While most people were spending their Labor Day holiday relaxing on the beach or by the pool, I was reading about drug dealers, the murder of children, violence, and betrayal. And while some would argue with me, I think I had a better time reading LOW TOWN by Daniel Polansky (Twitter).
When friends asked what I was reading, I described LOW TOWN as “The Wire” with magic (and coincidentally, Polansky is from Baltimore). It’s the tale of the Warden (former street rat, discharged and damaged soldier, and disgraced special investigator) who now works the underbelly of Low Town. The fact that he has managed to carve out a small territory despite lacking the power of a small gang should tell you a bit about the Warden’s smarts, propensity for violence, and other skills.
When the children of Low Town start getting murdered, we get to see that the Warden still has a sense of honor, particularly when it comes to the kids of Low Town. He works with the Lw town police, but in an off-the-books fashion, allowing him to take unique advantage of his sources and methods.
Although LOW TOWN is found in the fantasy section, it might just as easily fit in among noir novels as well as 21st century crime novels. Low Town could just as easily be Baltimore, DC, New York, LA, or any other modern city: each sector with its own subculture, norms, codes and specialties.
But, in addition to real (if gritty and dark and dangerous) settings, Polansky is also skilled at creating detailed and compelling characters. Polansky’s characters also display all the ticks and faults of drug dealers and drug users. I felt it was so realistic and detailed, it almost felt too modern (almost anachronistic) for most fantasy tales, but I liked it. It was something new and unique in the genre, which I always appreciate.
Although the mystery, for all it’s twists, turns, and dead ends, felt a little unsatisfying to me towards the end, I think Polansky’s eye for underworld urban details and his skill at crafting characters are not to be missed.
Lastly, I want to point out that while I had wanted to read LOW TOWN for a while, I had not done so until Myke Cole recommended the book on his blog. Cole had recommended Peter V. Brett and Naomi Novik to me, so he had a proven track record. Polansky puts Cole’s count at 3 for 3.