Man is a puerile creature, easily misled by the superficial. Some fool from the neighborhood, a mark you wouldn’t trust to clean a chamberpot, comes up to you on the street in a clean suit and you find yourself ducking your head and calling him sir. It works backways as well- that selfsame halfwit puts on a uniform and gets to thinking he’s hard, wraps up in priest’s vestments and mistakes himself for decent. A man ought to know who he is, even if he isn’t proud to be it.
We are back in Low Town. It has been a few years since we heard from the Warden, but now a Ret. General’s daughter has gone missing and he expects our resident drug lord to find her. And, not only does he want he want Warden to find his daughter, he wants Warden to convince her to come home despite the family squabble that made her run away. Nothing like a little disagreement on murder and justice to make a pampered princess to run to the slums to find her brother’s killer.
Oh, the children, the children, always with the children. Real bloodthirsty motherfuckers, our hypothetical progeny. More men have died on behalf of future generations than through disease, famine, and drink.
Normally Warden avoids the uptown crowd unless he is selling. He wants to stay off the radar of the infamous Black House and away from bad memories. However, Warden knew the wayward princess’s brother, Roland. While his death is years old, both the Roland’s death and the man he served with in the Great War are among the things that haunt him. And despite Warden’s better judgement, he decides to put a few feelers out for his sister to get her back home. But those feelers have strings attached to a past he would rather not remember and men whom he served with that have gotten on the Black House radar in a bad way.
There is a corner of every man’s soul that would prefer him dead. That whispers poison in his ear in the still hours of the evening, puts spurs to his side when he stands atop a ledge.
With old alliances, both in Low Town and those among the elite, crumbling and Black House hot on his heels, Warden has to do some fast maneuvering to try and stay one step ahead of his enemies (and what an ever growing list of enemies he has for the most well-loved drug lord in the city.) He also has to try and save the missing girl from the snake pit that she threw herself in. Because the Warden knows exactly what happened to Roland, and he knows exactly who will kill to keep those secrets.
You grow up reading stories, and you start to think your life is one. Every punchline has a set-up; every action a motive. But that’s horeshit- we’re all just stumbling about blind. You do something and decide why you did it afterward. Roland was mad- beautiful and noble, but mad as well, mad as only a man with a dream can be. I was no dreamer. Roland’s life had taught him that anything is possible. Mine had taught me that you hold on to what you have with both hands.
For those of us who are fascinated by Warden and were left wanting in the previous novel (who wouldn’t want to know more about his past, I ask you,) you will love this read. As current veteran politics interweave with his case, we get deep in the nitty-gritty of his contributions in the Great War and how it all lead to him looking for a girl who only wants to stop her brother’s killer. If only life where so simple.
…curiosity made me open his message, that almost virtue which leads men to ruin and scrapes the ninth life off cats.
The wonder of this novel is the writing. I love how Daniel Polansky writes. His characters have depth and detail. He makes no excuses for the human condition. The characters we knew previous have only become more complex. The world has become a less black and white place. The dialogue perfect. He tells it how it is. And, he writes it in excellent prose.
The biggest challenge with this novel, heck the whole series, is that it is a noir feeling in a fantasy world. But in a way, it just works. Instead of clichés, we get a fresher feel by replacing tommy guns with swords and adding magic to our drug problems. It is historical and yet not. It is fantasy and yet has men in trench coats beating people in the street. There is war, there is political machinations, and there is crime law.
Do not expect this to be a light read. It is a dark, atmospheric, complicated tale with adult situations and no expected happy endings. You have got a convoluted whodunit with twists and mind games. This book is bleak and it is honest. My biggest complaint would be the pace of the novel. Again, I feel like the construction was slower than it needed to be. Polansky is in no rush. This book is not paced by the action sequences and thrilling turn of events so much as it is what is with what is going on in Warden’s head.