The author paints a convincing picture of Low Town, a grim, brutish, crime ridden place where violence is ever present. The story is narrated in the first person by a character who goes under the rather enigmatic name of the Warden. As a drug dealer with a taste for his own products, in particular pixie's breath and dreamvine, and an efficient, violent streak whether protecting his territory from criminal rivals or looking after his other interests, he fits perfectly into this environment. Although it would be hard to perceive him as a hero, he comes across as intelligent, persistent and single minded.
When a child is murdered, he chooses to investigate the crime and then comes under suspicion himself when there is a further incident. He is obliged to continue his investigations to protect himself from the attentions of the authorities. Despite the reasonable assumption that life does not count for a lot in Low Town, the child killing creates quite a stir which suggests that the place has its own set of moral values.
As a fantasy setting it probably takes about the first quarter of the book for the reader to be able to feel really familiar with the surroundings. After that the strong story line really takes hold and the book becomes quite a page turner. The writing is of high quality and the descriptions of people and places are particularly outstanding. This is an interesting blend of fantasy with a supernatural overlay and a little hint of romance thrown in. The climax is well thought out and logical though quite unexpected so the reader's interest is maintained to the end.
This is a very impressive first novel from the author and clearly there is plenty of scope for future episodes of Low Town. I believe that this is the first of a three installment deal and I look forward to the next episode.
on 23 January 2014
This is my first Polansky book and I was pleasantly surprised with it. The story follows Warden, an ex-police, ex-special operative turned drug dealer and all round thug. Warden is encouraged to investigate the abduction and horrific slaughter of a couple of children, and to his utter dismay discovers that someone is dabbling into some deep dark magic. As he gets closer to the culprit he finds himself the target if several assassination attempts.
I found this an enjoyable read and pictured the milieu as a middle age contrast between debauchery and abject poverty. The characters are believable and multi dimensional. The only criticism I have (and this is purely personal) is that the writing style is too archaic for my taste. I spent a great deal of my time using the dictionary function on my Kindle just to further educate myself. In my opinion this detracted from the enjoyment of the book which made it feel a bit too protracted for my liking. Although Low Town is the start of a trilogy, I don't feel the need to read any further books in the series.
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.
on 14 May 2016
Polansky's fantasy world draws upon a range of real world historical settings - Low Town felt like a thinly disguised eighteenth/nineteenth century London while the main character's war reminiscenses seem to have been based on WW1 (the battle of Apres, sounding very much like the battle of Ypres) - with some magical elements and a bit of noirish dialogue sprinkled on top. I thought it would appeal to me, based on the reviews, but somehow I began to lose interest about a third of the way in and finishing it felt like a bit of a chore.It is certainly better written than many of the self published works that find their way on to Kindle, but I did not find it engaging enough to continue with the rest of the Low Town series.
on 18 June 2016
I'd describe it as some kind noir detective fantasy story. I had an American narrator voice in my head whilst I read the story, and it just irritated me constantly. Just not my cup of tea at all. I felt it was like an American Police Drama Detective story, but someone had gone through with "Find and Replace" for all the modern real world things and replaced them with words to make it more "Fantasy".
I think it could have been far shorter than it was, too much fluff. A meh ending, and the story didn't really deliver on what it seemed to promise early on. Some good dialogue, and some cool ideas. But overall just a whole bag of meh. I was in a rush to get it finished.
This is a very decent stab at a crime noir set in a semi-fantasy universe. To be honest some of the characters are straight out of cliche central but this is alleviated by the sharp dialogue and the descriptive passages of conflict. If you remember the Thieves World books, this is very like them. The "mystery" element is well handled and leaves one eagerly setting out to read the next instalment.
on 26 August 2011
My first response when reading The Straight Razor Cure or Low Town as it's known in the US, is that it was like reading a non-fantasy book converted into a fantasy setting. Now, I've been a long standing fan of fantasy fiction, ever since I first discovered Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks while still at primary school. But over the years, and particularly recently, I've come to realise that some of my love for the fantasy genre is nostalgia. That a lot of the time, when I'm faced with another volume in a never ending series that comes in at 700 plus pages, frankly, I just groan. Groan, and read something else. My next thought on this book, that it's written in a very different style from your usual fantasy fayre, may not be entirely true, because there's a whole lot of fantasy that's been published in the last few years, that I've never read. Either way, both these thoughts were, to me at least, a damn fine thing.
