Too early to review this, so I'm just going to say.... you'll want it. Another wonderful book from Abercrombie and completely different from what he'sToo early to review this, so I'm just going to say.... you'll want it. Another wonderful book from Abercrombie and completely different from what he's offered in the past, particularly with regard to the narrative style.
He keeps proving what a consistent and adaptable writer he is....more
Solid, fun, but doesn't do much to move the needle. It's nice to touch back with the characters we love before they became SOMETHING ELSE. It's REALLYSolid, fun, but doesn't do much to move the needle. It's nice to touch back with the characters we love before they became SOMETHING ELSE. It's REALLY great to see all the interesting female characters in this one.
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.
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.
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....more
Happy Halloween! I figure since it's Halloween I ought to review a novel with some kind of horror element. Well let's see, The Traitor's Daughter, "isHappy Halloween! I figure since it's Halloween I ought to review a novel with some kind of horror element. Well let's see, The Traitor's Daughter, "is a dark, rich feast, rife with plagues, kidnappings, political intrigues, bloody crimes, bloodier revenges, arcane upheavals, and the threat of zombies.” Zombies! Perfectly Halloween or so the writer of that blurb would have me think. Unfortunately, my quest to review something horror was a complete failure. While there is something akin to zombies in the novel, albeit not in a traditional sense, they manage to only garner 10-20 pages of 'screen' time. As much of a red herring as 'zombies' are, it's nothing compared to the outward appearance of Paula Brandon's debut novel which reflects almost nothing of what she actually wrote.
See, Traitor's Daughter just doesn't look like the kind of novel I would enjoy. I try not to read reviews before I pick-up a novel, it's hard to articulate my thoughts clogged up by other people's, but I wasn't going to read Brandon's novel blind. To allay my fears I sneaked a peak at the Goodreads reviews to get a feel before giving it a shot. Quite a few of the reviews were lukewarm or negative in large part based on the incorrect assumption that Brandon's novel was historical fantasy romance - which was music to my ears. Looking at the cover and the overt Jacqueline Carey blurb, I think those expectations were reasonable. So much so that Amazon filed it under Romance.
At first glance, Traitor's Daughter looks like Gone with the Wind at best and Fabio on the Plantation (pretty sure I made that one up) at worse. The long flowing dress, the articulated 'D', and soft blend of a house emerging from a cloud with star pinpricks all over, screams: this is a book for CHICKS! Unfortunately the back cover (below) isn't much better:
On the Veiled Isles, ominous signs are apparent to those with the talent to read them. The polarity of magic is wavering at its source, heralding a vast upheaval poised to alter the very balance of nature. Blissfully unaware of the cataclysmic events to come, Jianna Belandor, the beautiful, privileged daughter of a powerful Faerlonnish overlord, has only one concern: the journey to meet her prospective husband. But revolution is stirring as her own conquered people rise up against their oppressors, and Jianna is kidnapped and held captive at a rebel stronghold, insurance against her father’s crimes.
The resistance movement opens Jianna’s eyes―and her heart. Despite her belief in her father’s innocence, she is fascinated by the bold and charming nomadic physician and rebel sympathizer, Falaste Rione—who offers Jianna her only sanctuary in a cold and calculating web of intrigue. As plague and chaos grip the land, Jianna is pushed to the limits of her courage and resourcefulness, while virulent enemies discover that alliance is their only hope to save the human race.
So, other than the first sentence and the last clause of the last sentence, Traitor's Daughter sounds like a romance story between the kidnapped Jianna and the healer Rione. It's not. Brandon debut is high fantasy with a sprawling plot, political machinations, complex systems of magic, all of which manifest themselves in themes that both men and women will very much enjoy. To someone looking for romance they're going to be sorely disappointed.
That's not to say there isn't a love story - there is sort of - but it's far more in-line with what a typical fantasy reader would expect in a non-Joe Abercrombie novel. All told, it probably occupies a quarter of the novel leaving the rest of the time for Brandon to flesh out Magnifico Aureste Belandor, Jianna's father. The fact his name isn't even mentioned in the novel's blurb boggles me. Most of the novel is spent on his ongoing political struggle to rescue his daughter without destroying his tenuous position as a Faerlonnish lord ruled by the Taerleezi conquerors.
The society of the Veiled Isles is one akin to Apartheid. An ethnic minority (Taerleezi) rules by way of conquest, oppressing the indigenous population (Faerlonne) and elevating those few willing to work for them. Those elevated have become a lightening rod to their oppressed brethren diverting much of the unexpressed anger and resentment from the true oppressors. Aureste, one of these 'betrayers' has spent his life securing his house's place under the Taerleezi government. He has hidden his activities from his daughter, sheltered her, and now she'll pay for his crimes. Brandon examines the lengths to which a father will go to protect his child as well as the sins a child's unconditional love can ignore.
A distinct lack of moral certitude permeates Traitor's Daughter. Aureste and his daughter's captors both feel wronged and view there causes as right and just. To them the ends always justify the means. Jianna and Rione, representing the next generation, become Brandon's moral center, setup to become the reformer of their predecessors whom are stuck in the memory of past wrongs and outdated world views. It all works spectacularly well creating an emotional investment not just in the characters, but in the political and familial structures Brandon puts in place.
If there's one black mark, aside from its marketing, it's that much of Traitor's Daughter feels like a prologue to a larger arc. The novel is framed by chapters from Grix Orlazzu, an arcane practitioner who's clearly pegged to the larger story line of the world's wavering magic. His chapters demonstrate a state of technological advancement that is far ahead of that present in the rest of the world. Jianna and Aureste's narrative only tangentially touch on this framing, leaving me to wonder how everything is connected, a fact that's a little frustrating having finished a third of trilogy. Given that the series is already completed and on an accelerated release timetable, I'm willing to give Brandon a pass despite my strong preference for every novel to have a beginning, middle, and end.
This is a long review that does a bit of a disservice to Brandon's novel. As a novel, I definitely recommend it. It's unquestionably one of the better fantasy debuts this year and the series holds a lot of promise. I compare it favorably to Daniel Abraham's Long Price Quartet (not quite that good) for its audacity to write a fantasy series that focuses on politics instead of war without relying on the crutch of romance and sex. Fans of epic fantasy that enjoy a slow build, ambitious world building, and political intrigue will absolutely eat it up.
In terms of marketing, I have to give it a big F. It's not romance, or horror (zombies, ha!), or steampunk, or science fiction, or pure fantasy - it's a mix of all them making Traitor's Daughter a genre novel, but one that's hard to pigeonhole in a business that demands the opposite. There's a possibility the next two installments are a lot more romance that the first. But somehow the skeptic in me thinks that branding the novel as romance was a conscious choice and I find it a bit intellectually dishonest.
Long story short: buy the book, read it, and ignore the cover and the reviews that have a lot more to do with a poorly conceived presentation than any failing of Paula Brandon's. The sequel, The Ruined City, is due out in early 2012 with the third installment to follow before year's end. I look forward to spending a lot more time in the Veiled Isles....more