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Why did God make me so restless?
on 23 February 2014
I tend to avoid reading urban fantasies with angels in them -- partly because they're usually "Twilightish" romances, and partly because it seems disrespectful to write about creatures that are part of people's actual religions.
But I am immediately intrigued by anything that Tad Williams has written, so I broke my rule and picked up "The Dirty Streets of Heaven: Volume One of Bobby Dollar." This isn't Williams at his most creative or eloquent, but it is a fun, snarky urban fantasy in the tradition of the Dresden Files (but with more trips to Heaven).
Bobby Dollar -- aka Doloriel -- is a lower-level angel in human form, living in the city of San Judas. His job is to argue on behalf of the newly dead, trying to get them to heaven despite the involvement of the Opposition (read: demons).
But when he's called to the site of a recent suicide, Bobby is aghast to find that the man's soul is MISSING. Then a demon prosecutor is brutally murdered on the same spot, and Hell has apparently decided that Bobby is the dude whodunnit. Even worse, someone has summoned a primordial ghallu to completely destroy Bobby.
As Bobby tries to unravel this mystery, he learns that both Heaven and Hell are in an uproar, because this isn't the first soul that's gone missing. And finding out the answer will reveal a shocking fact that will unsettle both sides of that cosmic battle -- assuming that Bobby isn't killed first.
"The Dirty Streets of Heaven" is probably Tad Williams' lightest book to date -- it's a snarky, snappy urban fantasy in the mold of the Dresden Files, but focusing just on angels and demons. The biggest influence is obviously Bobby Dollar himself, a naturally suspicious angel who tends to be cynical and kind of a loner.
The story slips along at a steady clip, with jaggedly clever prose ("the sun stabbing through the dusty blinds of the Royal Highway Motor Hotel like Norman Bates's favorite steak knife") and lots of dry wit. Throw in some alluring demons, a ravening monster and a grimy urban setting, and you have a recipe for fun fluff.
However, this isn't the best writing I've seen from Tad Williams, who is capable of soul-stirringly beautiful prose and complex plotting. It's not BAD -- in fact it's quite entertaining -- but it's nowhere near what he's capable of writing.
The part of the book that bothered me was the theology, which rarely seemed to make sense and was full of logical holes. It felt like Williams came up with two different versions of angels (one strange and alien, one "just people"), and smushed them together in one book. And his theological musings end up falling flat, because his angels are SO wildly unlike those of Judeo-Christian beliefs.
Bobby Dollar is definitely a character in the Harry Dresden mold -- he's snarky and witty, gets bashed around a lot, and has a reputation as a mistrustful troublemaker. Despite this, he has a good heart inside his fleshly form. There are also some interesting characters on both sides, such as the Countess of Cold Hands and Clarence/Harry, a young angel just starting out on the job.
"The Dirty Streets of Heaven: Volume One of Bobby Dollar" is a fun, action-packed read with some truly holey theology, but it's pretty light fare from an author like Tad Williams.