Thanks to the author and his lovely wife Deborah, here's an extract from Tad Williams' Happy Hour in Hell. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.
Here's the blurb:
I’ve been told to go to Hell more times than I can count. But this time I’m actually going. 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.
Pleasure Boating On The Rivers Of Hell
A fair wind, one of the few bits of luck I’d had in this whole cursed trip, had kept the ship ahead of Commissar Niloch long enough to reach Bashskull Point, and I was determined to get off the Nagging Bitch before the he destroyed it.
“But they know this ship,” Walter said. “They know everything. We’ll never be able to go back to Cocytus Landing now!”
“Don’t matter,” said Riprash as he lifted me into the dinghy. “We’re not going back.”
“What do you mean?” As we talked I hurriedly tested the oilcloth of the vest to see if it was flexible enough, but my main concern was that the seams would give under the pressure: I didn’t have a huge amount of faith in the tar we’d used to seal them.
“It’s a sign, that’s all,” said Riprash. “Like I told you, I’ve been thinking on this, and I see it clear now. I’m to take Bitch and spread the Lifters’ word. We’ll go where we please, and every port will be our home.”
This sounded like a spectacularly bad idea. “The authorities, Eligor and Niloch and Prince Sitri and the rest—they’ll stamp on you like ants, Riprash. They’ll never let you get away with it.”
“Even the Mastema can’t be everywhere,” he said, surprisingly cheerful. “We’ll stop and spread the word, then move on. We’ll leave behind those as can keep spreading the word for us. Gob here can say the Lifters’ Prayer by heart already! Say it boy. Show him.”
The kid looked embarrassed (or fearful, it was hard to tell with Gob) but he stared at the deck and spoke in a quiet, very serious voice.
“Out farther, way up in Heaven, Hell has took my name The kind don’t come The will won’t come In Hell as it does in Heaven. Give us this day our asphodel And give us our best passes As we give up on those who passes against us, And lead us not into time’s tortures But deliver us from our evil . . .”
Again, the lack of tear ducts kept me from making a blubbering fool out of myself. I still wasn’t sure whether I’d helped the boy or doomed him by bringing him up out of Abaddon, but it was too late to change anything now. “Keep safe, Gob. Riprash will take good care of you.”
The boy nodded. I don’t know whether he would have thanked me in any case, but people didn’t do much thanking in Hell, as you may have noticed, and we were also surrounded by gouts of white water as Niloch’s guns began to find our range, so things were a bit hectic.
“And Walter, I’ll get you out of here. Somehow.” I felt like an idiot even as I said it—so many promises, so few fulfilled. But Walter was too polite, even as a demon, to tell me how unlikely that was. Instead he just waved like a kid watching his older brother going to the gallows.
Riprash began lowering the dinghy into the water, manning the ropes all by himself. “I put a flask of rum in that vest of yours, Snakestaff. You’ll need it, I think. And tell you-know-who back in you-know-where that I’ll spread the word all over the Inferno!” he bellowed.
Was that really what Angel Temuel wanted? It didn’t matter, because that was what he was going to get. We never know what a gesture or a word will lead to, do we?
“God loves you!” I called. It was what we angels say to the recently deceased. I was pretty sure none of these folks had heard it since then, and some of them like Riprash had probably never heard it at all.
My boat splashed hard into the water, and for the next moments I was busy trying not to fall into the river. The waves beaten up by the wind had seemed much smaller from on board the Bitch than in the little dinghy. I could hear Riprash bellowing for the rowers to start pulling, and the slave ship began to move away from me. I think the sight of my boat being put into the water had confused Niloch and his crew. The Widow’s guns fell silent, though the black bulk of the ship continued to bear down on me.
I’m sure the commissar and his crew expected me to start rowing, but in fact I hadn’t bothered to bring any oars—no point to it, as you’ll see. I watched Nagging Bitch pull away, and for the first time I felt how truly alone I was.
Niloch and his crew obviously suspected some kind of bomb or other trap, so when they were thirty or forty yards away from me they disengaged their engines and let the ship drift with the same current pushing my little boat. Many sailors and soldiers looked down through the clouds of steam that drifted from the Widow’s smokestacks.
Seen this close, Niloch looked even less pleasant than I remembered. A lot of his bone tendrils had simply burned away or broken off, and for the first time I could see that his skeletal head was more like a bird’s than a horse’s.
“You!” he screeched, “Snakestaff, you miserable turdling! Why do you look so puffed up? Whatever armor you’re wearing under that won’t save you from me. You destroyed my home.”
“Gosh,” I called back, “maybe because you were going to torture me and then turn me over to your superiors?”
“Nobody may flout authority,” Niloch screeched. “Least of all a speck of dirt like you, a creature with no level, no land, no loyalty . . . !”
“Honestly, I’m not listening,” I said. “You’re as boring as you are ugly.” I looked around to make sure that Nagging Bitch was still on the move, that Riprash and the rest were putting distance between themselves and Niloch’s larger ship. Then I bent down and picked up the heavy iron sphere from the bottom of the dinghy.
“Do you know what this is?” I asked.
Niloch tittered in surprise. “A cannonball.”
“Wrong. Try again.”
He scowled, a strange thing to see on such a long, bony face. “A bomb? Go ahead, little traitor. Destroy yourself—you won’t hurt us. This ship is iron-plated.”
“It’s not a bomb, either. It’s just a weight.” I balanced for a moment with my foot on the boat’s rail, just until I could tuck the heavy iron ball into the harness I wore across my belly, then I stepped off the boat and the cannonball yanked me down into the oily, caustic waters of the Phlegethon.