Book Reivew- “Tomorrow the Killing”
Medieval style fantasy stories are often black and white tales about morally upstanding warriors on a quest to save a mythical kingdom, which means they’re often pretty boring. That doesn’t mean I find the genre itself boring though. I enjoy a good fantasy story when it’s heroes are a bit more morally complex. In his second novel “Tomorrow the Killing” writer Daniel Polansky once again proves that his protagonist, the Warden, is one of the most morally complex characters in fantasy fiction.
That’s because the warden isn’t a knight, a wizard, or even a barbarian. He’s a drug dealer. That’s right a drug dealer! And his current occupation isn’t the only thing that’s fascinating about the character. His past jobs as a soldier in one of the bloodiest wars the city-state of Rigus has ever seen and a member of the country’s secret police make the character even more compelling. That past has given the Warden a healthy cynicism that is often at war with a desire for justice and to protect and or avenge the innocent. Much to the Warden’s chagrin he often finds himself giving into these desires and embarking on exploits that leave him physically and emotionally battered. The Warden narrates these exploits himself so they are colored by his fascinating and world weary perspective.
In Polanksy’s first novel “Low Town” or as it’s known in the UK “Low Town: The Straight Razor Cure” we were introduced to the Warden and the titular slums of Rigus that he calls home. The plot of the story involved the character’s present day vocation as a drug dealer and his past as a soldier. For “Tomorrow the Killing” though” the author really delves in to the Warden’s background as a soldier as the ghosts of the great war come back to haunt him in the form a general with a missing daughter.
The Warden agrees to help the General because of his connection to the man’s other child, a soldier named Roland, one of the few commanders in the great war that the Warden actually respected. Roland died many years ago and his sister wants to know why. So she’s disappeared in to the slums of Low Town, and to find the young girl and protect her the Warden must investigate and revisit some of his dead friend’s associations like the veteran’s group Roland lead, which made the ruling elite of Rigus very nervous and some of the criminal syndicates Roland’s group went to war with.
The way the Warden investigates and navigates these violent and corrupt organizations is fun and exciting. You get to see the character’s cunning and skill with a blade put to the test in passages that read like a combination of Dashiell Hammett and George R.R. Martin. Plus the grittiness of Low Town and its inhabitants give the book a street level starkness reminiscent of the television show “The Wire.” The story is further enhanced by flashbacks to the days the Warden and his best friend Adolphus spent fighting the bloody war with the kingdom of the Dren. All of these elements combine to create a tale that takes place in a fantasy world that feels brutally and powerfully real.
The crime story of Roland’s murder and his sister’s disappearance is at the heart of “Tomorrow the Killing,” but Polansky also makes time for the magical elements of the world he created as well. One of the book’s sub plots involves the Warden’s quest to find a teacher to help develop the magical talents of Wren, a young street urchin adopted by Adolphus and his wife. This subplot involves an interesting and frighteningly powerful sorceress who has some fun scenes with the Warden.
The magical subplot also gives Polansky a way to further flesh out Wren and his adoptive parents. The parents are also part of the events of the primary story line which find Adolphus becoming involved with the veteran’s organization and his wife becoming upset by the seedy figures her husband is associating with.
So in “Tomorrow the Killing” Polansky combines great characters, visceral action, and shocking and powerful revelations for a tale that’s even better than his stellar first novel. I’m not sure what Polanksy has planned for his third book, but I would love another chance to venture down the mean streets of Low Town with the Warden.