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 – The Skybound Sea, 3rd book of the Aeons’ Gate Trilogy by @SamSykesSwears

In writing The Skybound Sea, Sam Sykes has skillfully closed out his carnage strewn adventure while leaving himself the option to write more in his dripping wet universe. This tome is filled with Lovecraftian stylized horrors that sulk about the deepest places urging to drown the world in mucus and blood, all for another taste of their mother’s milk. If you are in anyway squeamish of bodily fluids, the Skybound Sea will desensitize you forever. This is one wet work.

Sykes writes like a T-Rex, howling and ripping fetid entrails loose with each keystroke he mashes. In his world, magic drains its wielders of their very life force, the gods seemingly don’t give a damn for their followers, and invaders from another world are hell-bent on releasing the mother of demons all in a quest to kill her. Our mighty heroes constantly dream of each others’ demises in between epic battles where their foes are eviscerated, decapitated, and emboweled spewing forth every biological liquid known to originate in man or beast. Oh, and there are jellyfish.  You know what they say to do if one stings you, right?

The Skybound Sea is the culmination of an adventure that our heroes set off upon two books ago. Along the way they have battled countless humanoids, beasts, and demons of all shapes, sizes, and of course colors. From the green shicts to the purple netherlings, Lenk and company have perspired and persevered only to become stranded on the isle of Teji. Our adventure continues as they search for the hidden island of Jaga to stop the Abysmyth hordes from reuniting with their mother. What do they get for all their trouble? Do they all perish in a world flooded by the Skybound Sea, or do they accomplish the goals they set out toward in book 1: to retrieve the Tome of the Undergates thus keeping the kraken queen sealed away in hell? And what is their reward for success or failure? Well, that would be a spoiler and I don’t write those.

Sykes’ writing style is unique. Lenk’s internal dialog is the definition of madness while the battle cries and dying screams of our heroes’ foes reverberate in glory and pain. From the truly amazing first chapter, to the glorious final battle that spans countless pages, the action and wittiness that is Syke’s hallmark never lets up. It all works out to a captivating, fast paced read.

I am pleased to give this book five stars and I look forward to reading future works by Mr. Sykes. I also wanted to thank him for the advanced review copy he graciously provided me. I wish I had time to get this review out before the US release, but life sometimes has a way of messing up our plans. At least I beat the UK hardcover release which I pre-ordered months ago to place next to my “Tome” and “Black Halo” copies.

You can buy it here:

Book Review – Prophecy, The Children of the White Lions Vol. 2 by @AuthorRTkaelin

Okay, I am biased but I will write as much of an unbiased review that I can. In the sense of disclosure, I have been one of Ryan’s part time/freelance editors for about a year now. I loved Progeny and when I had the opportunity to help tidy up Prophecy I felt honored and excited.  I will do my best to write a spoiler free review so you need not fear reading on!

War has overtaken the Oaken duchies and it falls to our heroes to prepare defenses against the advancing horde of Sudashians. Shaped by battles and diplomacy Nik, Jak and Kenders aren’t mere children anymore. Nik has grown into his powers and Kenders has been honing her own control over magic by apprenticing under one of Terrene’s most powerful mages. Jak has been making great strides of his own while training with the Shadow Manes soldiers. In this newest book, they all face trials of the mind, heart, and arms as the tale weaves about multiple plots.

Prophecy is more complex than Progeny was in so many ways. The stage has shifted from a single duchy to all of them and more. Our heroes we fell in love with in Progeny are all back with a couple new ones thrown in for good measure. Within Prophecy, a clever reader is made more aware of what motivates the “evil” gods of the Cabal and their plans to return. We also become cognizant of the ulterior motives of the “good” and neutral gods and begin to question everyone’s goals. There are even a few new races we meet throughout the adventures within Prophecy’s pages. And for Kaelin’s biggest fans, Prophecy is loaded with references to the short stories Ryan has written and given away for free on his website.

Prophecy was a lot of fun to read and continues the epic tale set forth by Progeny. One of the things I loved about both Progeny and Prophecy was that none of the characters were predefined by the sides they belong to or their races – there were even parts in Prophecy where I came to sympathize with the ultimate bad guy. For you romantics, you will watch as a couple relationships blossom within Prophecy and a couple others come to an end. The slow buildup approach Ryan takes leaves the tale believable and the amount of backstory is enough to give any epic fantasy reader the sense that his (or her) money was well spent. But mostly it is Ryan’s characters that make both Progeny and Prophecy such great books.

For those who haven’t read Progeny, of all the fantasy series I’ve read (more than a few) Progeny and Prophecy remind me most of the Inheritance Cycle (Eragon) by Christopher Paolini. They are not the same tales, but the elegances found in those books are found in these ones too. The cleanliness of the worlds and the use of typical fantasy tropes in original ways make both worlds comfortable and fresh to any reader, new or old.

I am pleased to give this book five stars and I look forward to reading the next novel in this epic fantasy series. Ryan is destined for greatness, so do yourself a favor and pick up both Progeny and Prophecy now so you can look back one day and say “I knew him when …”.

You can buy it here (Available September 25, 2012):