Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams

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“If I were writing a book of advice for young angels, I would probably start it out with ‘Never, ever, ever go to Hell.’”

Happy Hour In Hell is Tad Williams’ second novel in his Bobby Dollar series. For those unfamiliar with Bobby Dollar, or the first book, The Dirty Streets of Heaven, the Urban Fantasy series is about Doloriel, a heavenly advocate (he’s a defense lawyer for souls upon their death), but who goes by Bobby Dollar while on Earth, which is most of the time. After the death of a demon with whom Bobby was acquainted, if not particularly liked, Bobby is thrown into a conspiracy with the potential to destroy the “Heaven vs. Hell” order and possibly even the entire world.

Happy Hour in Hell continues Bobby’s story, as he attempts to infiltrate Hell for reasons that would be slightly too spoiler-y for anyone not familiar with the series. Suffice it to say that it is something he wants very very badly, and is willing to go through much to get it.

Tad Williams is a highly acclaimed author, and having accomplished much in the other two main areas of Speculative Fiction (Fantasy and SF), turned his sights to Urban Fantasy. His writing is understandably very good, and he paints a beautifully horrifying picture of even such a washed-out topic as Hell.  Unfortunately, the first-person narration can be very jarring, as Williams seems to think Dollar’s various extended similes are far more humorous than they really are. Sometimes they actually are mildly entertaining, but I wish that Williams had removed all the plainly dumb ones, and focused on making the good ones really good. It’s always a problem when a reader thinks he can spot the author’s thought process while writing, and that’s exactly what happened here.

Bobby, despite his overconfidence in his humor, is actually quite a good character. Cynical and sarcastic, but with a sweet and gentle side. I find that I root for him, and for an angel, he really is darker than you’d expect. Unfortunately, the supporting cast is considerably weaker, two-dimensional and uncompelling almost to a person. Sam and Clarence are boring, clichéd “friend” characters, though different in the way they do it. Sam is the wisecracking, confident friend who’s known Bobby for years, while Clarence is the newbie, lacking Bobby’s full trust but still springing up with helpful interventions from time to time. Neither have any truly defined personality traits, but luckily both play minor roles in this book. Caz, Bobby’s love interest, frustrated me beyond belief. I didn’t care about her. I didn’t care about what happened to her. And I simply could not comprehend what on Earth it was that made Bobby so completely obsessed with her. And to round out the supporting cast, we have Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell and Horseman of the Apocalypse. Not a particularly creative villain, but I happen to enjoy the cliché he was created from (the cultured villain), so I was willing to overlook that. Most of the other characters are minor denizens of hell—no, the book is not particularly large in scale, why? —and these are either completely one-dimensionally evil (it is hell, though), or very much “good guys”. Why are so many of the people of hell nice? I don’t know. You’ll have to ask Mr. Williams.

However, if the characters are a bit lackluster, than the plot is a bit brilliant. A perfectly crafted pacing keeps you on your toes, as you find yourself sucked into Williams’ world. The Hell that exists in this book is twisted and dark; everything that Hell should be. It is very Dante-like in terms of its vertical structure, and the further down you go, the more horrible things get. Every place Bobby visits in hell is meticulously crafted, even down to the local wildlife (which is also horribly creepy). It is a beautifully crafted world, and even if I wouldn’t want to live there, I can certainly admire the craftsmanship that went into its creation.

So what we have here is a fun, easy Urban Fantasy romp. It’s not a complicated book or hard book to read. It has a good, fast pace and an entertaining main character. It is set in a chilling, wonderfully atmospheric setting, and is a real page-turner. It is sorely lacking in the supporting cast of characters, and a constant insistence on rarely funny humor gets tiresome quickly, but if you are looking for a fun, easy read, then this book would be a good choice.

Final Rating: 6.5/10

Note: A digital copy of this book was provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.

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