Welcome to Low Town. Here, the criminal is king. Here, people can disappear, and the lacklustre efforts of the guard ensure that they are never found.
Warden is an ex-soldier who has seen the worst men have to offer; now a narcotics dealer with a rich, bloody past and a way of inviting danger. You’d struggle to find someone with a soul as dark and troubled as his.
But then a missing child, murdered and horribly mutilated, is discovered in an alley. And then another. With a mind as sharp as a blade and an old but powerful friend in the city, Warden’s the only man with a hope of finding the killer.
If the killer doesn’t find him first.
Let me start by saying that The Straight Razor Cure is unlike most books I typically read. While it’s classed as fantasy, it actually comes across as more of a crime noir that just happens to be set in a secondary world – and this is by no means a bad thing. The novel combines different elements of various genres: we have a former detective investigating the crimes of a sinister serial killer, underlying messages about class division, a grimdark setting, and a few aspects of traditional high fantasy, such as magic. It’s fresh and interesting, and an additional dark undertone is provided by the numerous parallels between Polansky’s fictional universe and our own world.
The world itself is fairly vivid and well-realised: the majority of Low Town is dirty and ugly – as are many of its inhabitants – and it is rife with moral and physical corruption. It’s full of drugs, murder, organised crime and bigotry, and the author effectively uses the first person narration of the main character to implicate the reader in various kinds of casual and normalised delinquency.The protagonist is very much an anti-hero, the sort of character that is common in this sort of ‘low’ or ‘grimdark’ (or maybe just ‘grim’) fantasy. Warden is an ex-soldier and former investigator who has fallen on hard times due to an unspecified incident, which makes him somewhat enigmatic. He is a drug dealer; he has a tough exterior, and his morals are questionable at best. But his conscience (and more often the conscience of his best friend Adolphus) generally prods him into doing the right thing, even if he can’t help but break a few heads (and arms, and legs, and ribs, and necks) along the way.
On our way through the story we learn a few things about our protagonist’s history. This is very well done, as it’s not over-emphasised; rather, the author feeds us bits of backstory that are relevant to the plot, while withholding key information about Warden’s personal history for future novels. I must admit I’m curious to learn more about his early life with the Crane and about his time as a member of the ‘frost’, particularly since he doesn’t dwell overmuch on himself and his memories.
The plot was fairly even-paced for the most part, perhaps representing the initial lethargy of Warden, though there are enough moments of surprise and gruesomeness to keep the reader sufficiently intrigued. It picks up the pace marvellously towards the end, however, and the twist ending – although not entirely unexpected – is an exciting resolution to the story. Overall this is an impressive debut novel, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of Warden in future Low Town novels.My rating: 4/5
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