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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Noir Fantasy
I have been reading a good deal of history of late and welcomed the opportunity to read a different type of book such as the gritty, noir literature I enjoy. I also was interested in this new novel, "Low Town" because its young author, 26-year old Daniel Polansky, had been a student of philosophy in college, as I had been long ago.

"Low Town" is a mixture of...
Published on June 4, 2011 by Robin Friedman

versus
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Solid read from a promising new author!
I went into this book not knowing exactly what to expect. Murder mystery - I'm in. Fantasy elements - I'm good with those too. Drug dealing lowlifes - I'm not so sure I care very much about the seedy underside of a city teeming with drugs and cutpurses. I was pleasantly surprised.

Overall, the story is entertaining and the characters an interesting bunch...
Published on August 22, 2011 by Craig Falvo


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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Noir Fantasy, June 4, 2011
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This review is from: Low Town: A novel (Hardcover)
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I have been reading a good deal of history of late and welcomed the opportunity to read a different type of book such as the gritty, noir literature I enjoy. I also was interested in this new novel, "Low Town" because its young author, 26-year old Daniel Polansky, had been a student of philosophy in college, as I had been long ago.

"Low Town" is a mixture of noir and fantasy. These two types of genre writing seem incongrous at first. Noir demands a strong sense of place. a hardness, and a sense of realism. These qualities don't seem to mix well with fantasy. But for the most part, this book works. The book is set in Low Town, which is the tawdry lowlife section in a city called Rigus in a country called the Thirteen Lands. It is hard to put a time on ths story, Many of the traits of Rigus are loosely medieval but some a strikingly modern. (A grand piano is a fixture in some of the scenes.) But the world of the book differs in externals from places people know. Polansky has developed an elaborate story for his Thirteen Lands, replete with terminology for coinage and officialdom, its social structure, its own drugs of choice, and its gods and goddesses and theology. It is not a modern world, as Polansky's story relies heavily on sorcerors (there is a prestigious school for sorcery in the Thirteen Lands) and strange and unbelievable powerful and vile monsters conjured from the Beyond. Sorcery and monsters are ordinarily not the stuff of noir.

The noir elements of the story also are recognizable and ultimately are predominant in this book. The setting in Low Town, with its overcrowdedness, alleys, poverty, crime, bars, drugs, flophouses, and unsavory characters would be at home in virtually any large city. It has a sense of familiarity. The book's hero, a taciturn, hard 35-year old man called Warden is a prototypical noir figure. Warden grew up on the streets where he appeared headed for a life of crime. He was given the opportunity to escape this life and served in the army and in Rigus' cruelly efficient secret police, headquartered in a place called the Black House. But the Warden left Black House in disgrace and went back to his life of selling and using drugs in Low Town and running what appears to be a crime syndicate. As a good noir hero, Warden has a vulnerable side. He is especially protective of young children facing the vicissitudes of life on the streets. He rescues several such children, with varying results, during the course of the story.

Much of the book, as with noir, takes place in a bar. It is called the Staggering Earl which the Warden owns together with the proprietor, a crude, large garrolous individual named Adolphus. Adolphus and the Warden are fast friends and in their differences complement each other. The characters of the various people in the book, especially the Warden, are developed slowly and by indirection, with considerable subtelty. The writing is sharp, observant, and pithy.

The plot turns on the murders of three small children, two girls and a boy, in Low Town over a short time. Although he has been cashiered from the police force, the Warden is brought in to solve the crimes at the threat of excruciating torture and death if he does not succeed within a week. Warden is diligent, ruthless, and efficient, if not always perceptive. He is double and triple crossed and follows many blind leads. The book is replete with fighting, violence of every stripe, and much graphically described killing. Amulets, sorcerers and monsters have an integral role in the book.

As part of the pre-release publicity for "Low Town", Polansky identified Dashiell Hammett, Tolkien, and Quentin Tarantino as among the influences on the book. This novel appears to be the first in what will become a series. Polansky has done something novel and creative in this mixture of noir and fantasy. The book shows, as Polansky suggests in his pre-release interview, that human nature remains constantly recognizable in all its guises even when the surroundings are imagined. To my reading, the book is weakened in its element of fantasy as opposed to realism of the noir genre. But readers enjoying fantasy settings may well be intrigued by this noir story of murder toughness, and redemption in the Thirteen Lands.

