fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams urban fantasy book reviewsThe Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

Tad Williams and I go way back. (Not literally, of course: If I walked up to him on the street, he wouldn’t know who I was.) He was one of the first epic fantasy authors I read and fully enjoyed. I have been an avid Tad Williams fan for years due to the high quality of his work. Understandably, I was champing at the bit to read The Dirty Streets of Heaven, an adult urban fantasy which is completely out of Williams’ epic fantasy zone. I was excited to see how he’d handle the change.

I’ve recently read a number of books which have proven to me that religiously-themed fantasy novels don’t have to contain a sermon. Even though the discussion of God, Heaven, sin, and angels are quite common in The Dirty Streets of Heaven, the title alone should tell you that the religious qualities of the book aren’t really typical. Bobby Dollar is not your normal angel; instead he’s surprisingly human. He drinks beer, swears, has sex, and occasionally ventures into Heaven to talk to his bosses. His job is to fight for the souls of the dearly departed so they can make their way to Heaven rather than Hell. It’s in the midst of one of these cases that Dollar unwittingly finds himself in the middle of a situation that is much bigger, and more complex, than he had expected.

The Dirty Streets of Heaven is very much adult in tone, peppered with adult language and adult scenes, which makes it stylistically different from the broader appeal of his other works. Potential readers should be aware that they aren’t getting the same type of experience as the books of the friendly-to-all-ages MEMORY, SORROW AND THORN trilogy, but rather a sarcastic mystery novel couched in an urban fantasy setting. Time-tested readers of mystery novels might find some aspects of the plot to be a bit predictable, but there should still be some surprises. Readers who don’t often read mysteries or noir will probably find the book to be a fun, rather unpredictable romp. However, both types of readers will appreciate that the ending neatly ties up all plot points and leaves nothing open or hanging. While there are more novels in the BOBBY DOLLAR series, each can be read as a stand-alone.

Setting is where The Dirty Streets of Heaven really shines. Perhaps the best aspect is how Williams not only manages to make San Francisco come alive, but he believably overlays it with fantasy elements and makes it all mix together naturally. The fantasy isn’t forced, nor does it feel out of place. The plot is plenty dark, but Williams balances it out with enough humorous asides and hilarious descriptions to make the mounting tension more manageable. A book that could easily be overly tense or bleak is instead fun and fast-paced.

The subject matter is continents away from the genre of most of Williams’ other books, but the plot is tight and the world is vivid and enthralling. Williams keeps the witty dialogue flowing, and Bobby Dollar is one of the most fun, unique protagonists I’ve encountered. Williams hits the ball out of the park with The Dirty Streets of Heaven.

Bobby Dollar — (2012-2014) Publisher: Bobby Dollar has a secret. Actually he’s got a ton of them. The most important one is that his real name’s Doloriel and he’s an angel. Not an important angel, maybe, but a rough-and-tumble guy who’s always done his part in the long cold war between Heaven and Hell. But now he’s stepped into the middle of something that’s got both sides very nervous — an unprecedented number of missing souls. And if that wasn’t enough, someone has summoned a truly unpleasant Babylonian demon that’s doing its best to track him down and rip him to pieces. Also, his opposite number on the case is arguably the world’s sexiest she-devil, and Bobby has feelings for her that Heaven definitely does not allow.

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  • Sarah Chorn

    SARAH CHORN, one of our regular guest reviewers, has been a compulsive reader her whole life, and early on found her reading niche in the fantastic genre of Speculative Fiction. She blames her active imagination for the hobbies that threaten to consume her life. She is a published photographer, world traveler and recent college graduate and mother. Sarah keeps a blog at Bookworm Blues.