Sleeping Late on Judgement Day. Book Review

sleepingSleeping Late on Judgement Day by Tad Williams
Hodder Paperbacks, p/b, 448pp, £8.99
Reviewed by Catherine Mann

Bobby Dollar is an unfavoured angel. His job means living on Earth in human form and advocating for the newly deceased. However Bobby has a habit of getting into trouble and now, in this third instalment, powerful beings in both Heaven and Hell are out to get him. Still barely recovered from a trip to Hell, Bobby is threatened by fanatical fascists and pokes his nose into a high level angel’s un-Heavenly machinations. Bobby is joined by his friends Sam and rookie angel Harrison (called Clarence because the other angels are jerks) and his new allies, the Ukrainian Amazons, Oxana & Halyna. Can Bobby find out what’s being hidden from Heaven, save his lost love, and lead his friends safely through the danger? Frankly he’d be the first to admit it’s unlikely.

As with the other books in this story the story is narrated by Bobby in his very casual and irreverent manner, which provides a lot of the humour. He’s very confident and sarcastic in his opinions about people and events, though pretty self deprecating about himself and his plans. Bobby is an ingrained underdog and cynical optimist. He knows how low down the pecking order he is, and that anything he does is likely to fail and get him in more trouble, but he’s sure as hell going to try anyway. As ever Bobby’s characterisation treads a fine line between hero and jerk, and while his cynicism might not be to everyone’s taste Bobby’s self awareness makes him fun to be around. The increased presence of the supporting cast –most of who were introduced in the first book but largely absent from the second- helps Bobby’s case. We see that despite his lone-wolf attitude Bobby has people in his live that he cares for and who care for them, even if they’d all consider expressing such emotions far too soppy.

In Sleeping Late on Judgement Day the various threads and arcs introduced in first book The Dirty Streets of Heaven, are brought back into focus and joined by some of the stuff from second book Happy Hour in Hell. The backstory from the previous two books is sketched out gradually, only as needed. To discuss this story I will have to vaguely spoil certain events from the last two volumes, consider this your warning. Bobby’s ordeal in Hell was all for nothing, as he failed to save his demonic lover Caz, who again features briefly in the story via messages. I still don’t feel totally convinced by their great love on an emotional level, but I can’t deny the strength of the motivation within the story. The idea of a normal, boring life with Caz is something Bobby mentions as a possible happy ending condition, though I doubt either character would have the temperament for such a life. Bobby finds something else to live and act for as he realises that there’s something rotten in the Kingdom of Heaven and is determined to find out who has used him and why they want to dispose of him now.

The setting returns to San Judas, which is introduced as a setting less than in the first book, but is still described with care and affection. We see a bit more of Heaven, which does vary in appearance but is shown to have more moral shades of grey than you’d expect. We also finally see Kainos, the afterlife of the Third Way, which dragged Bobby into the problems way back in the first book. Various tertiary characters from previous books are reintroduced and often fleshed out a bit, as Bobby has to return to the supernatural society of the area. The story is less bleak than the previous volume, but that was set almost entirely in Hell so it’s not surprising. Saying that there’s still a lot of danger and action as Bobby is threatened by neo-Nazis who command disgusting Hell-creatures and faces off against powerful beings. Bobby has more agency here; he thinks things through (to an extent), makes plans, investigates and uses his contacts, allies and limited resources to try and find out and somehow expose the truth. To match this shift in the action the forces against him are more varied and subtle, as each new revelation escalates the stakes and shows us a new layer to the situation, the story and perhaps the universe.

Sleeping Late on Judgement Day brings together previously established plot threads and provides a greater level of complexity. It uses secondary characters well, allowing Bobby the interpersonal connections he needs to stop him being either too introspective or too much of a jerk. The ending wraps up most of the loose plot threads, but still leaves mysteries unsolved and hints at yet more hidden agendas. I wouldn’t be surprised if Williams returns to the character some day, but for now this is a solid and exciting end to a fun and imaginative trilogy.