Robin Friedman
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great mix of genres., June 9, 2011
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Kortick (Providence, RI USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Low Town: A novel (Hardcover)
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I will admit that when I began reading this book, I did not like it much. In my mind I was expecting an Andrew Vachss type novel, hard hitting, gritty, and based on the dirty streets of the city. The mix of fantasy; sorcerers, spells, and drugs with names like "pixies breath" and "dreamvine" was something I found distracting and unwelcome. So I put it down for a few days, cleared my mind and started again without any preconceptions of what to expect.
Immediately the true power of this book hit me. All the things that before I saw as distractions were in fact, all to the benefit of the book, story and characters. The setting of a fantasy realm blends perfectly with the story, not detracts from it. In fact the tale could not be told in any other way, such is the way it was written. The main characters all are well developed, the story is tight, brutal, and moves along at a great pace. There is plenty of the 'noir' elements such as drugs, murder, grime and corruption in the story. This is played against the backdrop of a mythical city where magic and noble families are part of the daily life. It flows together seamlessly and becomes a book that is hard to put down.
The basic story concerns the murders of children in a poor part of the city, but where such a thing as murder is common, these murders are linked to something much, much more sinister. A disgraced and fallen ex law enforcer turned drug dealer finds himself drafted into solving the mystery. In doing so it leads him down a brutal path where not everything or anyone is quite what they seem. There is also an ending that delivers the goods in a way that will satisfy any mystery reader.
If you are a fan of either genre, I strongly encourage you to read this. If you want to try some new material by a equally new author, this is the book for you.
I look foward to more work by this author, hopefully including more of these characters and location.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Buyer beware: Low Town = The Straight Razor Cure, March 28, 2014
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R. LaMee (Phoenix, AZ United States) - See all my reviews
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Enjoyed the book, but disappointed to find that The Straight Razor Cure is exactly the same book as Low Town, which is listed on Amazon as "Low Town (Low Town, Book 1)". I recommend the book, but such foolishness as republishing recent releases under new titles is deceptive.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A noir fantasy that's not to be missed!, August 16, 2011
This review is from: Low Town: A novel (Hardcover)
Our hero,the Warden,is a scarred man,inside and out,however,he's carved out a niche for himself in Low Town,dealing drugs and enjoying a certain shabby comfort under the watchful eye of his friend Adolphus and his doting wife. The Warden has a past in law enforcement,but one mistake cost him that career,so now he gets by the best he can. When he comes upon the body of a little girl,murdered and left for dead in the street,he finds himself sucked in to a diabolical evil,and compelled to find the person,or thing,responsible for her death. Unfortunately,her death won't be the only one... Aided by a street urchin named Wren,his friends on the street,and even some friends in high places,the Warden will have to track down a man that won't hesitate to use magic for murder.

I really,really enjoyed Low Town. There were none of the growing pains that are sometimes present in first novels,and it reads like a crime thriller. However,Low Town is not of our world. Daniel Polansky took our world,twisted it in on itself,steeped it in magic and set it loose. The effect is nothing short of dazzling. You'll meet underworld criminals,petty thieves,street kids,prostitutes with unearthly beauty,and creatures only found in nightmares. Low Town is fast paced,gritty,with plenty of action to satisfy any crime/thriller fan,and more than enough magic to make fantasy fans equally happy. All this,and a twist that this jaded reader didn't see coming,make Low Town a fantasy/noir treat that's not to be missed!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What Happens in Low Town Stays in Low Town, June 17, 2011
This review is from: Low Town: A novel (Hardcover)
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Note this book is being published as Low Town in the US and as The Straight Razor Cure in the UK.

Low Town is Polansky's debut, but it certainly doesn't feel like it as it's a very self assured first effort. The setting is a Fantasy world, but one not as backward as we are used to. It is actually more of an Urban Fantasy as most of the action takes place in a city, which definitely gave it a very gritty feel as we meet all kinds of ruffians, gangsters, drug dealers, dark wizards, and other unsavory types.

The Fantasy actually comes off secondary to the Noir feel with the first person POV and the dark nature of the characters. In fact this isn't even your usual Fantasy city. It is a world that is on the cusp of advancement as there is talk of explosives and other innovations here and there. Though the city is also dependent on magic for protection from a plague that ravaged the area the generation prior.

The protagonist affectionately called The Warden is a disgraced ex-secret police officer turned drugged dealer. After a murder of a child in Low Town The Warden can't turn away from the case that leads him to what looks like a conspiracy of magic and also his past in the great war. Things quickly escalate as The Warden searches for the culprit and is tossed from groups on both side of the law. He plays all the groups quite well surprising even himself.

