Happy Hour in Hell by Tad Williams
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“My name’s Bobby Dollar, sometimes known as Doloriel, and of course, Hell isn’t a great place for someone like me—I’m an angel. They don’t like my kind down there, not even the slightly fallen variety. But they have my girlfriend, who happens to be a beautiful demon named Casimira, Countess of Cold Hands. Why does an angel have a demon girlfriend? Well, certainly not because it helps my career.
She’s being held hostage by one of the nastiest, most powerful demons in all of the netherworld—Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell. He already hates me, and he’d like nothing better than to get his hands on me and rip my immortal soul right out of my borrowed but oh-so-mortal body.
But wait, it gets better! Not only do I have to sneak into Hell, make my way across thousands of miles of terror and suffering to reach Pandemonium, capital of the fiery depths, but then I have to steal Caz right out from under Eligor’s burning eyes and smuggle her out again, past demon soldiers, hellhounds, and all the murderous creatures imprisoned there for eternity. And even if I somehow manage to escape Hell, I’m also being stalked by an undead psychopath named Smyler who’s been following me for weeks. Oh, and did I mention that he can’t be killed?
So if I somehow survive Hell, elude the Grand Duke and all his hideous minions and make it back to the real world, I’ll still be the most hunted soul in Creation. But at least I’ll have Caz. Gotta have something to look forward to, right?
So just pour me that damn drink, will you? I’ve got somewhere to go.”
After reading The Dirty Streets of Heaven last year, I was really excited to read the sequel. Williams tapped into something unique with his combination of celestial politics and hard-boiled detective action. Bobby Dollar is a character who is an angel but often strays from the path of perfect goodness, and his friends are much the same. If only all of those great aspects had been present in Happy Hour in Hell.
Let me say first that I can’t fault the author on his worldbuilding. The vast majority of this book takes place in Hell, and the descriptions of the infernal cities and their denizens are vivid, often brutally so. Williams doesn’t neglect any of the senses in his storytelling, and Hell’s overwhelming stench and heat come through loud and clear.
The problem is that there is too much time spent in Hell with too little plot development to show for it. I think the author was probably aiming for a Dante’s Inferno approach, but it doesn’t work well. Dante’s classic was less a plotted story than a long cautionary tale, and while Williams definitely captures that feeling, it does nothing to enhance a novel that has a well-defined plot that it’s supposed to be advancing. By the end of the book, almost nothing of import has happened—Bobby finds out a few pieces of info, but that’s about it. It should not have taken over two hundred pages for that to happen.
Much of the Hell sequence feels like nothing more than a long series of descriptions about Hell and those who live there, interspersed with graphic recountings of the torture that Bobby endures at various points. Bobby’s borrowed demon body can take much more damage than a human’s could, and even if that body is destroyed, he’ll “re-seed” into another one. The problem with scenarios like this is that authors seem to take the concept of “can take a lot of damage” and turn it into “must take a lot of damage”. It quickly began to feel gratuitous. And a potential trigger warning: there is a sequence where Bobby is raped.
Basically, I got bored midway through and began to skim. When I got to the end, I found that my skimming didn’t miss much that was important. And that, to me, is a big tip-off that most of what had come before was unnecessary. While I do like Bobby as a character, I missed his interactions with the other angels and his balancing of his angelic nature against the need to live in a human body.
I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll pick up the next book in this series. As happy as I was with the first book, I was equally let down by the second. Happy Hour in Hell just doesn’t live up to the well-crafted story that this series began with, and I have to wonder what the Hell happened to cause Williams to stray so far from the plot.
Also by this author: The Dirty Streets of Heaven, The War of the Flowers