BY NICO VREELAND
Author: Daniel Polansky
Filed under: Mystery, Fantasy
Low Town is a genre mashup the likes of which I’m not sure I’ve ever read before. It combines the world of a gritty fantasy novel—and its attendant medieval melee and magic—with the plot of a mystery novel. The hero of the novel (though “hero” is a loose description of him) is the Warden. It’s unclear exactly what that title means, but it’s certain that the Warden is the primary drug dealer in Low Town, the nickname for the slums of a large city in Polansky’s fantastical Thirteen Lands.
When the Warden stumbles upon the gruesome murder of a child, he gets drawn into a mystery that involves cruel nobles, twisted magicians, and his own dark past as both a scarred army hero and a disgraced detective.
On paper, this looks like an easy home run, but the reality is not quite as successful. It’s a bit of a mystery itself as to why it doesn’t work as well as it should: my complaints are relatively small, and Polansky is quite skilled at the things he does well. For one thing, the fantasy side of this novel draws a lot more water than the mystery does. Low Town (the place) is well-detailed and intricately imagined, down to its smallest details, like the tidy tidbit that an incompetent branch of the city’s law enforcement is ruefully nicknamed “the hoax.”
The mystery side of things isn’t quite as enjoyable, mostly because it’s too simple for my taste. I prefer a nuanced, multilayered mystery; Low Town offers something closer to an adventure, the plot points coming in the form of logistical problems rather than secrets or lies to uncover. Continue reading