Book Review – The Dirty Streets of Heaven, Bobby Dollar #1 by Tad Williams

Back in ’98 or ’99 I was introduced to Tad Williams during deployment to Germany for infantry training. The Dragonbone Chair (and subsequently its two sequels) quickly committed me as a huge Tad Williams fan. I’ve read all of his fantasy novels and I collect his short story anthologies too. Even his Sci-Fi works are on my to-read list, which is saying something as I am quite the fantasy snob. There’s a reason G.R.R.M. calls Tad one of his influences. His writing combines a deep creative genius with the prose and language to tell fantastic tales. As soon as I heard Williams was writing a new urban fantasy series, I got really excited and a little bit nervous too.

The Dirty Streets of Heaven is a novel in the urban fantasy sub-genre. Most of the time when I first hear about a new UF novel I am thrown off. I like Jim Butcher – the quintessential godfather of UF – but something about the genre just doesn’t appeal to me as much as traditional fantasies do. I’ll admit, when I first heard Tad was writing a UF novel, I cringed a little. Not much though as I know he can write anything and write it damn well. Instead of doing my typical likening it to Twilight (yes without ever even having read Twilight or its comparison in question)I caught and reminded myself , “Hey! This is Tad Williams!” I’m glad I did.

The setting is in the fictional city of San Judas in southern California. The Dirty Streets of Heaven transpires in modern day with angels and demons communicating and recording events via smartphones and the like. The story is rather fast paced (also a bit shorter than much of Tad’s previous work) and this was one of those books I simply couldn’t put down. It follows a winding plot that is patterned a lot like a mystery novel. I suppose this is fitting as the protagonist is a lawyer. He runs about the story gathering evidence to both understand the strange events that are transpiring and to save his own immortal soul. I had correctly guessed a fair share of the outcome as I read, but I never knew if my assumptions were actually right until the end.

We follow one point of view which is told in the first person throughout The Dirty Streets of Heaven. Bobby Dollar is an angel in a human’s body. He is a good guy, but has a bit of a distrustful attitude toward other angels, especially those who are stationed up in heaven. He is a lawyer that fights for human souls after their bodies die. He defends to keep them from being successfully prosecuted against by one of hell’s own attorneys. Success and they get to move on to purgatory or heaven. Failure and they go to that other place. Sadly, the poor soul is completely at the whim of their defense, the prosecution, and ultimately the judge who is fallible, yet their decision is eternal law. This may sound awfully Judeo-Christian. And well, it sort of is, but the characters in the book make sure the reader knows not any one of the religions were actually correct. Heaven and Hell are set up a lot like in Dante’s Inferno and Paradiso, but there is no God’s law that states, “Thou shalt be a [INSERT YOUR FAVORITE RELIGION HERE] or burn in eternal hell-fire.” Quite the opposite is actually how Williams tells the story. In his words, anyone (even an atheist) who is a good person can move on to heaven. Being an agnostic atheist myself, I’m okay with that.

Tad William’s writing style is simply perfect and I challenge anyone to debate this in the comments section (No, seriously, I’d love to hear your own opinions). He makes sure that every sentence of his that gets published is well thought and better told. Tad uses the perfect amount of description to paint a scene but doesn’t bore his readers with endless details. His creativity lies in those details and they all come together like lavender and oil. I should mention that there are some graphic sexual scenes in this book. I’m a little embarrassed to say, but I really enjoyed them.

I proudly give The Dirty Streets of Heaven 5 out of 5 stars. I’m not surprised in the least and I can’t wait for the conclusion of this two book series, Happy Hour in Hell.

You can buy it here:


Book Review – Lord Foul’s Bane, Book 1 of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever by Stephen R. Donaldson

I spent the last couple of weeks trying to catch up on some of the giants of modern fantasy. I chose Lord Foul’s Bane (LFB) by Stephen Donaldson. I had heard mixed reviews on this one. Some have called Donaldson’s work dark and depressing. I don’t think that falls far from the mark.

I recently enjoyed Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. One of that book’s critics had complained of an excess of rape in Prince. I was shocked at their criticism. I remembered very little mention of rape let alone a descriptive scene of one. How could I forget something like that? The critic went on to blast Lawrence by comparing his work to LFB. They said the rape in Prince surpassed even the scene in Donaldson’s book. I suppose this forewarned me of what was to come, but it also made me less cautious about reading LFB. If they felt Prince was worse then LFB then LFB couldn’t be that bad, right?

I don’t want this whole review to center around one or two pages in the book. The rest of the book was lacking in my opinion too, but I’ll get to that soon. I understand why Donaldson did what he did, but there were other (better) ways to achieve his goals. In some cases rape can be written to portray a powerful message, but in this case it just fell flat.

There was zero logical need for Donaldson to make his ‘anti-hero’ rape a teenage girl. There were even less reasons (yes, I know I just said zero) for him to visually describe the intricacies of the rape to his readers. We knew Thomas Covenant (the anti-hero/rapist) was a messed up guy before the scene. We knew he was self loathing, fearful, and mistrusting of others. We understood his reasoning. We also understood that Covenant thought he was dreaming. The scene was awkwardly written. Donaldson seemed to struggle between connecting a very shallow compulsion within Covenant to actually becoming a rapist. All this culminated in being disgusted at the scene and confused over the character’s decision. I wasn’t very impressed.

