Thursday, September 15, 2011

Review: "Low Town" by Daniel Polansky

I recently read “Low Town” by Daniel Polansky (“Straight Razor Cure” in the UK) and I figured I had to do a review on this. I’m not going to write my own description (I have enough trouble writing my own query letters) so this is from the description on Amazon:

“In the forgotten back alleys and flophouses that lie in the shadows of Rigus, the finest city of the Thirteen Lands, you will find Low Town. It is an ugly place, and its cham­pion is an ugly man. Disgraced intelligence agent. Forgotten war hero. Independent drug dealer. After a fall from grace five years ago, a man known as the Warden leads a life of crime, addicted to cheap violence and expensive drugs. Every day is a constant hustle to find new customers and protect his turf from low-life competition like Tancred the Harelip and Ling Chi, the enigmatic crime lord of the heathens.

The Warden’s life of drugged iniquity is shaken by his dis­covery of a murdered child down a dead-end street . . . set­ting him on a collision course with the life he left behind. As a former agent with Black House—the secret police—he knows better than anyone that murder in Low Town is an everyday thing, the kind of crime that doesn’t get investi­gated. To protect his home, he will take part in a dangerous game of deception between underworld bosses and the psy­chotic head of Black House, but the truth is far darker than he imagines. In Low Town, no one can be trusted.“

So what caught me right away, even before the book was published, was the idea of a seedy drug dealer in a fantasy world as the main character of a novel. The premise was strong enough for me download the sample chapter onto my Kindle shortly after its release.

Once I started reading, the premise took a second seat to the voice which jumped off the first couple pages like nothing I had ever read before. And even though Polansky (no relation to the director) used a
couple cheap tricks, such as the character describing what they see when looking into a mirror, the voice prompted me to purchase the book even before I got to the end of the sample chapter.

From that point on though, the voice did soften a little bit, but not to the point where it wasn’t good, just not as good. Also, the plot, which as you know revolved around the deaths of kids around Low Town, seemed to string out a little bit and it felt like at the end of each day, the main character was ‘reset’ and it had hints of feeling almost like a series of short stores linked together by the main plot point.

I also felt like there were a number of characters that didn’t really do enough to justify how much space they took up, and consequently  they were completely left out of the conclusion and left to dangle.

But that is about the end of what I was able to find distracting about the book. And some things, like the ‘dangling characters,’ I only noticed when looking back on the book once I was finished.

Aside from the voice, which I’ll try to limit my raving on, I was impressed how this drug dealing (and strung out user as well) was able to garner as much sympathy form me as he did. (I suppose trying to find the murderer of an innocent child does that.) I found myself rooting for The Warden when he got into his skirmishes with the hoax, (Low Town slang for the cops) and I didn’t even mind so much when he loaded up on pixie dust (Low Town cocaine I think.)

The Warden was also a very mortal person; he didn’t win every fight. Even when he did win, he had wounds that would hinder him the next day. I found this very refreshing versus some other characters I’ve read where they might jump off a building and their ankle hurts for a couple minutes. The Warden feels his wounds throughout the book..

I also mentioned some of the slang, like hoax and pixie dust, but this book is full of this very colorful language that really pulls you into the world. What’s quite impressive about it is that it feels organic to the story and not just slapped together and placed in there like other fantasy books I’ve read.

The best part of this noir/fantasy mashup is that I feel that this is not just a noir book with fantasy furniture or vice versa. Both the elements of noir and the elements of fantasy are essential to the story. For instance, the voice and the concept of the story would fail miserably without the noir part, and the plot would be impossible without the fantasy elements.

"Low Town" by Daniel Polansky is a true noir fantasy with spectacular voice and an incredibly rich world that more than makes up for its few flaws. I highly recommend this book to fans of noir, fantasy, and those who want to read something different from what normally ends up on the shelves.

I give this book 9/10 stars.


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