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Low Town - Daniel Polansky (Giveaway & Review)

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Low Town - Daniel Polansky (Giveaway & Review)

U.S. Cover and Title
Tell me if you've heard this one before, ok?  Joe Abercrombie walks into a bar, sits down and orders a whiskey.  He takes a shot and looks down the bar where he sees fellow fantasy author Brandon Sanderson sitting at a table.  Sanderson is laying out a Magic: The Gathering deck and drinking a glass of milk.  Abercrombie, seeing his comrade in arms, stands up and walks over.  They get to talking about this and that, of course Abercrombie tries his best not to swear or talk about sex, an admittedly difficult bit of conversationlism.

Before you know it, the two of them start writing.  Sanderson is handling the outline, plotting things just so and building the world.  Meanwhile Abercrombie is writing the scenes, adding his grit and authentic dialogue to Sanderson's framework.  He decides to try first person this time, change is a good thing, right?  Somewhere along the way Sanderson wins the sexytime argument.  They finish the novel and agree on the pseudonym Daniel Polansky.  And so, Low Town was born.

That's just a legend.  To the best of my knowledge Daniel Polansky is a real person, and not some amalgamation of two bestselling fantasy authors.  But it could be true because Low Town is the love child that Abercrombie and Sanderson (probably) will never have.  It's well paced, richly textured, and demonstrates all the rawness that the genre has come to expect from the modern fantasy writer.

Polansky's protagonist is Warden, a 30-something drug dealer, and user, with a checkered past. He used to be more, but now he haunts the streets of Low Town peddling his product and trying to stay alive (sort of).  Low Town reads like crime fiction that wouldn't be at all out of place shelved among James Ellroy and Ellmore Leonard.  There's an urban feel to it all, and Warden is very much a noir protagonist, past his prime and world weary, but committed to doing what needs doing.  In this case, that's solving the mystery of a murdered girl which the powers that be have no interest in doing.

He doesn't look like Joe
or Brandon!
It didn't surprise me to learn that Polansky is a Baltimore native.  Anyone who's watched HBO's The Wire will find some familiarity. Warden is reminiscent of Stringer Bell (Idris Elba), a drug dealer with intelligence, ambition, and a desire to see less violence on the streets, if only for the sake of profit.  Themes from The Wire like corruption, institutional dysfunction (or disinterest), and poverty are also reflected in the novel through Warden's colored perceptions.

Beyond the Mystery Machine (overt Scooby Doo reference), Low Town is also a second world fantasy that provides a mystery of its own, heightened by the limitations of a first person narrative.  Unable to provide any direct exposition, Polansky dribbles out the world through Warden's encounters, memories, and dreams.  He creates a mystery within a mystery within a mystery.  Who killed the girl?  Who is Warden and where does he come from?  How does all this fit into the larger world?  In choosing the first person, Polansky gave himself free reign to control the reader's perception.  Carefully choosing the order of encounters, and the types of encounters, he creates a perfectly paced novel that kept urging me forward without frustrating me (always a risk when the narrator has knowledge the reader does not).

It's not all roses though.  I think there's a fair criticism to be levied related to one-note characters that are archetypal for the genre.  Gregarious and burly innkeeper, go-getter gutter rat, malicious police chief, and kindly wizard are a few of them that are recycled here.  Additionally, I saw the 'twist' coming from early on (although there were enough red herrings throughout that I questioned my confidence) and given the tradition of intricately plotted fantasy novels, this one is fairly mundane (more like urban fantasy in that regard).  Polansky does leave enough dangling about Warden's past to warrant a sequel, but there's nothing epic about the plot itself that would call for future volumes.

Stringer Bell will mess you up, mofo!
That said, when asked, what did you think of Low Town, Justin?  I'm going to gush.  It isn't the best novel I've read this year.  It's not even the best debut.  It is, however, the most entertaining.  Polansky grabbed me in the first chapter and never let go.  Last I checked authors are in the story telling business and Polansky tells a great story.  Much darker than Sanderson, and not as authentic or well put together as Abercrombie, Low Town takes elements from each of them, turning out a debut novel that will appeal to fans of both.  I hope to see a lot more of Daniel Polansky in the future.

You can find Daniel Polansky on Twitter (@danielpolansky) or at his website.  He's currently working on the sequel to Low Town (when he's not bumming around foreign countries).  Check back next week for an interview with the author.


Low Town by Daniel Polansky

book to winners courtesy of Doubleday.

