Although it’s a 3 book series so far, I shouldn’t really be calling The Bobby Dollar series a trilogy considering how Sleeping in on Judgement Day ended. Without spoiling it for anyone, I’ll simply say that it ends with a few major loose ends still untied. However, now that Tad Williams is writing a new trilogy set in Osten Ard 3o years after the events of his first series, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, I’ve decided to write a review in the belief that it will be a while before we get another book set in Saint Jude. To give some context to Tad Williams’ work; because his first book, The Dragonbone Chair, was seen as yet another superior copy of the first epic fantasy series, The Lord of the Rings, it’s only fitting that the first Bobby Dollar novel, Dirty Streets of Heaven, was seen as an potentially superior copy to the staple urban fantasy, detective series, The Dresden Files. Whether it fulfilled this potential is really up to the readers personal preference, but I would personally say no.
Despite not completely beating the originals, his books do create some great post modern homages of many previous works of the past. Where Dirty Streets of Heaven draws from previous urban fantasy books like Dresden, it also draws upon myths of corruption of angels in works such as Paradise Lost, but instead of Lucifer’s fall from Heaven to rule hell, Angels and Demons make a deal to create The Third Way. Bobby is stuck in the middle when his investigation of missing souls leads him to fall in love with one of the demons until she is taken away China Town style. This leads to yet another homage of Dante’s inferno, where Bobby must go through the different layers of hell in order in order to save his love in the sequel, Happy Hour in Hell. The last book brings these plot elements together for a somewhat revealing ending in Sleeping in on Judgement Day. This focuses on Bobby clearing his name of higher angel’s accusation that he is to blame for The Third Way and, not to spoil too much of the latest novel, let’s just say it’s a very stressful time for him.
As this review is about the entire trilogy, I think I can make some pretty broad generalizations about Tad William’s first person writing style. Firstly, it’s overly detailed, in that it has so much flow of consciousness that it takes away the pace and flow of some scenes that would have been better off without Bobby’s excessive monologue. I’ve found that, ever since reading Memory, Sorrow and Thorn which felt like reading about a snail pushing a brick across a desert, Tad Williams needs to learn a lot from the ‘less is more’ way of writing as far as his attention to description goes. Although The Bobby Dollar series was intended to be lighter, and mostly succeeded in Dirty Streets of Heaven, this description does a number to the first person pacing in Happy Hour in Hell. In particular, the series suffers from this on the multiple times Bobby starts dwelling on his negative emotions, situations and copious amount of pain he goes through, which, although always seeming to be the worst pain ever, it never seems to desensitize him against the pain that is to come. In my memory it seems that the monologues of pain take up the majority of the series and, after being tortured in hell, loses all sense of relatability for the reader.
Of course, there’s an upside to the amount of description in these stories in that you are given very clear details of the surrounding environments the main character is in which, in hell, makes for a very unique reading experience. Another upside of the flow of consciousness is the more sexual scenes which are detailed enough that even a prude like me got a little exited from a few moments with the Countess of Cold Hands. Let’s just say that if Williams lost his gift in fantasy there’s nothing stopping him from going into erotica. Another problem with first person, however, is a thing that only a few authors can pull off well and that’s solidifying minor characters through the limited perspective of the main character. I found a few of them got so little attention that there was little point of them being introduced at all, especially when he attempts to squeeze in the most minimal of character development for a few of them during the conclusion. Even the aforementioned heroine became the mostly neglected damsel in distress for the next two novels in the series.
To wrap up yet another fantasy review with some comparisons, Tad Williams it the type of author I think would have done the Farseer trilogy better than Robin Hobb while also being able to keep the same slow pace, depressing characters and hopeless atmosphere that Assassin’s Quest is known for. But in a contemporary fantasy world, where setting descriptions can take somewhat of a backseat, the series would have been better off if it had kept the less is more, light read approach as Dirty Streets of Heaven, which, unlike the rest of the series, I would still recommend to anyone who’s a fan of The Dresden Files or urban fantasy.
Dirty Streets of Heaven: 8.5/10
Happy Hour in Hell: 7/10
Sleeping in on Judgement Day: 7.5/10
The Bobby Dollar Trilogy: 7.5