After enjoying the first book in this series, The Straight Razor Cure, as much as I did – see my review here – it was a no-brainer to go looking for this sequel. Would I enjoy it as much?
Once he was a hero of the Great War, and then a member of the dreaded Black House; now he is the criminal lynchpin of Low Town. His name is Warden. He thought he had left the war behind him, but a summons from up above brings the past sharply, uncomfortably, back into focus. General Montgomery’s daughter is missing somewhere in Low Town, searching for clues about her brother’s murder. The General wants her found, before the stinking streets can lay claim to her, too…
This is another murder mystery, a bit after the style of the adventure The Warden got involved in during The Straight Razor Cure – but this one is all about his past. In Fantasy, war is often part of the story, but Polansky focuses on the damage that war inflicts on those who took part. The Warden’s traumatic memories interleave the current story as he struggles to cope. But once the General asked him to track down his daughter, the Warden finds himself confronted with a past he does his best to avoid. Mostly by taking copious quantities of drugs.
We were faced with the Warden’s irreverent, sharp attitude in Polansky’s first novel, along with his short fuse, his ruthlessness and his drug habit. This is the book that unpacks a real slice of his backstory that probably helps to make up his spiky, layered character. I really enjoyed this journey – the Warden’s sparky humour counteracts the darker tone of this book and helps to tone down the uglier edges of the violence that regularly flares throughout the story. He is a classic anti-hero, complicated, driven and full of self loathing – but with a strong sense of justice and loyalty for the handful of people he loves. Though I’m glad I’m not one of them – he regularly punishes those who do…
One of the joys of this book is the backdrop. The dubious delights of Low Town is described vividly throughout, along with the character cast, through the filter of the Warden. Some of those descriptions verge on the poetic and others are amusing. And some of the descriptions of trench warfare are plain grim, but what they do is build up a wonderful world that pings off the page and straight into the imagination. And as the backdrop is continually inserted as part of the Warden’s routine – he walks everywhere, for starters – the pace is never impeded. It’s a far niftier trick to pull off than Polansky makes it look.
As for the storyline – well I didn’t see that coming… It was a real plot twist, right at the end which created a strong sense of satisfaction and confirmed for me that Polansky is destined to be considered alongside the likes of Joe Abercrombie and Scott Lynch.