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The Lowdown on Low Town,
This review is from: Low Town: The Straight Razor Cure (Hardcover)
Over the last couple of years, there has been a growing trend in what I guess you would call low fantasy. These are novels that aren't overly interested in the antics of kings, or the fate of nations, quite the opposite in fact as they focus primarily on ordinary people. Joe Abercrombie's work springs to mind. The Straight Razor Cure is written in a similar vein.
Low Town has suffered through many terrible situations. From wars, where large portions of the population were killed, to plagues where bodies ended up rotting in the streets. Though times have been tough, the townsfolk just about managed to get by. Suddenly, a killer is stalking their children and many fear the return of the bad times.
When it comes to the denizens of Low Town, nobody is ever quite what they seem. The main protagonist, Warden is a perfect example of this. Down on his luck and no longer a member of military, his character flies in the face of your conventional fantasy hero. Warden is an ugly man, has violent tendencies and is a drug addict to boot. Not exactly the qualities you would you would expect in a leading man. Why then, did I find myself warming to him? Warden could have so easily been a one dimensional bully-boy, but when you read his interactions with those he cares about, you get glimpses of the man he once was prior to his fall from grace. This is a man that has seen (and probably done) horrible things in the past. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but at his core he retains a level of humanity that few of the other characters in the novel display.
The majority of magic and mystical elements that are used in the book are very low key, and this works well within the confines of the story. With a couple of notable exceptions, that are necessary for the plot to move forward, there is nothing that is too in your face. I like this toned down approach, as it gave the entire novel a much more realistic feel.
I enjoyed the way Polansky's writing shifted my suspicions from one character/potential killer, to the next. There were plenty of sufficiently blind alleys and red herrings that kept me on my toes.
Overall, Daniel Polansky's debut novel has been one of my favourite novels of this genre, so far this year. The blend of detective noir and fantasy seems like a good fit. This is a first class murder mystery with an eclectic cast of immoral characters, most of whom inhabit the sleazier side of humanity. They aren't a pleasant bunch but this does make it all the more interesting to read. The wintry streets of Low Town were great fun to visit and I hope I get the opportunity to read more of Warden's exploits in the future.
If you enjoy your fantasy dark and gritty then this could well be the novel for you. The Straight Razor Cure is available now.