If you don't like drug use in your stories than don't touch Low Town. The Warden is an addict himself although he wouldn't admit it, but he is probably not as bad as his customers. The characterization of The Warden is quite strong so the drug use and distribution feels natural for him however abhorrent it may be. He isn't peddling light weight drugs most of the time. He lives a hard life full of dangers he mostly brings upon himself. He also lives above a tavern so he is seen knocking back quite a few as the story progresses.

Per its Noir sensibilities there are lots of twists and fake-outs, but the big reveal was foreshadowed a bit too heavily for me. It was only a slight comment, but from that point I knew pretty much where the story would go. The story also didn't go as deep as I was hoping exploring more of the characters, but it was a fun adventure getting to the end. And The Warden has a fantastic perspective.

Fans of Alex Bledsoe's Eddie LaCrosse and Mike Carey's Felix Castor novels would certainly enjoy Low Town, but for Noir lovers you've found your new favorite series. I do worry Low Town isn't magical enough for avid Fantasy readers expecting more, but it is a rough and tumble novel that keeps a quick pace and never loses its edge.

I'll definitely be back for more as this looks to be a long running series yet Low Town stands alone quite well all its own. Low Town/The Straight Razor Cure will be released this August on both sides of the pond.

And always remember: What happens in Low Town stays in Low Town.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid Debut in the Tradition of Lankhmar, June 16, 2011
This review is from: Low Town: A novel (Hardcover)
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It's pretty clear this debut fantasy novel is being positioned as a cool new thing. After all, what was the last time you saw a fantasy book with a 1990s stencil street art-style cover? It's definitely keen to carve out a niche in the genre by mashing up classic noir tropes with a more or less standard quasi-medieval low fantasy setting. Throw in some grim violence, contemporary profanity and slang (for example, at one point, a group of thugs is said to "roll deep"), and hey presto, this ain't your daddy's Tolkien! The author has alluded to his mashed up influences, from Hammett, to Tarantino, and yes, Tolkien. And to be fair, that combination actually is fairly representative of the kind of mix one is getting, with Tolkien being perhaps the weak link. What I haven't seen mentioned anywhere is the clear influence of Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar stories. Those gritty, most city-based sword and sorcery tales are easily the best comparison to this book.

The antihero of this story is a drug dealer named Warden, whose territory covers a portion of the slums of a large capitol city which feels a lot like London. He's got a colorful past: first as a survivor of a vicious plague, then as the protege of the city's most powerful and beloved wizard, then as an officer for five years of trench warfare against the hated Dren kingdom, then as a top-ranking member of the imperial secret police. He left his position of power behind due to an unspecified incident over a woman, and now he's 35ish and living above a tavern run by his old war comrade. The story kicks off when a child is found murdered, and Warden gets caught up in the investigation. Soon enough, he's uncovered ties to the darkest magic, another child is killed, and he's got to race the clock to find out who's behind it.

It's kind of a classic crime story, and it's not to hard to imagine Warden as a down-and-out ex-cop turned private eye, undertaking the same kind of investigation in a modern metropolis. Unfortunately, anyone who's familiar with classic noir tropes will have a pretty easy time identifying the villain of the story well before Warden does. And I have to confess, even while I understood the villain's motivations, I never really understood what their overall goal was. I'm going to need to go back and read the last 15-20 pages or so, and that's never a good sign. The book brims with atmosphere and brio, and there's plenty of snappy dialogue and clever detail -- but it's just a shade too simple. It's the kind of book I can imagine my 18-year-old self falling head over heels for, but for the adult me, it remained just a touch too basic to truly fall in love with. Still, I imagine there will be more installments in the Warden series, and I will definitely pick the next one up with interest.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Noir Fantasy, May 31, 2011
This review is from: Low Town: A novel (Hardcover)
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I was intrigued to come across a fantasy noir. Low Town's gritty, cold streets resonate with you, despite the nuances of its genre, which is great, if like me, you are not generally a fantasy reader. Polansky can definitely write, and every page is an opportunity to enjoy his witty, dark prose.

This is an enjoyable debut novel, though the plot pacing is a bit uneven. I am definitely excited to read follow-on efforts by this interesting new author.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Sin City" in Novel Format--With Sorcerers, June 5, 2011
This review is from: Low Town: A novel (Hardcover)
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I loved "Low Town." It is now one of my favorite books. That said, keep in mind the bias: one of my favorite films of all time is "Sin City", and the graphic novels are among my best-loved, too.

