Longtime readers may recall that I like to cook sweet stuff. What they may not have realized is that I'm something of a hipster when it comes to the culinary arts. Forget traditional desserts. I'd rather bake a pear pie with a cheddar-rosemary crust or whip up a batch of malt-infused ice cream. The only problem with such highfalutin goodies lies in finding a recipe for them. Usually, I have to wing it, combining bits and bobs from various concoctions, using trial and error to cobble together a tasty comestible. It's satisfying when an effort actually works, just as it is when an author manages to combine disparate genre elements into a new sort of story. For example, consider how Daniel Polansky blends hardboiled and fantasy in his debut novel Low Town.
Once upon a time you could've called Warden somebody, back when he wore the gray as a member of the freeze, Rigus' elite investigative force. He came the position honestly enough, distinguishing himself in the long war between the kingdom and the Dren, mainly by killing men and surviving to speak of it. Of course, that was a long time ago, and since then Warden has fallen hard and fast. Foul-mouthed and hard-living, he spends his days selling and sampling all sorts of controlled substances. On the surface, he looks like any other petty criminal skulking the streets of Low Town, that pimple on Rigus' pretty face. But Warden still possesses some ambition. Through conniving and plain brute force, he has consolidated much of the area's less-than-legal commerce, claiming it as his own. If you want to find a pimp or pusher, you talk to Warden. Soon, though, he'll need every one of those sketchy contacts. Seems small children have started disappearing, and that's an outrage Warren simply won't stomach, not in his town ...
Unlike many fantasy scribes, Polansky really and truly understands the grittiness of hardboiled. Unlike many crime writers, he comprehends the appeal of magical and mysterious fantasy tropes. The best part of Low Town lies in watching him weave the two styles together chapter after chapter, braiding them into a story simultaneously hard-edged and exotic. He even throws in a bit of Lovecraftian horror in a couple places, although to explain it more would ruin some of the plot. Not that everything's peachy in Polansky's ghetto. Warden's incessant -- and I do mean incessant -- fondness for drugs and obscenities will rub straight-edge types the wrong way, and the ending comes a bit out of left field. But if you enjoy watching an author pull off a tricky bit of compositional alchemy, you should take a tour of Low Town.
(Picture: CC 2010 by Gianmaria Veronese; Hat Tip: Tor.com)