Review: SHE WHO WAITS by Daniel Polansky (Hodder)

Polansky-LT3-SheWhoWaitsUKA superb finale

Low Town: the worst ghetto in the worst city in the Thirteen Lands.

Good only for depravity and death. And Warden, long ago a respected agent in the formidable Black House, is now the most depraved Low Town denizen of them all.

As a younger man, Warden carried out more than his fair share of terrible deeds, and never as many as when he worked for the Black House. But Warden’s growing older, and the vultures are circling. Low Town is changing, faster than even he can control, and Warden knows that if he doesn’t get out soon, he may never get out at all.

But Warden must finally reckon with his terrible past if he can ever hope to escape it. A hospital full of lunatics, a conspiracy against the corrupt new king and a ghetto full of thieves and murderers stand between him and his slim hope for the future. And behind them all waits the one person whose betrayal Warden never expected. The one person who left him, broken and bitter, to become the man he is today.

The one woman he ever loved.

She who waits behind all things.

This really is a superb finale to a great trilogy: surprising, heart-wrenching, twisty, and utterly engrossing. If you haven’t read this series yet, then I strongly urge you to do so. Polansky is one of the best authors writing today. The Low Town series is a dark fantasy masterpiece.

One of the best things about the trilogy is the fact that the story is just as much a crime novel as it is a fantasy novel. The fantastical elements are clear and obvious, but they by no means overwhelm the story — Polansky has a story to tell, and he very much gets on with it. The magic system is subtle and, until the final confrontation with a particularly odious long-time antagonist, rather peripheral. The pacing is more subdued than many of today’s fantasy novels, and you shouldn’t read this expecting a rushed story. There’s a far more natural pace to the plot.

The characters are stand-outs, of course, and Polansky’s gift for penning excellent dialogue and sparse exposition is near-unparalleled. Observations are sharp and sometimes philosophical, expertly and oft poetically phrased. Warden’s bleak outlook on life in Low Town doesn’t bleed over to the reader, and you should remain thoroughly engaged, rooting for our curmudgeonly, world-weary and highly-cynical guide. As a finale, one should expect some shocks and world-shattering events. We also get some more introspective moments, as Polansky takes us back to Warden’s past as the Old Man’s right hand, his time adjusting to his exit from Black House, and also dealing with the sharp betrayal that started him on the road to becoming a drug kingpin and acquire (unofficial) authority of Low Town.

I think the only thing that I might consider a niggle is that some of the transitions to the past were so seamless that it took me a page or so to realise the story had turned back the clock. Followed by a momentary readjustment, this wasn’t really a problem, but it was something I noticed. The woman mentioned in the synopsis also didn’t play as large a part in the story as I had expected, given the description. Nevertheless, her part in the story is important and clear.

The last chapter is probably the best final scene I’ve read in a trilogy. Superb, heart-wrenching, and stunning. Perfect.

I don’t wish to go on at any great length about how much I loved the novel. It’s one you need to read to fully appreciate, and I think I’ve made my point: you need to read this series. To repeat, if you haven’t read the first two books in the series, go and get them now. Then read the whole trilogy. Easily one of the best trilogies I’ve read in years, and certainly in the fantasy genre.

Very highly recommended.


Daniel Polansky‘s She Who Waits is published by Hodder. It is out now.

Also on CR: Interview with Daniel Polansky; Reviews of Straight Razor Cure and Tomorrow the Killing

8 thoughts on “Review: SHE WHO WAITS by Daniel Polansky (Hodder)

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