Series: Low Town #1
Publisher: Doubleday (August 16, 2011)
Length: 352 pages
My Rating: 4 stars
A noir crime story set in a fantasy setting; Low Town is a dark tale of drug dealers, realistic politics, corrupt cops, and vile sorcery. And while this is Daniel Polansky’s debut novel, it does not read that way at all, but displays the deft touch of a master storyteller, which is why it is a must read for all fans of grimdark.
In the ugly, dirty, and crime infested section of the finest city in the Thirteen Lands lies Low Town: a place few willing call home. And it is here that the Warden resides, using his cynical, streetwise, and violent skills to rule this slum as a crime lord. His days spent dealing drugs; his nights filled with turf wars for control; and the profits he makes from the drugs he deals paying off the guards to look the other way and setting him up in a bearable life.
But there is more to the Warden than meets the eyes. His past filled with unexpected friends, surprising triumphs, and mysterious falls from grace. All his varied experiences making him the perfect person to deal with a series of child murders in Low
Town. The fact that children are dying in the slums not unusual, but the how and the why what draws the Warden into the dangerous game being played by powers seemingly beyond him, reinforcing to him yet again that in Low Town no one can ever be trusted!
Like many fantasy readers, I enjoy stories dealing with anti-heroes. Nothing against heroes, but there just aren’t that many out there these days whose causes are my own. (That happens as you get older and the world moves on I understand.) So the Warden immediately grabbed my attention. Daniel Polansky having created the perfect anti-hero for my tastes: A drug dealer and mafia boss who does despicable things yet still manages to retain some small portion of innate goodness, which rears its head occasionally. This guy’s shadowy past only slowly revealed and creating more questions than it truly answered. The constant evolution of who the Warden is and why he does what he does keeping me riveted to the pages.
But if I’m being completely honest (And you want me to be, right?), it was the noir crime plot line which I adored even more than the mysterious Warden. The constant clues, frantic search for answers, struggles with dirty guardsmen, devious secret police, and corrupt nobles, and the desperate desire to uncover the true murderers mesmerizing me. No doubt, much of this infatuation was due to my unfamiliarity with noir crime fiction, so this type of story line was very fresh and unique for me personally (though I know it won’t be for others out there); the tropes Polansky undoubtedly utilized from this other genre not turn offs but turn ons for me personally. Be that as it may, Low Town was the exact addictive brew I desired.
The only weakness in this narrative would have to be the minimal amount of magic or fantastical elements. Yes, there were magic users, a few paranormal creatures even, but Low Town and its surrounds were so normal most of the time that it was difficult for me to maintain my belief that this story was taking place in a fantasy world at all. Others might not find this an issue at all, preferring low magic settings, but I could have used a little more of the fantastical in my fantasy, if you know what I mean.
Overall, this was a great read, one of my favorites from the recent past. Low Town providing me with a strong dose of grimdark yet blending it so well with noir crime that it provided me with an exhilarating hit of something fresh and exciting. I’ll definitely be reading the next book in the series, and I highly encourage those who haven’t already done so to go out find this book and give Polansky a try, because this author is a damn fine crafter of stories.