Tag Archives: Daniel Polansky

Review of She Who Waits – Low Town Novel #3 by Daniel Polansky

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After being gripped by the first two book in this classy series, see my review of The Straight Razor Cure here, and my review of Tomorrow the Killing here – would I enjoy the next slice of the Warden’s adventure as much?

shewhowaitsThe Warden, long ago a respected agent in the formidable Black House, is now the most depraved Law Town Denizen of them all. As a younger man, Warden carried out more than his fair share of terrible deeds. But Warden’s growing older, and the vultures are circling. Low Town is changing, fast than even he can control, and Warden knows that if he doesn’t get out soon, he may never get out at all.

But Warden must finally reckon with his terrible past if he can ever hope to escape it. A host of lunatics and murderers stand between him and his slim hope for the future. And behind them all waits the one person whose betrayal Warden expected. The one person who left him, broken and bitter, to become the man he is today. The one woman he ever loved. She who waits behind all things.

And there you have the blurb. This is every bit as engrossing the other two books – but the action builds up more slowly and my strong advice is that to get the best out of this book you do really need to read the first two. While Polansky hasn’t committed the newbie error of leaving you floundering if you do read these books out of order (a regular bad habit of mine that I managed to avoid this time around), Warden is such a layered, complex character, in order to appreciate some more of his finer points you need to have read at least one of the other books. The tone of this one is darker and more savage – not a surprise, given that Warden is fighting for his life and is more scaldingly aware that he is growing older in an unforgiving environment.

I love his character. While I’d probably go out of my way not to meet him in real life, the humorous asides that pepper his first person narrative, often directed against himself as well as everyone else around him, pulled me right into the story. Despite his ability to murder in cold blood, despite his drug dealing, despite his nastiness to those who care about him – I fiercely wanted him to prevail throughout the story. And, like the previous book, this one explores more of his past – this time shedding light on his downfall in the Black House. How it came about and who, exactly, he still holds accountable for the disaster. Because that is the other part of Warden’s character – he holds a grudge. And is prepared to wait a long, long time before taking his revenge… But that seems to be a common trait in Low Town – and when events take a turn for the worse, he needs all his skill to stay one step ahead of the chaos breaking out around him.

So does the final climax and denouement satisfactorily bring this particular narrative arc to a fitting conclusion? Oh yes. Once more, I ended one of Polansky’s books feeling as if I’ve been through an emotional wringer. They won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you really enjoy character-led stories set in a vibrant, grubbily corrupt backdrop with the inevitable violence leavened by dark humour, then go looking for this series. It’s right up there with the best this sub-genre has to offer.
10/10

Review of Tomorrow the Killing – Low Town Novel #2 by Daniel Polansky

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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?

tomorrowthekillingOnce 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.
10/10

Review of The Straight Razor Cure – Low Town Novel #1 by Daniel Polansky

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straightrazorcureWarden is an ex-soldier who has seen the worst men have to offer, now a narcotics dealer with a rich, bloody past and a way of inviting danger. You’d struggle to find someone with a soul as dark and troubled as his. But then a missing child murdered and horribly mutilated, is discovered in an alley. And then another. With a mind as sharp as a blade, and an old but powerful friend in the city, Warden’s the only man with a hope of finding the killer. If the killer doesn’t find him first.

I’ll grant you the blurb isn’t full of joie de vivre – but this book is more fun than it sounds. Mostly because Warden is written in first person viewpoint and his grumpy, cutting narration throughout the story is often amusing and manages to render the more revolting bits less so. Not that Polansky tries to sanitise the bad part of town – but neither does he treat us to any gratuitous violence or revel unduly in the grottier parts of the landscape. Which is a problem I occasionally encounter with underworld fantasy – while I enjoy being fully immersed in the action, I don’t appreciate feeling the need to shower afterwards…

Having a character that pings off the page is all very well – but a murder mystery needs a lot more than that to work effectively. The world has to be convincing – and again, Polansky ticks all the boxes. Warden’s business interests on the seedy side of town require him to be ruthless and unpleasant, with a supporting cast of characters who he rubs shoulders with. He also has a part-share in an inn called The Staggering Earl run by his business partner Adolphus, friend and former comrade-in-arms, where he whiles away his time drinking and drug-taking when not roaming around doing deals. Or trying to find the child murderer.

Warden has a very chequered past which gradually unfolded throughout the book, allowing him access to some highly placed people on both sides of the law. Not that anyone exactly rolls out the welcome mat for him… The narrative is handled very well as various pressures steadily build up and Warden finds himself on the back foot, needing to solve the murders for his own survival.

I really didn’t spot the perpetrator until the final denouement, which was satisfyingly climactic, tying up all the loose ends. There’s no cliffhanger at the end of this book to encourage readers to reach for the second in the series – which in this case is entirely unnecessary as I’ve already ordered it. Warden’s snarky commentary on his nicely twisty adventures is an ideal way to while away the bleak January weather…
9/10