Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Low Town - Daniel Polansky

About the book

Drug dealers, hustlers, brothels, dirty politics, corrupt cops . . . and sorcery. Welcome to Low Town. 

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. 

352 pages (hardcover)
Published on: August 16, 2011
Published by: Doubleday
Author’s webpage

Published under the following titles:

UK: Low Town: The Straight Razor Cure
German: Der Herr Der Unterstadt
Spanish: Bajos Fondos

Thanks to the author, and Doubleday for sending me a copy of this book to review.


Antiheros and I tend to have a really good working relationship. Out of all the character types in literature, I enjoy the antihero the most. When I told Polansky that I would accept his book and I was really excited to review it, I had no idea I was accepting a book where the main character was an antihero. Thus, you can imagine my thrill when I started reading and discovered that was the case.

There really isn’t anything amazingly new about Low Town, yet despite that it still manages to be a success. Low Town blends several done-before plot points and character types into a very well done setting. Polansky managed to bring it all together in such a way that the “done before” themes won’t bother the reader. That being said, readers’ familiar with noir and crime novels will probably have an easy time pinning the villain, probably before the protagonist does.

Low Town is a hybrid of sorts. It’s part fantasy and part murder mystery. The appeal with Low Town is the grime that covers it. Most fantasy seems to take place in, near or around palaces and important people who wear fancy clothes. Low Town takes place in the proverbial gutter with a main character who is an ex cop drug dealer who was basically kicked off of the force (for lack of a better term) after some incident that is never really discussed in detail. Despite being kicked off the force, the Warden takes matters into his own hands when he’s confronted with a mysterious death (or three). It’s rather easy to see where this is going, but it’s no less entertaining for that.

Low Town’s atmosphere is what I enjoyed most about it. Polansky filled his book with numerous cultures and managed to infuse his setting with a sense of history, which is impressive considering that the book isn’t even 400 pages long. The grime that covers everything isn’t overdone; rather, it’s realistic and believable and different enough from most other fantasy that it’s eye catching and enthralling. Low Town truly is a slum and Polansky makes that slum come alive with his impressive prose, slang used, descriptions and history.

Low Town isn’t incredibly deep, nor should it be. It’s a fun read that will take the reader on an adventure rather than hit them over the head with morals and impressive parallels to the real world. Despite its grit, Low Town is rather escapist. It doesn’t require a lot of attention to detail, nor are there lots of made up words to look up in a glossary. It’s actually rather simple, somewhat predictable, and rather comforting to read as it doesn’t challenge the reader too much. All of this works together to make it incredibly fun.

Despite this, Low Town does have its few problems. For example, the book is written in first person past tense, which is fine. However, that form of writing automatically tells the reader that, even though you don’t know the details, you know the protagonist made it through the event long enough to tell his story. Thus, there is some predictability within the book. Furthermore, there are some instances where the protagonist seems to accomplish an impossible amount of stuff during one day’s span. Another point of complaint is, even though the mystery wraps up nicely, I was never quite clear on the villain’s motivation or why they did what they did. Lastly, the ending is rather rushed and does come together a bit too nicely.

However, that being said, Low Town impressed me, especially for a first book. Polansky managed to do something that is nearly impossible. He took a predictable, slightly done-before plot and managed to make it fun and interesting enough to make all of that, and it’s other few problems, incredibly easy to overlook. Polansky created an interesting, dirty world and ran with it, populating it with rich characters and a nice sense of history. His use of language only adds to the realism of Low Town. Low Town is the kind of book you want to read when you want to escape with a book that’s a little different than your typical fare. Polansky is an author to watch.

4/5 stars

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