"Low Town" is set in the city of Rigus (also called Low Town), and follows the story of the Warden, a disgraced ex-member of Black House, the Crown's brutal, magically-endowed police force. Warden has turned to drug-dealing (among other pursuits) and has become a successful crime As the mystery and scandal grow deeper and more terrible, it becomes clear that the children were murdered solely for the purpose of a dark rite. Nor is it a small-time sorcerer working for his own ends; as the Warden falls deeper and deeper, it becomes clear that his own rivals, Black House, the military, and perhaps even the Crown have a stake in it--and that some answers lie in the Warden's past.

"Low Town" pulled me in from the first sentence. I opened it up, expecting to need a few chapters to orient myself. But happily, I was addicted about half a page down. This book is gritty, violent, and dark, yet manages to sidestep "dirty" with perfect ease. The Warden has the perfect voice for this story--reasonably intelligent, empathetic (though not to a fault) very cunning, and able to read between the lines without pulling Encyclopedia Brown deductions on us (which is a pretty common fault). It moves quickly without sacrificing details or characterization. I'd say the pacing is practically perfect. The suspense is fantastic, often coming close to causing outright anxiety. The twists were very well-executed. While I knew something was up at the end, I still didn't see it coming. The conspiracies (and non-conspiracies) involving Black House and Warden's rivals were exciting and well-executed, as well.

The characterization is also great. The Warden is a very deep character. In fact, I thought all the characters were great (though his mentor may have had a little too much in common with Albus Dumbledore...) The Blade was a pitch-perfect villain: absolutely ridiculous in his way and contemptuous, but very dangerous. I thought Celia alone was a little bit flat in comparison, but was still an interesting character. The reactions and motivations of all the people involved were very realistic. The dialogue was good (even if the thugs seemed a little too eloquent at times.) Warden's exchanges with Ling Chi were appropriately maddening. Some of the one-liners were a little too perfect, but they still elicited laughter.

The setting is also amazing. From battlefield to slums, appallingly lush mansions to drug lords' inner sanctums, Polansky captured everything perfectly. To envision everything perfectly without requiring a deluge of detail is a rare talent.

Here are the complaints: for an aging man, Warden breaks too many ribs to be running around like he is. Also, while the ending was great, I thought it went too quickly. I would have loved to see it drawn out.

Overall, "Low Town" was an excellent book, and I'm happily recommending it to anyone.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A strong, confident debut, August 23, 2011
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This review is from: Low Town: A novel (Hardcover)
In a grimy dump of a room above a bar lives the Warden, a man who has led many lives but now finds himself as low as ever. A former soldier and police officer, he is now addicted to the drugs he sells for a living in the territory he carved out for himself in Low Town, the seediest district in the city of Rigus. He's become a cynical man, leading a dark and violent life, but when he finds the abused corpse of a young girl who went missing a few days earlier, he can't help getting pulled into the investigation, which will inevitably bring him into contact with parts of his past he'd rather stay clear of. So begins Low Town, the promising debut fantasy novel by Daniel Polansky...

If it wasn't clear from that opening paragraph, Low Town is fantasy noir. It's a dark novel about cynical people in a grimy part of town. Its main characters are street hustlers, petty criminals, and corrupt cops. It's set in a part of the city where actual law enforcement officers tread lightly and a rough sort of justice is usually enforced by whichever crime lord runs that particular area. It starts off with Warden taking a hit of pixie's breath -- one of the drugs he both sells and frequently uses -- to help him face the day, and then tossing the contents of his bed pan out of the window into the alley below before trudging down to the bar below for his breakfast. No sparkly elves making merry in this fantasy, folks.

Warden is a fascinating main character. When we meet him at the start of the novel, he has become an anti-hero who has settled down at the low point of his adult life, but throughout Low Town you'll get bits and pieces of information that allow you puzzle together his back story, showing exactly how far he's fallen. The story is told from his first person perspective, so you'll get a very close look at the workings of his mind. He may seem cynical and selfish, but at several instances you'll also see a softer side of his personality, especially when it comes to children. Still, when faced with misfortune, he usually chooses between getting drunk, getting high, beating someone up, or all of the above.

