My review of The Dirty Street of Heaven by Tad Williams
To be honest, before beginning this book I was unsure of the story and concept Williams was portraying. However, I have always enjoyed Tad Williams books and I know he does like to mix up his writing style so thankfully I was pleasantly surprised in The Dirty Streets of Heaven. I found the main characters and view to be engaging. The principle character, Bobby Dollar, is a nice balance of several characters types. If you have seen the movie or read the comics, you will find elements of Constantine, in his view of aspects of Heaven, Hell and Demons. I also found characteristics of Sandman Slim in the anthropomorphic depiction of demons and miscellaneous things that walk. Dresden is also in the mix in the elements of Bobby’s motivation and actions towards demons. Divine hero, wounded, beaten, and tired, out of his depth and trick but ever growing, evolving and becoming something more.
The topic of Heaven, Hell and souls is a hefty one in real life, let alone fantasy. In a good fantasy book we usually are fighting with magic against Monsters and Dark Lords, but in The Dirty Streets we are tackling the issue of the balancing of the soul, and who gets to go to Heaven and who goes to Hell. The construct Williams uses is simple in its meme but complex in approach, and quite thought provoking. Salvation or damnation at the end of a gavel, where every action in life is chronicled and used to defend and prosecute you, no death bed repentance her. As part of a souls judgement we are introduced to the ‘Outside’, a place outside time and this is a nice model for dealing with the number of souls to be balanced. It’s along this path that the story diverges and leaves Bobby with more questions than answers. What happens when you cannot find the souls to judge?
Like most of our fantasy heroes the main character is a lone wolf but he does have some interesting friends and resources which get introduced along the way; the most notable is character called Fatback: cursed, Fatback could be called a were-pig (kinda) human with a pig mind during the day and by night a pig with a human mind. I like this concept, it’s a nice twist on selling your soul and getting what you asked for.
Williams has introduced the notion that as an Angel you don’t remember your past and your first memories are of being an Angel serving God’s great plan. I hope this goes somewhere as it has been mentioned on several occasions in the book. The same goes for the specific details around Angels in human bodies. There is great detail in some aspect but little in others.
There is an undercurrent in the story of a possible division in Heaven. As well as Bobby’s own misgivings and perspectives on Heaven without the rose coloured glasses. Heaven is not divine, and even this world can be flawed. This approach I feel will have larger ramifications in later books. Ignorance is bliss, while knowledge carries responsibility. I am looking forward to seeing where Williams takes this idea.
When Bobby finally uncovers the truth behind the mystery of souls disappearing, and that Heaven or Hell is not the only choice, that there is a third way, his struggle between duty and free-will is written skilfully. God gave man free will, but are we truly free if the only choice is Heaven or Hell. If even Angels have their doubts.
I will be honest though – I did have some gripes with how Williams wrote certain aspects.
There is a constant theme whereas Bobby keeps talking to the reader, telling them lines like “I might tell you about this later” or “it’s none of your business”. Well if we don’t need to know don’t write it in then.
While I know it’s only a story form, I did find the view that you go to Heaven regardless of faith or religion a little forceful and not really productive to the story. I can see what Williams is trying to put across but it felt like I was back in Church on Sunday and Williams is preaching the word, Old Testament style: fire, brimstone and damnation. Thankfully there is not too much of this. I commend the level of detail Williams has tried to portray in some areas of divinity but I did not feel there was the same level of detail for the Hell side.
I love my fantasy and the hero should always have a love interest and Bobby’s love interest was fairly predictable but still surprising in elements. However, I found the addition of a fairly graphic sex scene to be completely pointless in portraying their growing affection. It’s a book not a movie or TV series looking to score rating.
I found I could connect with the story but not with the characters as much as I normally would have. I put this down I think to the lack of detail in Bobby’s character which strangely was not evident in Bobby’s love interest, the demon bitch from Hell, which in the end I actually have a level empathy for. I hope we start to see more of Bobby’s history in the second book.
Overall I enjoyed this book, Tad Williams likes to keep his style evolving and brings us something new in each series. Worth the read and investment for the second installment.
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