Saying that, I didn't immediately warm to the main character, the rather unsavoury Warden. And it wasn't until a few chapters in that I felt the book really found its feet. But once it got going, I totally clicked with it, and from then on I had a blast. Like I say, it doesn't read like too many other fantasy books, and it's being marketed as almost a hybrid of fantasy and noir. I can see why, the main story is essentially an effort to uncover the source of a series of child murders. A crime mystery investigated by a drug dealing ex-soldier. The first person narrative is also full of very modern language, and it took me a while to get used to characters in a fantasy novel bumping fists, smoking roll-ups and talking about how things jibed.
Aside from the noirish elements, there is a backdrop to the story of a great war that happened in the past, and it's written in a way that clearly references the First World War, with its trenches and industrial scale slaughter. I found myself intrigued by this aspect of the novel, and even though it's really only back-story, it added an engaging additional dimension to the setting. Placing the isolated environs of Low Town into a larger cultural and temporal framework, again quite different from much of what I've read previously. I almost wished that it had been explored further.
This novel is very much in the school of dark, grim and dirty fantasy. The main character is not very nice, the child murders are, well they're child murders, and suitably unpleasant. It's violent and bloody, and the language is very adult too. Despite this, I didn't find it a depressing read. Something about the pacing and the fact that some of the key characters have great loyalty, meant that I found it wasn't unremittingly bleak.
Up to now, everything I've said has been about how unlike fantasy this fantasy actually is, but it does have what many consider to be the quintessential fantasy ingredient: magic. The magic isn't overly used, and it's not really explained in any detail, but its very clearly present. The combination of magic - and some otherworldly creatures too - together with all the other aspects, make for a thrilling and unique reading experience.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Straight Razor Cure. It's the first fantasy I've read in a while, and it has reignited in me a sense of excitement for what can be done with fantasy. Overall, it is a book that has a striking vision for a different type of fantasy. This is certainly an impressive début from Daniel Polansky. I also like the fact that it's only 350 or so pages, and it ends with a solid conclusion. Unlike so much of the fantasy I've encountered, I actually wished this would go on longer, and go that bit further; I would happily return to Low Town in the future. A very modern, very engaging novel for fans of fantasy and non-fantasy alike.
on 26 January 2014
What a hero. Complicated, layered, flawed, ugly, addicted, amoral, compassionate, kind, brutal... And sleepless through PTSD.
I hope there are many more in this series, and that Polansky maintains this level of plot, characterisation and story telling.
on 18 May 2016
Loved this book - dark, great story, the main character was in no way loveable and yet I was really rooting for him!! I bought the next two books in the series straight away and spent all weekend absorbed in the world :)
on 29 October 2013
Let me start by saying that 'The Straight Razor Cure' is unlike most books I `typically' read. While it's classed as fantasy, it actually comes across as more of a crime noir that just happens to be set in a secondary world - and this is by no means a bad thing. The novel combines different elements of various genres: we have a former detective investigating the crimes of a sinister serial killer, underlying messages about class division, a grimdark setting, and a few aspects of traditional high fantasy, such as magic. It's fresh and interesting, and an additional dark undertone is provided by the numerous parallels between Polansky's fictional universe and our own world.
The world itself is fairly vivid and well-realised: the majority of Low Town is dirty and ugly - as are many of its inhabitants - and it is rife with moral and physical corruption. It's full of drugs, murder, organised crime and bigotry, and the author effectively uses the first person narration of the main character to implicate the reader in various kinds of casual and normalised delinquency.
The protagonist is very much an anti-hero, the sort of character that is common in this sort of `low' or `grimdark' (or maybe just `grim') fantasy. Warden is an ex-soldier and former investigator who has fallen on hard times due to an unspecified incident, which makes him somewhat enigmatic. He is a drug dealer; he has a tough exterior, and his morals are questionable at best. But his conscience (and more often the conscience of his best friend Adolphus) generally prods him into doing the right thing, even if he can't help but break a few heads (and arms, and legs, and ribs, and necks) along the way.
On our way through the story we learn a few things about our protagonist's history. This is very well done, as it's not over-emphasised; rather, the author feeds us bits of backstory that are relevant to the plot, while withholding key information about Warden's personal history for future novels. I must admit I'm curious to learn more about his early life with the Crane and about his time as a member of the `frost', particularly since he doesn't dwell overmuch on himself and his memories.
The plot was fairly even-paced for the most part, perhaps representing the initial lethargy of Warden, though there are enough moments of surprise and gruesomeness to keep the reader sufficiently intrigued. It picks up the pace marvellously towards the end, however, and the twist ending - although not entirely unexpected - is an exciting resolution to the story. Overall this is an impressive debut novel, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of Warden in future Low Town novels.