Synopsis (from Goodreads):
Drug dealers, hustlers, brothels, dirty politics, corrupt cops . . . and sorcery. Welcome to Low Town.
In the forgotten back alleys and flophouses that lie in the shadows of Rigus, the finest city of the Thirteen Lands, you will find Low Town. It is an ugly place, and its champion is an ugly man. Disgraced intelligence agent. Forgotten war hero. Independent drug dealer. After a fall from grace five years ago, a man known as the Warden leads a life of crime, addicted to cheap violence and expensive drugs. Every day is a constant hustle to find new customers and protect his turf from low-life competition like Tancred the Harelip and Ling Chi, the enigmatic crime lord of the heathens.
The Warden’s life of drugged iniquity is shaken by his discovery of a murdered child down a dead-end street . . . setting him on a collision course with the life he left behind. As a former agent with Black House—the secret police—he knows better than anyone that murder in Low Town is an everyday thing, the kind of crime that doesn’t get investigated. To protect his home, he will take part in a dangerous game of deception between underworld bosses and the psychotic head of Black House, but the truth is far darker than he imagines. In Low Town, no one can be trusted.
It was a very good read, with perfectly quotable dialogues and many great characters, very noir but not without lighter scenes. Still while reading it, and enjoying myself immensely, I had problems with suspending my disbelief almost all the time – strange but true.
I can forgive an author many things, especially while dealing with his or her first novel, but lack of logic is hardly among them. Here my issues concerned mainly the main lead, the Warden, and more precisely his strange tendency of jumping the shark.
Polansky wants me to believe that Warden could keep control over a rather significant part of slum Low Town singlehandedly even though Ching Li, his Kiren (so, in this fantasy world, Chinese) counterpart, needs a small army of professionals to do exactly the same. Warden is also a drunkard, a drug dealer and a drug fiend without one ounce of magical abilities – those superpowers that would make the whole premise a little bit more understandable. He cannot survive one single day without anaesthetizing himself with pixie’s breath or whiskey, preferably both, but he can defeat three younger opponents attacking him at the same time. Add to that the fact that even after being in a state of severe hypothermia for a long time or just after being patched up by a medicine woman of sorts he returns to normal life in no time. Hmmm…Allegedly Hammett and Chandler were supposed to inspire the author. Well, Mr. Polansky, those two would never treat their characters in such a cavalier way.
My second issue, related to the first: kids’ deaths. Or, more precisely, the visceral reaction of our hard-as-nails, rougher-than-concrete, battle-hardened hero when he hears and stumbles upon a murdered kid. Mind you those children weren’t related to him in any way, they just lived nearby. He shouldn’t have cared at all and yet he cared a lot. One simple question: why? Because kids in America are the last saint cows? Oh, wait, this book wasn’t supposed to be set in America…and our character was supposed to be a crime lord, not a cross between a conscientious social worker and a teddy bear…
A mishmash of a lot of concepts (noir/mystery/thriller/fantasy) and conventions/cliches (e.g. protagonist is former cop now addicted to drugs). It should have worked for me better but somehow it didn’t. I am torn. As much as I enjoyed the world build, narration and the atmosphere of this one, I felt cheated by the main lead and his antics. Perhaps I’ll check the other parts to see whether anything improved in that area, perhaps not. MEH.