Reading Realms reviews Low Town by Daniel Polansky
Rating: 3 ½ stars
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.
I wasn't quite sure what to make of Low Town when I first started it. Told in first person narrative, I certainly liked the main character. But it was the world I wasn't quite sure of at first and I mean that in a good way because sometimes a change of pace is a great thing. It felt like an urban fantasy, but not set modern day. The slang used, other small uses of terminology like 'country' instead of 'kingdom', the feel of the inner city, talk of polution, and more; all had a slightly more forward feel to it than most fantasy. Although there was talk of mortar fire from a war and some black powder use this was no flintlock fantasy novel either. Whatever description you want to try and use to pin the world down with, I have to say I enjoyed it and it was a nice change from what I'm normally reading in both traditional fantasy or urban fantasy.
The main character however was one of those growing-in-popularity archtypes we are seeing more of: the good bad-boy. It didn't bother me though, as I felt Daniel Polansky actually did a lot more than most authors to make him interesting. He was far from your typical leading man, described as old, scarred and ugly often enough; a drug dealer who can handle himself well enough in a fight, but is not the amazing warrior we often see in fantasy. Even admitting when watching a duel one of his adversaries was in that "I'd never be able to beat [him] in a fair fight. To draw a weapon against that man was suicide." He didn't practice magic, though it plays a key part in the story; it isn't flung about casually like gun-fire in summer blockbuster. He was just an interesting character using what little of his wits he could muster to get through life.
The story itself follows our warden as he stumbles upon children being murdered in Low Town- the barrens of the city that are usually neglected by the police. They start paying enough attention because of the victims however and that adds another layer of problems for his investigation. Really the story is more detective novel than anything else, it just happens to be set in a fantasy world.
As far as how the novel did if you look at it as a mystery or detective work... Well everything did wrap up somewhat nicely at the end even if a few issues were left unexplained. Climax-wise I had mixed emotions about the various finales with each adversary. Things played out differently than you usually see in a story, but it did leave a very small nagging feeling of "that was it?" with me. Thinking back though there isn't much I would want to go differently.
Even though it's not a modern urban fantasy, it still has the same feel and I would say any fan of books like The Dresden Files would enjoy it. Even traditional fantasy readers should check it out if the idea of something a little different, a little grittier appeals to them. It was a good book.
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