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Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams

Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams
Book Name: Happy Hour in Hell
Author: Tad Williams
Publisher(s): DAW (US) Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy
Release Date: September 3, 2013 (US) September 26, 2013 (UK)

Happy Hour in Hell sees angel Doloriel–AKA Bobby Dollar–make a welcome return, following on from his adventures in The Dirty Streets of Heaven. If you haven’t already pounded those pavements with Bobby, you’d best look away now to avoid any spoilers.

Bobby’s as down on his luck as any man can be, even one with divine purpose. He’s fallen in forbidden love with the demon Casimira, Countess of Cold Hands; as if each of them being on opposite sides of the eternal struggle wasn’t enough, she also happens to be the girlfriend of a Grand Duke of Hell. The Duke has found out, and taken Caz back to where she belongs, telling Bobby he won’t see her again unless he hands over the golden feather that is in his possession. Bobby does what any man in love would do–he enters Hell to rescue her.

It’s good to have Bobby back, even though his acerbic wit takes a lot of getting used to; it’s darker in this book, the cutting humour of someone made bitter by recent experiences. Where the first book took place mainly on our world–a noir detective tale filled with angels, demons and those in between–this second volume takes Bobby, and us, down into the Bottomless Pit itself. Our guided tour of Hell allows the author’s imagination to run wild; this being Tad Williams, there’s no shortage of strange beasts with recognisable features, or creatures that the reader has to sometimes pause to dwell on, such is the depth of their description.

It would be unfair to call it a weakness but, for me, this is where the book can fall flat. As beautiful as that description is, it sometimes slows down the plot, or halts it all together as we gaze in wonder at the strangeness of this awful place. Early stages of Hell are much as we’d expect–desolate landscapes filled with the eternally damned, all trying to eke out a meagre afterlife as best they can–while the later, higher levels are more organised, Pandaemonium itself being a society complete with a class-structure. All well and good, but it’s very reminiscent of the fairy city in Williams’ The War of the Flowers, only this time with demons.

It’s fortunate, then, that we’re in good hands. However halting the plot seems at times, we’re unable to ignore the richness of the world Williams has created. Hell is an awful place, no doubt about it, but even down there, not all hope has been abandoned; evil reigns, but there are entities who strive for more, who even dare to seek redemption and–perhaps–achieve forgiveness. It’s these beings who provide the novel’s most touching scenes, as lives are saved and friendships formed. This being Hell, such folk are few and far between, and there are times when Bobby’s assumptions (and, admittedly, the reader’s) are flipped on their heads; fittingly, such encounters result in the most disturbing scenes. As narrator, we know Bobby won’t die, but there’s a distinct possibility he’ll spend the rest of his days in eternal torment and torture–threat enough for us to care what happens to him.

I enjoyed this book, although it did feel tinged with disappointment, purely on a personal level. There’s nothing to dislike about Happy Hour in Hell–in fact, it’s everything you’d expect from such a story–but I missed the concept of an angel walking the streets of our world, that world-weary noir detective feel that pervaded the first novel. It’s still there–a downtrodden narrator who doesn’t always get the outcome he deserves, a sometimes pawn in a conspiracy he doesn’t understand–but this time it’s nudged to one side in favour of a portal fantasy that, while it still delivers the goods, sometimes feels like it’s missing something. For me, many of the wonderful characters revealed to us in the first book–Bobby’s friends and enemies alike–are a big miss in this story, eased to one side in favour of his journey. I can’t shake the feeling that Hell could have remained a mystery, but it’s entirely understandable that the author wanted to show what Bobby is prepared to go through in the name of love; that’s the heart and soul, the key concept of the novel, and in showing this, it excels.

Happy Hour in Hell is a worthy sequel to The Dirty Streets of Heaven, taking its hero as far out of his comfort zone as he can get. It’s an uncomfortable read at times (we’re in Hell, what do you expect?) one with a sting in the tail that will have you crying out for Mr Williams to get the next book completed as quickly as possible.


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