The magic system within “The Land” was your typical fantasy magic system. That is to say there really wasn’t much of one. This is fine but if you came here for such a thing, you won’t find it. Go back to reading Sanderson – or I recommend my friend Ryan Kaelin – if that is what suits you.

The plot within LFB was your typical fantasy quest. Darkness is settling across the land. Thomas Covenant has to travel from point A to point B to meet with the lords. They all set out together to rescue an artifact that will save the world. They travel in a round about way to avoid all the hordes of bad guys descending from the mountains. Within said mountains lies the Staff of Law and of course the leader of the bad guys.

Did I mention all the traveling? Probably 85% of the book is just traveling and scenery. While I can appreciate good visual writing, enough is enough!

The characters in LFB were all the same, save for Covenant himself. Everyone comes off as selfless and in harmony with the earth. The land is a beautiful place and provides everything the people need. There is no disease and only vague memories of war. No one seems to have a care for their own well being and fear only for the children who will not be able to live full lives should Lord Foul win.

Donaldson’s style of writing is similar to Tolkien’s. There are a lot of descriptions that do a decent job at forming a scene in the readers mind. Some of the phrases in LFB are dated which is understandable as the book was written in the 70’s. We in the era of computers are spoiled with online thesauruses, and Donaldson’s creativity can be seen in the similes he draws for us.

Overall I just didn’t like Lord Foul’s Bane. The bad choice of using rape aside, the book just failed to capture me. It was very slow moving and I felt it was written for teenagers. Due to the rape scene I wouldn’t recommend it even for them. I give Lord Foul’s Bane 2 out of 5 stars. The Illearth Stone (Book 2 of the original trilogy) just moved way down on my to-read list.

You can buy it here:

Book Review – Deadhouse Gates Book 2 of the #Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson

I am glad I didn’t give up on this series after my initial wave of vile feelings toward Gardens of the Moon. Wow, what a book! I’m spent! I’ve now learned that I need a few lighter reads in-between Erikson’s works. Please note that I try my hardest to write “spoiler free” reviews. I love comments on my blog – feedback is truly why I write reviews in the first place. Please make sure you don’t post spoilers in your comments or I won’t approve them.

Deadhouse Gates read slower than most fantasy books that I’ve read, but I did not find this to be a bad thing. Instead of being bored, the author enthralled me with his imagery. Erikson’s rich vocabulary coupled with excellent sentence structure produced a work that borders on a poem. It took effort to see what lay beneath the paper and ink, but under that surface I found an entire ocean.

The multiple plot-lines within Deadhouse Gates were vast and it was hard to tell which (if any) were central to the tale. That is a compliment as each of the plots were essential and they all came together neatly at various points within the story. There were several scenes that were downright genius. The one that comes immediately to my mind was a certain “promotion”. If and when you read Deadhouse Gates, you will know exactly what I am talking about.

The characters within Deadhouse Gates were portrayed so much better than in Gardens of the Moon. There were a few characters I never got a good feel for and hence had no real interest in their sub-plot. However, most of the major characters had true depth. I learned in good detail their inner desires and internal conflicts through their outwardly acts and their inwardly introspections.

I started to understand Erikson’s world better as I read Deadhouse Gates. This was something that had completely eluded me in Gardens of the Moon. The world within Deadhouse Gates was a very scary place. I would not want to live in Malaz. Battle scenes were vivid and brutal. Tortured warriors, dying men, and corpses of women and children lined roads that criss-crossed the entire map. The flies that came to feast on their blood were relentless in their pursuits.

The ideas regarding “warrens” and how they exist were totally unique (for anything I’ve read at least). How everything in the world tied to various warrens, from magic and the gods to physical locations intrigued me. The magic systems within the world were mysterious too. Hints were made about how they worked, but like the rest of Erikson’s work, it seems it takes effort (and multiple volumes) to truly understand. The world building that took place to create the Malazan Empire and beyond was truly incredible and has resulted in a work of genius!

Overall I give Deadhouse Gates 5 out of 5 stars. Much better than Gardens of the Moon at 2!

You can buy it here:

Mazarkis Williams Tower and Knife Giveaway

Welcome visitor!

This is a first for me. I’m doing a book giveaway. Why? Because I have two extra copies of two really good books (okay, I haven’t read book 2 yet, but I have no doubt it’s awesome) that aren’t doing anyone any good sitting in a cupboard. What books you ask?

The first book is the Jo Fletcher (UK) trade hardcover edition of The Emperor’s Knife by Mazarkis Williams.

The second book is the Nightshade Books (US) trade hardcover edition of the sequel Knife Sworn. And it’s signed by the author!

Before everyone gets to asking, yes this contest is open to anywhere in the world.

So what do you have to do to win? I wanted the contest to be really simple, but I also wanted to have a little fun with it. I want your best sob story. It doesn’t even have to be true! I want to know why I should give you the book. 500 words or less posted in the comments below is your official entry. I will judge based on originality. First place winner chooses which book they want. Second place winner gets the other book. Simple!

Contest is open to entries until 9:00 am Eastern Standard Time on November 26th, 2012. Multiple entries ARE allowed and you could conceivably win BOTH novels. It all depends on you.

Comments on this blog are moderated, but will be posted as soon as I check my messages, so don’t fear if your post doesn’t show up right away.