Giveaway Details:

This giveaway is open to North American residents only (alas).  You must be 18 years of age or older to participate. Void where prohibited by law. Giveaway rules are subject to change.  

How to participate:
  • To enter the giveaway, just place a comment in this post and declare intention to participate.
  • One entry per person, or face disqualification.
  • Make sure to provide an email address or Twitter username at which I can contact you.
  • Entries accepted until 11:59pm ET on November 25, 2011
  • Winners will be chosen by random sorting entries, and then using a random number generator.
  • There will be 5  winners, who will receive 1 book each.
  • Winner will have to confirm by email/DM to be considered a winner within a week after November 17, 2011.
ONE additional entry may be had by doing the following:
If you do either of the steps above, or you are already following me, you'll receive ONE additional entry.

Thanks, and good luck!

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At November 18, 2011 at 7:36 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

i would like to participate in the giveaway. my email address is and my twitter handle is @jim_mayniam

At November 18, 2011 at 8:12 AM , Anonymous joe57 said...

Drugs and magic, sounds very interesting. Sign me up jscanlon(at)gmail(dot)com

At November 18, 2011 at 8:33 AM , Anonymous redhead said...

great review! I'm with you, this was a highly entertaining debut. not perfect, but very, very, very close. no need to enter me in the give away, as I already have a copy of the book.

At November 18, 2011 at 9:04 AM , Blogger Salt-Man Z said...

Sounds cool. Count me in! I already follow you on Twitter. @saltmanz

At November 18, 2011 at 9:57 AM , Blogger James said...

Hmm. The bastard child of Abercrombie and Sanderson, eh? That may help to explain my dislike! Tried to read Warbreaker and only managed about a hundred pages before giving up and sending it to someone who enjoyed his other books. I've skimmed the samples of his other work since and none of it appealed to me. I liked Abercrombie well enough, but the last volume of The First Law left me cold and I haven't had any desire to read the rest of his books.

At November 18, 2011 at 10:15 AM , Anonymous Ian said...

In like Johnny and/or Matt Flynn. Email is

At November 18, 2011 at 10:22 AM , Blogger Sabrina Vourvoulias said...

I participated in a tweet chat (more-or-less a grilling in questions), and Polansky impressed me then as a smart, inventive writer. I haven't read Low Town yet, but every time I hear/read a review it reminds me that, damn, I really want to read this book, and, why haven't I bought it yet? A freebie copy would be nice, so enter me in the giveaway please. But even if I don't win the giveaway I'm intrigued and I am going to read it soon ....

At November 18, 2011 at 3:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read the sample from Kindle and I quite enjoyed it.

At November 18, 2011 at 3:44 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Count me in. @Skynjay

At November 18, 2011 at 5:42 PM , Blogger John Zeleznik said...

You can count me in as well. Definitely interested in this. I participated in that tweet chat with him. @john_zeleznik is my twitter handle.

At November 18, 2011 at 6:04 PM , Blogger Zafri Mollon said...

Sounds good to me. The Wire is the best TV show of all time, so anything that makes you even think of The Wire is worth reading. zafri106(at)

At November 18, 2011 at 6:05 PM , Anonymous RichardPF said...

Your review does interest me in tis book. On Twitter, I am @ RichardPF

At November 18, 2011 at 7:25 PM , Blogger Benjamin said...

Count me in too. beniowa79(at)

At November 18, 2011 at 7:40 PM , Blogger Spaz said...

Would love to get in this contest! Low Town seems to be getting some really good buzz. It's on my wishlist! Thanks so much for the giveaway!

GFC follower Spaz

At November 18, 2011 at 8:02 PM , Blogger Craig Smith said...

That's quite a bar scene, bought my first Abercrombie book this week, looks like it will be an interesting read...

Please count me in the contest. I'm already following you on both places.

My Twitter @CraigWFSmith

At November 21, 2011 at 3:43 PM , Blogger nick said...

Great review. I'm in in for the contest! Book sounds great. Email is I'm following your blog.

At November 22, 2011 at 8:26 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so in! I follow you on twitter as literarydpendnt :D

At November 25, 2011 at 3:51 PM , Anonymous Tim Ward said...

Sounds like quite the lovechild. I'm interested and thanks for the giveaway. @timothycward on twitter

At November 25, 2011 at 4:58 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm always looking for new stuff to read. Count me in if I may.

Also on Twitter: timlewis


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