk into Hell. Voluntarily.”
In the first Bobby Dollar book, The Dirty Streets of Heaven, Bobby “Doloriel” Dollar, an angelic public defender for departed souls, stumbled over an illicit agreement between an archangel and a demon, and fell in love with the demon’s lover, Casimira, Countess of Cold Hands. Although Bobby still has the angel feather which was supposed to be Eligor’s insurance against being betrayed by the still-unknown archangel, Eligor has spirited Casimira back to Hell, where he holds her prisoner. To make matters worse, an immortal killer called Smyler is on Bobby’s trail, presumably in search of the feather. The incidents of The Dirty Streets of Heaven are under investigation by the heavenly Ephorate, and Bobby has been laid off from his job in the meantime. Never one to do things by halves, Bobby decides to borrow a demon body and go into Hell after Casimira. It’s impossible to die in Hell, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a dangerous place to be, especially for an angel.
Full of dark humour, wit and puns—in Hell, “bad puns are considered a particularly ripe form of torture”—Happy Hour in Hell picks up the fast-paced action and gritty atmosphere of the first book, and takes it to the next level. Volume two never suffers from middle book lag, and delivers some significant revelations about the overall plot, and the complicated inner-workings of Heaven and Hell. It’s also a site of significant development for Bobby’s character; having always regarded himself as somewhat broken, rebellious, and maybe even partly fallen, Bobby’s altruism comes face to face with the brutality and indifference of Hell, and what it truly means to be damned. Bobby gets himself into trouble again and again just by being himself, and giving in to his impulses to help others. But Hell also brings out Bobby’s darker impulses, his anger, and his aggression, and the longer he stays, the more Hell seems to get to him. Already troubled about the justness of Heaven and Hell, his journey is likely to leave him even more conflicted about the efficacy of the system. Though some of the damned are every bit as horrible as you would expect, others hardly seem to deserve eternal torture, and may even be actively seeking redemption in their own way.
Extensive descriptions of Hell are always difficult, but Tad Williams succeeds marvelously, imaginatively conveying brutality and horror without becoming tiresome or overbearing. Of course, that isn’t to say you won’t be horrified and appalled; Williams’ Hell is terrifying, make no mistake. Casimira is kept in the story through the use of flashbacks, which serve to break up the horror with romantic interludes, while also providing further insight into the time she and Bobby spent together in The Dirty Streets of Heaven. This story has fewer elements of detective fiction or urban fantasy than The Dirty Streets of Heaven—though Bobby still narrates like noir detective—and more of the hero’s journey about the plot, but there is still plenty of mystery left to be tied up in Sleeping Late on Judgment Day, which is due out in September 2014.