A secondary world fantasy that is also urban fantasy and a crime/noir series. Low Town does not have the traditional medieval setting, opting instead for an Interwar Depression Era-type setting.

This series is about the Warden. Warden is a drug dealer in the slums of Low Town. Actually, he is the drug dealer who owns the whole territory of Low Town. And Low Town is the shitty part of the capital city of an empire that is past its prime.

When we are introduced to the Warden, he is the top dog in a low trade. However, he used to be on the other side of the law. A veteran of the Great War, he became an agent of Black House–the crown’s police force. He graduated to “Special Operations,” the intelligence and black-bag arm of the force. Warden’s steady climb up the rungs of power was interrupted years before by a fall from grace that forever altered the trajectory of his life.

Warden was born into poverty in Low Town, and was left an orphan by the Great Plague. He survived by guile and no small amount of cynicism to become an officer in the army and an agent for Black House. After his fall from grace he retreated to the neighborhood that he had worked so hard to escape.

Among his peers, Warden has a formidable reputation. Among his former colleagues, he is looked at with disdain. Both of these assessments have merit. Warden is sharp, but he has some extremely self-destructive tendencies.

Other characters that inhabit the Warden’s world include:

  • Adolphus: An old war buddy who is Warden’s partner in the bar that they own.
  • Adeline: Adophus’s wife and the real manager of the bar.
  • Wren: A street kid who Warden takes on as an apprentice.
  • Blue Crane: First Sorceror of the Realm, patron of Low Town, and friend and benefactor to Warden since he was a child.
  • Celia: Childhood friend of Warden. She was taken in by the Blue Crane and trained as a sorceror.
  • The Old Man: The head of Black House and Warden’s former boss. He is often depicted as both a mentor and nemesis to Warden.
  • Yancy: A talented singer who is highly sought after for parties among the elite. He often acts as a middle-man for Warden in his dealings with aristocrats looking for recreational narcotics.

What Makes it Epic Grit:

  • Adventure and Wonder: Dark magic, mysteries, new worlds and cultures.
  • Believable Characters: Part of the magic of these books is that the characters are all a bit extreme.
  • Real Consequences: Life can be pretty harsh; so can these books.
  • Epic in Scope: Whether it’s a Great War, a Great Plague, a Great Empire, or just protecting friends and family, it always feels like the most important thing in the world.
  • Subverts “Good versus Evil” Tropes: I would say that the characters are amoral; but the Warden, the Old Man, and others often act from what they believe to be the best intentions. Others are just awful people.
  • Different Perspectives: The entire series is told from Warden’s pessimistic point of view. However, Warden’s interactions with others demonstrate that not everyone sees the world the way that he does.

Verdict:

Wow! I loved the mix of fantasy and hardboiled crime. The Warden is not a great man. He’s been brought low by his own mistakes and addictions. He’s a cynic and a misanthrope. He’s self-demeaning and self-pitying. However, in each installment of this series, he acts from a deep-down altruistic impulse. We like the Warden because he’s a better person than he thinks he is.

The series is written in the first person from Warden’s point of view. The books are full of digressions in the form of flashbacks. I am not always a fan of flashbacks, but they are deftly done here and greatly enhance the narrative.

The prose has a biting cleverness to it that is a combination of Joe Abercrombie and Terry Pratchett. Every description and every nuance is filtered through Warden’s cynical and self-pitying point of view. The Warden is a broken man, and he sees everything around him as broken and brought low. The reader is left to wonder if a more optimistic narrator would describe the same scenes in more pleasant or uplifting terms.

This is one of my most highy-rated series to date.

Review: Low Town Series by Daniel PolanskyLow Town by Daniel Polansky
Series: Low Town #1
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Noir
Release: 2011
Type: Novel

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We are introduced to Warden, Low Town’s chief narcotics distributor. His previous career in law enforcement sees him entangled in an investigation into a string of abductions and murders of children in his neighborhood. Warden’s inquiries lead him through the ranks of low criminals, government officials, and dangerous aristocrats.

Review: Low Town Series by Daniel PolanskyTomorrow the Killing by Daniel Polansky
Series: Low Town #2
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Noir
Release: 2012
Type: Novel

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Warden does a favor for a family that he has known since the Great War, and with whom he has a complicated relationship. In so doing, he puts himself between Black House and a veteran’s organization that is stirring up a revolution.

Review: Low Town Series by Daniel PolanskyShe Who Waits by Daniel Polansky
Series: Low Town #3
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Noir
Release: 2013
Type: Novel

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The old familiar social order is starting to crumble. A dangerous new drug has hit the streets and is leaving bodies in its wake. A political party of religious zealots wants Warden to find out where it comes from, and Black House wants him to keep an eye on the zealots. To complicate things, someone from Warden’s past has come back, reopening old wounds. Warden feels events are leading to disaster, and he must hold all factions at bay until he and his people are safe.

Review: Low Town Series by Daniel PolanskyA Drink Before We Die: A Low Town Short by Daniel Polansky
Series: Low Town
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Noir
Release: 2014
Type: Prequel Short Story

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This story is a prequel to the Low Town series. It shows Warden’s modus operandi for problem solving and demonstrates why his peers consider him to be a formidable player.