When it was announced that Tad Williams' next project would be an urban fantasy series, I was intrigued. I had no doubt that Williams could pull it off and come up with something good. Over the course of his career, the author has proven time and time again that he was versatile. And yet, Williams would now play in a much different sandbox. His latest work would be compared to those of bestselling machines such as Charlaine Harris and Jim Butcher. The question was: Could Tad Williams play with the big girls? Sorry, folks, but other than Butcher, female authors dominate the charts when it comes to urban fantasy.
The answer is yes, at least in terms of quality and originality. Time will tell if the urban fantasy crowd will give it a shot and dig it, or if it will mostly be Williams' existing fans that will move units of this novel. Still, The Dirty Streets of Heaven could well be the author's most accessible book to date.
Here's the blurb:
Bobby Dollar would like to know what he was like when he was alive, but too much of his time is spent working as an extremely minor functionary in the heavenly host judging recently departed souls.
Until the day a soul goes missing, presumed stolen by ‘the other side’.
A new chapter in the war between heaven and hell is about to open. And Bobby is right in the middle of it, with only a desirable but deadly demon to aid him.
The worldbuilding is intriguing. Although it must be said that Williams doesn't offer more than a few glimpses here and there. Hence, not a whole lot is unveiled regarding Heaven and Hell, Angels and Demons, and their eternal struggle. I enjoyed the glimpses we got from the futuristic and bureaucratic Heaven, and I would have loved to learn more about their hierarchy. Having said that, those glimpses make you want to beg for more, so Williams sure knows how to tease and ensure that we'll be there for the second volume! Another seemingly odd decision, at least by urban fantasy's standards, was to set the action in the fictitious Bay area town of San Judas. I figure that there must be a reason for this, but nothing in The Dirty Streets of Heaven hints at what it could be.
The first person narrative of Angel Doloriel, also known as Bobby Dollar, makes for an entertaining ride. As the main protagonist, Boddy Dollar may not be as endearing as Butcher's Harry Dresden or Vaughn's Kitty Norville. But like them, he's not always the sharpest tool in the shed and given the chance he certainly grows on you. The supporting cast is comprised of a number of interesting men and women, both from Heaven and Hell. Especially Sam and Casimira, both of whom have more depth than meets the eye. However, the whole Good vs Evil love affair was so clichéd that I'm persuaded Tad Williams has something unexpected in mind. Otherwise, that plotline is too easy, and Williams is not known for taking the path of least resistance.
The pace is great. Indeed, the rhythm is crisp, making The Dirty Streets of Heaven a real page-turner. Urban fantasy is known for relatively slender novels, forcing Williams to write with a much tighter focus than is usually his wont. A single POV precludes the high number of extraneous storylines that characterize Tad Williams' epic fantasy dootstopper works and keeps the spotlight on a single character through whose eyes the readers witness everything which is taking place. Hence, those SFF fans who found Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Otherland, and Shadowmarch long-winded and slow-moving at times might enjoy Tad Williams' first foray into the urban fantasy subgenre. Like the author's short fiction, The Dirty Streets of Heaven is quite different than his past novel-length works.
Some people have mentioned that this book is kind of a huge departure for Tad Williams in style and tone, and that it may not be suitable for all audiences. Such claims leave me shaking my head in bewilderment. WTF??? Because people swear and a penis makes an appearance or two? Come on, man! This is ridiculous! Although many of Williams' novels/series have cross-over appeal for a younger audience, I've always been under the impression that he writes more or less for a grown-up audience. After all, The Dragonbone Chair and its sequels made George R. R. Martin realize that fantasy for adults could still be written and published. I mean, these so called "young adults" so many people appear so concerned about, well they hear profanities all day long in school and everywhere else, and they have access to free porn on the internet. Do you really believe that reading a few paragraphs about and man and a woman engaged in sexual intercourse will shock them out of their minds??? If so, perhaps you are the one with a problem? Or perhaps you are of the Brandon Sanderson inclination and you won't put up with swear words and sex in books, but blood and gore and graphic violence are quite all right for kids?
No worries, folks. Bobby Dollar is indeed rough around the edges, but coarse language never becomes an issue. As for the sex, there is something like two quick scenes and it's nothing to write home about. When I read about the fuss this was generating, I was afraid that Williams had turned into Laurell K. Hamilton and that we'd get stuck with a bizarre love triangle between a sexy girl and a dark and handsome emo vampire and a muscular werewolf with a 12-inch cock. Fortunately for us, that's not the case. So please don't let such claims keep you from giving The Dirty Streets of Heaven a shot. It's another smart and entertaining read!
My only problem with the book was that the ending was rushed. The Dirty Streets of Heaven is essentially a vast introduction for what is to come. As such, it paves the way for the rest of the series by introducing the key players and laying a lot of groundwork. Problem is, the novel doesn't offer much in terms of resolution. Indeed, it's not as self-contained as I felt it needed to be. I felt that everything came to a head and ended too rapidly for the finale to have the sort of impact the book needed to end with a bang.
Still, with The Dirty Streets of Heaven Tad Williams demonstrated yet again the length and breadth of his talent and imagination. His first urban fantasy offering should satisfy his legions of fans and hopefully bring some new asses into the seats. The author has never written something so fast-paced and accessible. Hence, if you have been meaning to give Tad Williams a go, The Dirty Streets of Heaven might well be the perfect introduction to the author great and disparate body of work.