Title: Low Town
* Series: Low Town #1
Author: Daniel Polansky
Publisher: Random House
Pages: Paperback; 354
Release Date: August 16, 2001 (Reprint)
Genre: Dark Fantasy / Noir Fantasy
HDB Rating: 5 Keys to My Heart
Recommended to: Any reader who loves a dark fantasy story with a well fleshed out main character.
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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.As I am writing this while slightly loopy on cold meds, please pardon any rambling that might ensue. It doesn't change the fact that Low Town impressed me so very much, that it has firmly settled Daniel Polansky into my favorite authors list. After reading a short story of his, and then devouring a much longer piece, I can tell you that he is an amazing writer in all formats. His worlds brim with atmosphere, his characters are gritty and realistic, but best of all it always feels like you're seated right in the thick of it. This book was utterly addictive, and I'm honestly so sad that it's over.
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.
Daniel Polansky has crafted a thrilling novel steeped in noir sensibilities and relentless action, and set in an original world of stunning imagination, leading to a gut-wrenching, unforeseeable conclusion. Low Town is an attention-grabbing debut that will leave readers riveted . . . and hungry for more.
If you asked me to classify this, I'd have a hard time settling on any genre. Low Town is a fantasy, because magic is in play. However it's also noir fiction, in that Warden falls solidly on the wrong side of the law. There's a gritty quality to this story. Polansky takes the hand of the reader, and slowly leads them into the darkest parts of society. The parts where the drugs run thick, danger is around every corner, and the supposed "law men" are actually the worst of the bunch. What I loved about this was that it set Warden in this gray area between worlds. Once a crony of the state, now a crime boss of sorts, poor Warden floats in this intriguing purgatory of his own making. It allows for so much depth, in both his character and the story that surrounds him.
Which, honestly, is why I liked Warden as a character so much. Polansky never labels Warden as a "bad guy" or a "good guy". He's just a man, faced with tons of impossible choices, struggling to make a life the best that he can. I never felt cause to judge him for his choices. In fact, more often than not, I silently cheered him on for choosing to do things the hard way. It's tough to create a character who has a good heart, but does bad things. Polansky does it without even blinking. Warden is wonderful, terrible, and tragic all wrapped up into one. I adored and respected him for it.
If you think that the impressive world building, and the brilliantly layered characters, were all that you were going to get? Well, you'd be wrong. On top of all of that, is the type of mystery that keeps you reading well into the night. As I mentioned before, Warden isn't exactly the shiniest character you've ever met. He has enemies, and worst of all he has enemies from both his prior and his current life. Polansky took this opportunity to craft a dark and gritty mystery. One steeped in magic and surrounded by death. I liked Warden before he was wrapped up in this mystery, but I loved him afterwards.
Long story short, this is absolutely a series that I'll be following. There's not a single thing about it that I didn't fall head over heels in love with. If you're looking for something a bit different, you might want to check this out. I'll tell you, it's put Daniel Polansky on my shelf of favorites. It might do the same for you.