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It’s Scary in Tad’s Imagination [Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams]

August 30, 2013

This is one of the sentences that stuck in my mind the first time I met Tad Williams in person, back when the Bobby Dollar books were still a thing of hints and rumours: “Let me out, it’s scary in here in Tad’s imagination!”

And how true that is. Happy Hour in Hell is as disturbing as it is exciting.

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If you’ve read The Dirty Streets of Heaven, you know why Bobby Dollar – a.k.a. Doloriel, earthbound angel and advocate for the souls of the recently deceased – wants to get into Hell, but if you haven’t, I don’t want to give too much away.

The plan was, as far as I remember, for the Bobby Dollar books to be connected loosely enough that you could read them in any order. That works insofar as you can read Happy Hour in Hell without having read The Dirty Streets of Heaven, but you will get heavily spoiled for Dirty Streets.

While the first book was more of a supernatural detective story, Happy Hour uses the classic fantasy element of a journey through dangerous lands – and it doesn’t get more dangerous than Hell, especially not if you’re an angel who has personally pissed off one of its grand dukes.

With a setup like Heaven and Hell, you might expect a stark division between good and evil. But not everyone in Heaven is to be trusted, while some of the Hell-folk are pretty decent guys. So clearly, the system of eternal reward and eternal punishment has some serious flaws. In fact, this is one of the main questions of the book (aside from, “Who set an undead serial murderer on Bobby?” and “How the fuck is he ever going to get back out of Hell?”): Does the average sinner really deserve to be punished forever?

Still, some of the demons are every bit as evil as you’d expect, and then some. As I said, it is scary in Tad’s imagination. But Hell and its inhabitants really allow Tad’s talents to shine. Despite the hundreds of pages Bobby spends in Hell, the horrors he faces never get repetitive, each character and location described with new, shudder-inducing details.

If you’re prone to nightmares, it might not be a good book for reading before bed, but I highly recommend reading it anyway. Because despite all the horror, there is also love, there’s hope, there’s a religious revolution in Hell, there’s tangled mysteries and intrigues, and there’s humour – humour that I appreciate that much more now that I’ve met Tad and talked with him and can hear his own voice shining through in the darkly sarcastic way Bobby Dollar tells his story.

There is only one downside to being one of the first people to read Happy Hour in Hell: I have to wait for book three, Sleeping Late on Judgement Day, longer than almost anyone else.

(I was supposed to get an advance copy of Happy Hour, with the agreement that I would write reviews for it and generally make noise about it, but it still hasn’t turned up – I suspect it is taking a detour through Australia. But I also got the pdf file, with no strings attached except for “Don’t share it” and of course I’m happy to review it anyway.)

(ETA: It has turned up at last, without kangaroo paw prints or any other evidence of having been down under, right on publication day, so I don’t know what happened.)

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