Happy Hour In Hell
by Tad WilliamsBobby Dollar, an angel, is going to Hell to rescue his girlfriend from the clutches of a Duke of Hell. It's not a project his angelic masters would approve of, but Bobby isn't exactly a standard goody-two-shoes sort of angel. For starters Casimira, Countess of Cold Hands, is damned so her dalliance with Bobby breaks both sides' rules. Bobby also has a feather in his possession that marks a secret pact between elements of Heaven and Hell, and Duke Eligor of Hell is desperate to get it back.
An angel can't withstand Hell, so Bobby borrows a demonic body to make his descent into the pit. Tad William's version of Hell is on multiple levels, each one grim and horrible in different ways. Some of the levels involve weird torment and fire, and others are almost realistic in spite of the monsters that abound. It's vivid and original. The horror is deliberately varied so that it's harder for Hell's inhabitants to get used to, a theory that means the scenes of unending torment also retain their power to shock readers. Which is just as well, because a large part of Happy Hour in Hell describes hideous cruelties that Bobby either witnesses or is forced to participate in. For the damned souls it is unending, without hope of escape or redemption: they are essentially slaves or property, unable to die due to Hell's disconnection with the normal laws of physics or biology.
Yet a rebellion is brewing. Bobby comes across a secret society known as teh Lifters, who are something like a heretical sect. They believe in the possibility of getting out one day, and that an eternity of damnation is too much. Bobby also meets Gob, a boy born in Hell and therefore condemned without having done anything to deserve it.
Hell gets to everyone after a while, and Bobby starts to take on more of the character of his demonic alias Snakestaff the longer he is there as he learns how to blend in and survive. He's doing it all for love, but the story abounds with examples of how love itself can be a Hell of jealousy, hopelessness, and conflicting goals. "Love is Hell" is an apt tagline.
If you have a strong stomach this is a very entertaining read. Flesh Horse, Phlegethon, Fistula, Poor Meat, Heartbreak Soup, Lower Mandible, Brokebone, and Shrill Hollows are some of the features of Hell's geography, and Tad Williams seems to have had as much fun coming up with Hell's sights and characters as he has with coming up with its names. The dark world is painted with wicked attention to detail. All of this is accompanied by Bobby Dollar's dry, cynical humour. This novel develops the mystery around celestial and demonic relationships that began in The Dirty Streets of Heaven, and in spite of taking place in a realm beyond physics the story remains believable and psychologically real. It left me intrigued and eager to find out how the next novel would pan out.
26th May 2017
Review © Ros Jackson
Source: review copy