by Jesus Ibarra
& Lorie Lewis Ham
For our readers who enjoy fantasy with their mystery, this week we have a review of The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams, an interview with Tad & at the end of the post are details on how to enter to win a copy of the book & a link to purchase it from Mysterious Galaxy–which helps support an indie bookstore & KRL.
The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams
Review by Jesus Ibarra
I generally love books that deal with the Judeo-Christian mythos if they aren’t preachy, and more so when they introduce new ideas about the established mythos. My favorites though are those that have something to say and use the model of the mythos as the tool. Unfortunately, The Dirty Streets of Heaven isn’t one of those. But it is still a good book. It just leans more towards the straight fiction side with a driving mystery, tough main character, and a gritty setting.
The basic plot is that the main character Bobby Dollar is an angel; more specifically he is an advocate for souls. He tries to get people where they should be which is only three places, Hell, Heaven, or purgatory. But souls start disappearing before they can be judged, and no one can explain who or what is responsible. Soon enough Bobby gets sucked into the mess, leaving him scrambling to figure out what is going on before both sides decide to decommission the tough angel.
Overall, the book is OK. To the average reader it may even be really good. However, having read so many urban fantasy series, and series that deal with this similar mythos, I still found some problems that bugged me enough to be distracted from the experience of reading this book. However, I will start with what worked for me.
I really liked the Bobby Dollar’s voice. As the main character, he served his purpose of keeping me invested in the story even when I had problems. I can’t put my finger on why I was attracted to his specific voice but I was. He himself is an interesting character. An angel who prefers to work on Earth, because he likes to have certain freedoms that he doesn’t have in Heaven. The world building is good for a familiar setting of Heaven versus Hell. And the last third of the book got really good, much better than the rest.
Now for some of the stuff I didn’t like or at least detracted from my enjoyment of the book. The beginning narration of the book originally put me off. What I mean by that is that I had to make myself get through the beginning, because the author used the technique of having the main character talk directly to the reader. I find that incredibly distracting. This stops near the middle of the book, but we do get some more references that the main character is narrating a story with short comments that again pull you out of the story.
The bad guys are sometimes really cliché. There is little nuance to the two factions of the conflict for souls than in other stories I have read concerning the subject matter. The dialogue in certain parts is weak. And the author used two writing tropes or clichés that I have grown tired of seeing. The first one is using a new character to explain to us the rule of this world, instead of letting the action and dialogue do that for us. I don’t like this cliché. I would much rather just have the main character spell out the rules. The second cliché is that the main character says I love you to a person they had sex with after just meeting them. Which is such an overused trope. Regardless that the scene in question was written well, I hate that this is a continuing trope in urban fantasy. Finally the ending, for me at least, was a real let down after the last third of the book got me really hooked.
However, the twist concerning the main mystery was really good. It actually made me enjoy the story much more than I was because it introduced a new element into the mythos that was established. When I was finished with this book I was conflicted. I liked it but I had some problems with it.
However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth checking out. And it definitely isn’t a bad book by any means. If you like urban fantasy action stories you will definitely enjoy this, even if like me you find some flaws.
Interview with Tad Williams
by Lorie Ham
Lorie: How long have you been writing?
Tad: In a professional sense, since the mid-80s, so almost thirty years. It doesn’t seem that long, but the calendar disagrees with me.
Lorie: When did your first novel come out? What was it called and can you tell us a little about it?
Tad: My first book was Tailchaster’s Song, a fantasy in which most of the main characters were cats. It’s scarier than it sounds.
Lorie: Have you always written fantasy? If not what else have you written?
Tad: I’ve always written in the general field of fantastic fiction — sci-fi, horror, epic fantasy, “urban” fantasy. I’ve written quite a few books (most of them very long) and they all fit in that larger category. It gives me a great deal of freedom.
Lorie: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Tell me a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Tad: The new book, The Dirty Streets of Heaven is kind of a crime novel, kind of an espionage novel, definitely a fantasy. The main character, Bobby Dollar (or Doloriel) is an earthbound angel who’s caught up in the long cold war between Heaven and Hell. Then something happens that makes that cold war get a lot hotter, and Bobby’s right in the middle and (possibly) being made to take the blame. It has monsters and demons and more than a few characters you won’t see anywhere else. Oh, and hot sex. And a car chase with an ancient Sumerian demon. What’s not to like?
