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Low Town

Posted by Dan Smyth On Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Do you know what a cornucopia is? I'm not sure if this is the greatest analogy or not, but the imagery of a cornucopia is immediately what came to mind when I was reading this novel. Based on that single word, your impression of the book right now is probably dependent upon your own connotation of the word cornucopia. The idea of a cornucopia in my head is a pretty generic one, without any kind of preconception of the pieces contained by the...uh...aforementioned cornucopia. (How many times can I feasibly use that word in a single paragraph without having it ruin me? Best not to ask.) Anyhow, generic is pretty much where this book landed. Solidly in the land of mediocrity.

LOW TOWN is a debut novel (yeah, there was a rash of newbs in our pile and guess who got em?) by Daniel Polansky. I went into the book with high hopes. In essence, the book is about...mmm...well, it's about a whole lot of things, and they're all mashed up into one big--

Nope. Not going to say it. Put on your big-reader panties, everyone. I'm going with implication this time.

The story itself revolves around the character of the Warden and is told from a first-person POV. This kind of presentation was probably the one thing that saved the book, as I'm a reader that's big on character and it's fairly difficult to avoid putting character into first-person prose. The Warden is a guy that hustles drugs for the meaner parts of Low Town, although he's not without competition. He's a pretty unsympathetic guy that's been through the ringer as a former member of the elite police force of the city, and at the outset of the story he really doesn't care about much of anything or anyone. Just there to make a buck and shaft everyone he can. Even his so-called friends.

But then someone starts killing kids and he gets tied up in it. Although, you should probably read that one as: his former employer tells him to find out who's doing it or take a one-way trip to feed the fishes.

This is really where the story starts, and unfortunately it comes in at about a third of the way through the book. Up until that point in the story, I couldn't find much of a rhyme or reason as to what was going on or why things were happening. There was no direction. Although this problem does shrink somewhat as the book progresses, the feel of the book kept jumping all over the place. The world building suggested a dark, gritty city where the dregs of society live, and yet when a couple of kids get murdered everyone is all of a sudden appalled at the very idea of killing an innocent child. Another issue was that the near history feels very medieval, but then the main character has WWII-like memories come up, with trenches, and black-powder bombs, and hand-held guns. There's even a very Harry Potteresque feel to a couple scenes that totally took me for a loop. It was just all over the place. This made the story fairly difficult to get into, but once I got used to it, I did just kind of go with the flow.

Polansky's prose is decent for the most part. In sections, the lack of supporting detail made it difficult to follow what was going on. In others, everything seemed fine. So, kind of a mixed bag in the presentation department as well. He definitely could have used a few more commas though. There weren't enough of those by a long shot, and repeatedly made for a lack of clarity that got annoying.

The thrust of the novel is ostensibly a combination of noir and fantasy, but it felt mostly like sketchy noir with a very light sprinkling of magical influence. Still, besides being somewhat predictable at the end, it wasn't what I'd call a bad book. It absolutely didn't stand out in any way, shape, or form for me though, and thus earned its rating quite handily. It was just there, right in the middle of the mediocre pack, waving its arms and screaming at me, trying its best to catch my attention. I guess I've just seen so much better stuff out there that I couldn't spare more than a passing glance.

Another one for the shelves, but not necessarily your precious time.

Recommended Age:
Language: Infrequent but strong, frequently distracting
Violence: There are some pretty messy deaths via magical construct and otherwise
Sex: A few references, some brief anatomical description


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