She Who Waits by Daniel Polansky
|Book Name:||She Who Waits|
|Publisher(s):||Hodder & Stoughton|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / eBook|
|Release Date:||October 31, 2013 (UK) December 1, 2013 (US)|
Welcome back to Low Town and the world of the Warden, a disgraced secret police enforcer turned drug dealer. It’s not a place for the faint-hearted but for anyone who likes things just a little on the dangerous side, it’s well worth the trip–as anyone who’s read Polansky’s previous two novels, The Straight Razor Cure and Tomorrow, The Killing, will attest.
The Warden may have stopped partaking of his own supply of narcotics since we last met him but that doesn’t mean he’s mellowed since then. Older he may be, slower perhaps–but he makes up for what age has taken away by still being the meanest player in town. When a new drug hits the street with the unfortunate side effect of turning the odd junkie into a homicidal maniac, the Warden starts investigating where it’s coming from. Before too long, he’s mixed up with two rival drug clans, the secret police at Black House, and an up-and-coming political party. What follows is a nail-biting rollercoaster of a ride where betrayal is as common as breathing and violence is the undercurrent to everything.
The Warden’s earlier adventures showed what a great author Polansky is. They were beautifully crafted crime noir in a fantasy landscape. One could almost say they were the ultimate expression of Grimdark fantasy. But with She Who Waits, he takes everything up to another level. The Warden should, in all reality, be the most unlikeable of characters but buried deep with his stone-cold heart is a soul with love and loyalty for people who he’s willing to sacrifice everything for. He’s indestructible and yet incredibly vulnerable. He’s a hard man created by an even harder world but you still want to cheer for him and keep hoping everything will be okay. Not many could pull such a walking contradiction off but Polansky does with ease. It would be the easiest thing in the world to make the Warden a Termintaor pastiche, but he always manages to keep character human, even when he’s doing the most inhuman things.
All the other favourites are back as well; Wren, Yancy, Adolphus and Adeline, The Old Man–even the old drunks who patronize the Staggering Earl have returned–but Polansky doesn’t give anyone a free pass to an easy time. Wren’s got a bit better at using his magic but he’s still sleeping on the floor at the Earl while Adolphus tends bar and Adeline mothers them all. Yancy’s been inside and come out a sick man and The Old Man still lurks in the shadows as the eternal puppet-master. Somewhere too, lurking in the shadows, is a certain lady who once was foolish enough to break The Warden’s heart. They all get caught up in the vortex of violence surrounding The Warden, some voluntarily, some not, but that’s just the way it is in Low Town. Only the toughest survive…perhaps.
I had the pleasure of meeting Polansky at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. After he’d dutifully signed his first two books for me, he announced he was going to sign She Who Waits in the back of the book and spoil the ending. He told me not to read it until I’d finished the novel. Naturally two seconds later, I peaked. However, what he’d written was so unbelievable, I assumed he’d been joking. Even when parts of what he’d written started to happen, I still didn’t believe. Even when I reached the last page, I held onto hope that he’d been lying. At the end, I was shell-shocked. Mouth open, all I could think was, “Polansky, you bastard. How could you do that to me?” But I’m so glad he did. Again it’s all credit to Polansky’s writing that I knew what was going to happen and the twists and turns still took me by surprise.
The Low Town trilogy, and She Who Waits in particular, are a must-read for anyone who likes the darker side of fantasy. They’re a must-read for anyone who loves a healthy dose of noir in their fiction. Hell, they’re just a must-read for anyone who likes great escapist fiction. Low Town’s not an easy place to visit but you’ll never forget your time there.