Lorie: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Tad: You have to entertain if you’re a genre writer, but beyond that it’s completely up to the author. I have lots to say, particularly in these books, about the nature of humanity and our society and perhaps even how the universe works, but the most important part is that if you don’t keep turning the pages, I failed, and you’ll never read my wonderful philosophical insights.
Lorie: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Tad: I have to do some outlining, but not as much with these books as many of my others, because Bobby is the sole focal point character. (In my epic, multi-volume series I’m often following as many as a dozen viewpoints, although some are much more central than others.)
Lorie: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Tad: I used to write in the evening, but kids ended that. I still think I do my best work in the afternoon and evening, so I’ve had to move things around to get as much done as possible before dinner, because once the homework struggles and the push-to-bedtime starts, I’m pretty much ruined for the day.
Lorie: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Tad: Not compared to most people. I sent my first book out to one publisher, got it back quickly with a rejection, then sold it to the second and they published it and it did well. A much shorter path than many other writers (many of them very, very good) have had to take.
Lorie: Future writing goals?
Tad: It would be fun to leave at least a few characters and ideas behind that are meaningful to people, and a few books that people love to read and re-read. Which means pretty much to keep doing what I’ve always tried to do, and do my best to keep learning and getting better.
Lorie: Writing heroes?
Tad: My heroes tend to be the kind I like — extremely ordinary, forced to do extraordinary things. That doesn’t mean they have to be perfectly ordinary people, just to have flaws and be stretched to the limits of their abilities. Otherwise, why would they be called heroes?
Lorie: What kind of research do you do?
Tad: Huge amounts, sometimes hours per chapter. I think the best thing a writer of the fantastic can do is learn a lot about how the real world works, to have a fairly good knowledge of science and history, and to be a keen student of other people.
Lorie: What do you read?
Tad: Everything. Less fantasy and SF than you’d think, because I like my influences to be broad. Tons of fiction, even more non-fiction (as mentioned above.) I also like crime fiction and classic books (Jane Austin, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo.) In fact, I like pretty much anything well-written, including journalism, poetry, you name it. I am definitely Broad Church when it comes to books.
Lorie: Favorite TV or movies?
Tad: Always hard to say. I like goofy stuff because I get enough drama in my work most of the time. That said, I also have favorite films like The Tin Drum, Pinocchio, The Godfather, Das Boot, and lots more.
Lorie: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Tad: Write as regularly as you can. The amount isn’t so important, at least at first, but the regularity is, because it helps you think like a writer. Also, if you want to write genre, READ SOMETHING ELSE. Otherwise you’re going to be imitating the other genre writers you know, especially in the beginning. But if you read T. C. Boyle, Hunter S. Thompson, and Chuck Pahlaniuk while you’re writing epic fantasy, you’re more likely to bring in something new to your castles and dragons.
Lorie: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?
Tad: Inevitable. We just have to set the ground rules for the next couple of decades, which are still a bit transitional. But any reading is good reading, page or screen. I just want us writers to get paid for our work and I don’t care much how it happens.
Lorie: Do you read e-books yourself?
Tad: Yes, although I tend to do my e-reading on my phone when I’m waiting for things (which, as a parent, happens to me a lot.) I haven’t bothered to buy an e-reader yet.
Lorie: Anything you would like to add?
Tad: Just that even people who don’t think they like fantasy or science fiction may find out they’re wrong if they try it, and I’d like it if they tried something of mine. I write characters and stories — the trappings are secondary, although very realistic (from all that research!)
Lorie: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Tad: That I’m actually imaginary. Everything you see on my website is like those Japanese popstar-droids. If you call me on the phone, you’ll notice that my voice is auto-tuned. All fake. (My wife and kids are in on it.)
Lorie: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
Tad: I have a wonderful website at tadwilliams.com, and you can friend me on Facebook and I’ll say yes (but then you’ll have to put up with my odd ramblings in your feed.) My wife Deborah Beale does a lot of Twitter, and you can find stuff about me under her “MrsTad” hashtag.
Lorie: How do you compete in an overcrowded market?
Tad: I just try to write books I’d like to read myself. I try to make them funny, scary, and moving, and then hope that I’ll connect with an audience who will appreciate them. Beyond ordinary publicity and marketing there’s not much I can do and still have time to write the books, too. The most important thing for me is the writing, because that’s the ultimate seller, and repeat customers are the best kind to have.
To enter to win a copy of The Dirty Streets of Heaven, simply email KRL at life@kingsriverlife[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Heaven”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 3, 2012. U.S. residents only.
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