Wednesday, September 28, 2011
2) Do any of you (two or three readers that may stumble across this) remember Bat Durston? He used to appear as a semi-satirical character who could slip from one genre to the next without any substantive change; usually from a western to a space opera, with only cosmetic changes. The American southwest became the Martian landscape, his horse became a speeder of some kind, the Apaches became Martians, the cattle rustlers became... I dunno, some other kind of bandit. The point was, some stories can easily slip from genre to genre because they don't actually incorporate the narrative tropes and conventions of the genre that they appear in. Low Town fits this description in many ways. In many ways, it's an iconic noir novel. There's little about it that makes it have to take place in a fantasy setting, and in fact, there's little about the fantasy setting that is unique or unusual, or even fantastic. Maybe that's deliberate, because that would clash somewhat with the noir sensibilities, but it's true. Heck, even the sorcery becomes more of a macguffin than an integral plot point. Magic becomes the murder weapon, but it could easily have been something else. The Warden, the protagonist of Low Town, is a Bat Durston. He doesn't come from a Western, but the story, the characters, the voice, the plot--everything could have been a "regular" noir novel, and the fantasy is just a cosmetic overlay that gives Low Town a bit of a twist, and the opportunity to be read by a new audience who otherwise may not have discovered it.
Again; I'm not voicing that as a complaint. In fact, I think that's a perfectly reasonable tack to take. But it is what it is. Low Town isn't really treading in some new, gee-whiz, innovative and uncharted territory. It's an iconic, almost by-the-numbers, if I can say it, hardboiled detective novel that just happens to have some fantasy overlay, including a secondary world setting and a magical macguffin.
3) Being written as it is in a first person limited point of view, the protagonist slash narrator has to be a great character, and The Warden fits the bill. He's also an iconic noir type character--a former hero of sorts; a war veteran, a spy slash detective career after that, a fall from grace and dishonorable discharge from service, and he's now a tough guy around town peddling drugs and running a reasonable successful criminal business. Against his better judgement, he gets involved in an investigation of some grisly murders. His past comes back to haunt him. He gets stuck between the secret police and gang bosses and unscrupulous noble murderers and more, and has to navigate an increasingly difficult, intrigue-laden plot to confront what ends up being a dark secret with ties to his own past. All fairly textbook noir tropes, frankly, with the exception of the vaguely Lovecraftian horrors from the spaces between the worlds that are being summoned to murder people. But very well executed. The main mystery wasn't quite as surprising as all that. I've never been great at sussing out the riddle of who's guilty in mysteries ahead of time, really, but this time, Polansky really telegraphed somewhat transparently that there was something hinky going on with the villain, so when revealed, it's not a big shocker, it's more like, "y'know, I was wondering what was going on there. That makes sense." Good point or bad point? I dunno. I enjoy it. Then again, I don't read a lot of pure mystery, because I don't necessarily enjoy the game between author and readers that the genre presupposes. I'm OK with an author telling me what happens without me being expected to try and figure it out myself.
4) The Warden isn't the only great character, though, although he naturally gets top billing. Several other characters, including the nobleman, his sorcerous henchman, the Warden's husband and wife landlord slash old war time friend, the bitter ex-partner from the force, the young kid who starts tagging along behind them, the benevolent father figure, even Yancey the medieval rap artist are all reasonably well developed and interesting characters who have a part to play. And the cryptic dialogue between the Warden and the leader of the Triad-like syndicate Ling Qi is just outright fun and hilarious while managing to also be surprisingly sinister to read.