Early on, I expected this to be a novel with a strong protagonist and a bunch of flat side characters, but instead I found that many of the bit players eventually take on enough life to become interesting in their own right. Adolphus, who runs the Staggering Earl bar and soldiered with Warden in the past, shows a gruff but good-natured demeanor that eventually reveals a softer side. (For some reason, he reminded me of Dan Goodman's character in The Big Lebowski.) Wren is a razor-sharp street urchin who becomes Warden's protégé. The Crane is the First Sorcerer of the Realm, responsible for saving the city in the past but now fading into old age, and Celia is his apprentice. Crispin is Warden's former partner in the city's police force (and at one point memorably tells Warden "You've become everything you ever hated.") Several of these characters start out being one-dimensional but eventually many of them take on enough detail and personality to become fascinating in their own right. Despite initial appearances, Low Town isn't a one-man show, which is promising for future novels in this series.

Aside from the characters, the other main attraction of this novel is its setting. There's an entire fantasy world here, even though the novel is set entirely in one small part of it and we only see bits and pieces of the rest of the world. Daniel Polansky makes several references to other cities and countries, various religions, past wars, and plagues that ravaged the city. The actual rulers never take the stage in this novel, but we do see examples of decadent nobility, a corrupt police force, and a terrifying intelligence bureau. There are also several distinct human races, and although it's easy to draw parallels with races from our own world, they still add realism to the overall picture. The author packs a lot of world-building detail into this relatively short novel, which again makes me curious to see future novels set in Low Town or the wider world.

Daniel Polansky paints the darkness, grime and depravity of Low Town with broad, bold strokes. Occasionally the noir is laid on a bit too thickly, but most of the time Polansky's prose displays a skill and grace that's unexpected for a debut novel. Being stuck inside the mind of a grim, cynical character can be hard to bear for an entire novel, but Warden shows enough wit and irreverence ("Up close she looked like someone better seen from farther away.") to turn Low Town into an entertaining and frequently funny read, even if the subject matter is on the dark side.

Low Town was published in the UK as The Straight Razor Cure, and as evocative as that UK title is, this is one of the few novels where I prefer the US title. It just fits the novel better. I also think the US cover is considerably more appropriate than the UK one. We didn't really need another mysterious hooded figure, especially one with its hand on fire. The brick-wall-and-graffiti cover of the US edition is perfect for this novel.

Low Town is a strong, confident debut that should go down well with readers who enjoy their fantasy on the noir side. It's a novel you can enjoy for its atmosphere as well as its story, full as it is of well-drawn scenes from the city's underbelly. It's also a tightly written book, which is something many people will appreciate in an age of novels with dramatis personae lists that take up several pages. Low Town delivers a fast, entertaining story in fewer pages than it takes some major epics to get out of the realm of basic exposition. I had a blast with Low Town, and I'm definitely keeping an eye out for whatever Daniel Polansky comes up with next.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bogie is channeled in this novel, June 22, 2011
This review is from: Low Town: A novel (Hardcover)
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For a first time author, Daniel Polansky has done an incredible job mixing the genre of noir with fantasy in Low Town. As I turned page after page (yes, I read this in one sitting taking about 8 hours) I could hear Bogie's voice being channeled through the first person narrative of the "Warden", the very flawed hero of this story.

Set in an unknown time, you really don't know whether it is distant past, present or future, Low Town is a fantasy world that outside the pages of the book, you would not want to visit. It's dirty, it's nasty and Polansky's description of the world reminded me of yesteryear back-alleys that a person of repute would be afraid to walk.

The Warden, much like Bogie in many of his movies, is a former cop who because of circumstance is forced to investigate the murders of three small children. Also like Bogie, the Warden has habits and addictions that keep him far from being perfect. For a first time novelest to pull this off is outstanding.

No words are wasted in this novel, you will find very little fluff to distract you from the wonderful, gritty story being told. One cavaet for those looking at this novel - if drug use and excessive violence turn you off; move on to another book. While both are rampant in this story, both make this story believable and real.

If you're a fan of 30s film noir, pulp fiction noir fiction or fantasy such as Sin City - this book will give you hours of delight as you turn the pages. I can highly recommend this book for anyone who loves the genre. Until I read Low Town, I didn't know the mixed genre of noir/fantasy was even out there to be read, but you can bet I'll look for more. Polansky has a fan and I will read anything he writes in the future.
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Low Town: A novel
Low Town: A novel by Daniel Polansky (Hardcover - August 16, 2011)
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