[ Book Review ] Now That’s Fantasy Noir

Meg’s Review of Low Town by Daniel Polansky

Audiobook read by Rob Shapiro

Ever since Harry Dresden hit the scene, the term ‘fantasy noir’ has been bandied about with great abandon. Though the Dresden Files series has much in common with the genre made popular by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, each derivative wizard/vampire/werecougar detective that has followed has moved farther and farther from the source material. Sure, there is usually some violence, a thoroughly depraved setting, and plenty of treacherous dames. But these stories lack one key literary aspect: the main character is just too damn likable.

Low Town by Daniel Polansky finally bridged that gap, creating a character who is so unpleasant that when he does get the crap kicked out of him, the reader can yell with a gleeful, “About freaking time!”

Low Town is told from the point of view of The Warden, a cop-turned-violent-drug-dealer who spends the majority of the book high on Pixie’s Breath and Dreamvine. He lives in the titular part of town that appears to be some warped alternate universe version of London where demonic creatures of the void are summoned by corrupt sorcerers. And when one of these demons starts to kidnap and kill small children, The Warden gets involved against his will, delving deep into the darkest parts of the city.

The world building here was a double-edged sword. It was immersive in the same way Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is, with no hand-holding for the reader as the Warden slouches around the strange city throwing new terms and phrases about as though telling the story to a local. And while Polansky manages to pull it  off most of the time, there were scenes when the world seemed to run away from him.

There were too many names, too many ethnicities and social classes, and too many subplots to keep them all straight.  These hiccups happened often enough to be noticeable, but not often enough to detract from my overall delight over the book. Continue reading