Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Review | Low Town: the Straight Razor Cure

At the weekend, I began reading Low Town - as you can likely guess from the title of this review. What I didn't expect was quite how fast I'd read Low Town. The answer, by the way, is: very fast. And why? Because this is a very, very good book.

I've ranted before on the importance of flawed heroes, and Low Town takes this to the extreme. Warden, a former Agent of the Crown, is a narcotics dealer - and yes, he's flawed. Dark, frequently uncaring, and reliant on a number of chemical compounds for his welfare, this novel finds a situation to match him: a series of murders. Children are being murdered in Low Town, it soon becomes clear that there's more than sadism behind their actions. Warden is going to have to find the killer - to return to his old ways and old acquaintances.

Protagonists who are already competent are always more interesting to read: as long as they avoid informed abilities. Thankfully, Warden does - with an existing past and proven ability, his unorthodox investigation is a pleasure to read. He doesn't stick to the rules, so his next steps are always interesting ones. A pleasure, albeit a gritty, dark one, because Low Town is not a pretty place. Pulling elements from noir, this is a black fantasy, and all the better that it doesn't shy away from it. Sometimes, darker novels are made almost trite by the addition of an ending which seems to be from a different genre (with more sugar and ponies. Gah), but this certainly isn't true here: success is always tempered with grit.

So, what about character? While having a realistically flawed character is important, this can be taken to extremes - which is just as bad. An unsympathetic character is frequently an interesting protagonist (with exceptions). While Warden may tread on the line itself for some, I found him to be - if not exactly sympathetic - at least a character whose success you desire. His companions provide equal interest (although I didn't feel wren, a side character got sufficient development): and the Crane and Celia the most intriguing pair among them. You'll see why...

Reagrding plot, this might seem like something you've heard before: embittered character regains old position, etc. Low Town is not that story, and most of the tropes you're expecting will be late to the party - or missing altogether. As I've mentioned before, my plot-senses are veterans, but Low Town's developments surprised even me!

If you're a fan of fantasy crime, of grit, or simply of going outside the traditional, Low Town is likely a novel you'll enjoy. One of the most memorable protagonists of recent years, a taste for the unusual, and a bundle of subverted expectations combine to make this a novel I regret not reading at release!


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