I’ve written before about Daniel Polansky, who I consider to be one of the most under appreciated voices in fantasy, owing largely to some really unfortunate cover design choices on the part of his publisher. The don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover adage comes in awful handy here, and it’s a real tragedy that Polansky’s work hasn’t found a larger audience. I’m confident that it will, in time. Gold has a way of not staying buried for long.
Polansky’s Low Town series consists of three books: Low Town (or The Straight Razor Cure in the UK), Tomorrow The Killing and She Who Waits, which was just released on December 1st. The series tells the story of Polansky’s drug-addled and hard-bitten protagonist, The Warden of Low Town, a tough as nails crime lord who leans a lot closer to Heath Ledger’s Joker than Marlon Brando’s Godfather. The Warden is cunning, the Warden is witty, the Warden is resourceful. What the Warden isn’t is nice.
It is in this wholesale embracing of the ugliest depths of his Protagonist, that Polansky pushes the envelope of the grimdark sub-genre. Polansky dives into the abyss, where the liquid dark is so thick that all light is blotted out, where the line between freedom fighter and serial killer is hopelessly blurred. Where governments and criminal syndicates mix inextricably. Where there is no right and wrong, only the bludgeon, the lockpick and the red razor smile.
Polansky takes us into and through the darkness, we forge along with him, desperately fumbling, until we finally come face to face with the tiny glowing grain at the bottom of it all.
That Polansky manages to make the Warden’s journey redemptive, even hopeful, is a testament to his ability as a storyteller.
And how does he do it? He uses the tool even the nastiest of us will recognize: Love.
Bad guys get lonely. Bad guys dream of companionship. Bad guys want to have children. Bad guys want to find The One.
The Warden knows this. He also realizes that a man in his position can’t afford to show weakness, to give his legions of enemies a backdoor into his heart. What do you do when you can’t fight a man toe-to-toe without losing? You go after those he loves.
The Warden understands this. He knows the risk. And he loves anyway. Because love is the last shred of decency in him. Because a part of him knows that without it, he is walking dead.
And so he reflects on the impact it has on his life. Knowing it will kill him.
And not caring.
And that’s the most awesome part of Polansky’s latest book. It’s a single line that sums up what makes his protagonist so incredibly compelling.
“It’s a lit fuse, love—you light it yourself,” the Warden muses, “and you stand around the powder keg afterward, grinning from ear to ear.”
As a security contractor, government civilian, and military officer, Myke Cole’s career has run the gamut from counterterrorism to cyber warfare to federal law enforcement. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. All that conflict can wear a guy out. Thank goodness for fantasy novels, comic books, late-night games of Dungeons & Dragons, and lots of angst-fueled writing. He is the author of Special Ops: Control Point and Special Ops: Fortress Frontier; the final book in the trilogy, Special Ops: Breach Zone is out on January 28, 2014.