Wednesday, August 10, 2011
I’m not much of a fan of what is commonly called fantasy fiction. Maybe I’m looking for something darker, but most of it comes off as far too inconsequential, often silly. I liked Tolkien all right when I was twelve, but even then found the hobbits to be useless at best and generally annoying. Had I been Aragorn, I would have sent them back to the Shire and gotten on with it. Unless, of course, hobbits cook up well, since you need provisions for that long trip to Mordor. Just my opinion, of course.
I do like the idea of reading about a magical world, where supernatural events are commonplace, but few authors manage to create a world where that is presented in an adult context. George R. R. Martin has done that with his A Song of Fire and Ice series, of course, and after some initial hesitation I came to love Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, but those types of books seem rare within fantasy, which makes the discovery of one a happy occasion, which brings me to the most recent book I’ve read, Daniel Polansky’s Low Town, a book which manages to combine fantasy elements with a hard-boiled crime story, without cheapening either genre.
The main character is the Warden, a drug dealer in the titular Low Town, the rough section of the city of Rigus, which reminded me a bit of London. Warden grew up hard on the streets, went off to fight in the bloody “Great War” (an obvious analogue to World War One) and became an agent of the Crown, tasked with investigating crimes, before a fall from grace five years earlier brought him to his current occupation. Warden has to go back to his old detective days when the bodies of ritually sacrificed children begin turning up in Low Town. His search for the killer leads him to encounter a magical creature he first saw on the battlefields of the war, and to stop it he has to confront much of his own history.
Like Martin, Polansky wisely doesn’t overdo the magical aspects of his invented world. The inhabitants accept that they live in a reality where magic exists, but it isn’t necessarily a part of their day-to-day lives. They are too busy surviving in a rough town where the technology seems to be more or less on a par with our mid-nineteenth century. He has also created a hero who is sympathetic yet undeniably a hard man. The book is fast paced, closer to classic noir novels than the more languidly paced stories typical in fantasy. The reader is shown enough of the world to be intrigued, but the flow of the book isn’t muddled with long explanations of everything in the background. The inhabitants of the novel accept their world as it is, and so do we.
I thought the twist at the end was a bit obvious, but that did nothing to dim my enjoyment of the book. I assume this is intended to be the first of a new series, and I look forward to more visits to Low Town.
Low Town will be published by Doubleday on August 16th, and is available for pre-order at the usual locations. In the UK, it will be published under the name The Straight Razor Cure.