Tag Archives: George R. R. Martin

Book or Show?

Dexter is DeadAt this writing, the book I’m reading is Dexter is Dead, the last volume in the Dexter Morgan series by Jeff Lindsay, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Dexter ends his career in the books as opposed to in the TV series.

Now, full disclosure here: I’ve only seen up through something like Season 4 of the TV series, but I know how far off the show veers from the books. Only Season 1 has any resemblance to the original material and, while I like what I’ve seen well enough, they don’t compare to the books. The show is like Dexter Lite, in my opinion. The dark humor isn’t there, the bitter irony, the idea that Dexter is a sociopath and that’s all there is to it. There isn’t a cure, and he doesn’t even view himself as being human. He just does his best to act like one to blend in.

Reading this got me to thinking about another book-series-turned-television-series, Game of Thrones. Like Dexter, Game of Thrones is getting ahead of the books. Dexter ended a couple years ago now, and Jeff Lindsay is only now ending it in his books. And of course, the frustration a lot of fans feel with George RR Martin is the fodder of a lot of websites—not to mention memes.

It think the frustration with GoT is a little more palpable because the show, until recently, stuck to the source material much more closely than Dexter did. From what I’ve read, Jeff Lindsay was a consultant to the show for all of one season—the first—and even that one didn’t follow the book exactly. In fact, it veered off in some significant ways.

I don’t expect shows to follow the book to the letter. As even Mr. Martin himself has said, they’re two different mediums, and things that’ll work in a book won’t necessarily translate well on the screen, and vice versa. Books are more contemplative, more able to put you inside characters’ heads, while shows can only approximate the thought processes of a character through action or, worse, the expressions and actions of the actor, which can be easily misinterpreted. And that’s just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Of course, one could argue that the recent divergence on GoT is worse because they have outlines from Mr. Martin as to where he intends the books to go, and he is an GoTexecutive producer on the show. Of course, outlines aren’t fleshed-out scenes with all their innuendo and flash. If it is that detailed, you might as well go on and write the scene itself and dispense with the outline.

I suspect the creators/producers of Dexter flinched—they didn’t think the darker Dexter of the books would appeal to a viewing audience. Maybe they’re right, though I’d argue the success of the books proves them wrong. Of course, there are a lot more people watching TV than reading books, and I have to wonder how many people who watched Dexter—or who are watching GoT, for that matter—picked up any of the books.

But for those of us who do read the books… well, we can get double enjoyment out of this trend. We get to see where the author took the original material, and compare it with how Hollywood treated their subject. Two what-ifs on one character—or characters, in the case of GoT.

Did not readThat can be good or bad. I understand the finale to Dexter was very unsatisfying to a lot of people, and I admit it’s got me wondering if I want to finish watching the series when the books are so much better and more satisfying.

And that’s the other good thing about all this: if we don’t like the show, we don’t have to watch it, especially when it’s on a pay channel like Showtime or HBO, as these two series are/were. We don’t have to buy the DVDs or devote more time to a show we no longer like if we don’t want to.

We can, instead, reserve that time for reading the books we already love.


Censoring Character Development

Sometime back, HBO’s Game of Thrones aired an episode that caused some controversy. Of course, this isn’t the first time the show has done this, but apparently some critics took it upon themselves to decide they knew what was in store for the show better than the writers do and decried an incident in the episode as unnecessary.

I haven’t seen the episode. I’m slowly catching up on this show, but it’s not easy. I’m catching up by checking each season out from my local library, and the waiting list is long. So I’m only now going to be able to watch season four after today (July 9). I haven’t read all the books, either, though I started on them way back when the first volume came out. If memory serves, it and the first volume of the Wheel of Time series came out about the same time, and since I love epic fantasy, I grabbed both up.

I long ago gave up on the Wheel of Time. Far too many books. I can’t sustain my interest that long, especially when he overemphasized the whole battle of the sexes thing, in my opinion. I gave up somewhere around halfway through Book Five. And no, don’t comment urging me to finish the series. Ain’t happenin.

scumbag-george-r-r-martin-memeOf course, the problem with the Song of Ice and Fire series is that George RR Martin has been writing them so slowly that it has its own form of frustration. Where Robert Jordan fluffed Wheel of Time with the battle of the sexes thing entirely too much, Mr. Martin seems happy to keep his fans waiting, all in the name of “getting it right.” As a writer, I understand that. But getting it a little wrong would be preferable to not getting it at all. Mr. Martin isn’t a spring chicken anymore, and he needs to keep that in mind.

End rant.

What I really want to talk about here, though, is the aforementioned episode. In it, Sansa Stark, eldest daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark, is raped off-screen. Now, as I understand it, Sansa is being groomed, or so many speculate, at least, to be the Queen of the North. I want you to keep that title in mind.

She’s being groomed, I’m assuming, not so much by any particular person or group—though I supposed that’s possible, considering the rest of her family is either dead or scattered to the four winds in a world rife with factions vying for the Iron Throne—but by life itself. She’s lost her father, her mother, her brothers, and her sister (as far as she knows). At the beginning of the series, Sansa is a romantic. When she has an opportunity to journey to King’s Landing, she sees it as an opportunity to meet princes and knights and take part in the wonders of court life, never dreaming of the rude awakening she has in store for her.

Sansa’s story is that of a journey not only from the cold of Winterfell to the warmth of King’s Landing, but her opposite journey from that of a warm, romantic girl to that of a cold, practical woman. Or, again, so I assume. Mr. Martin has a way of surprising us, as do the writers of the show, so who knows?george-r-r-martin-writer-cinema-producer-mass-killer_o_1996013

Of course, thanks to Mr. Martin’s slow pace at writing the books, the show is veering away from their course out of necessity. So the show’s writers might have a different idea in mind for Sansa than Mr. Martin does.

But whatever the case, the critics who raised the hue and cry over an off-screen rape really should keep their mouths shut. Their primary criticism seemed to stem from the fact that, in their opinions, Sansa has grown as much as she can as a character. She’s hardened, not at all the girl who traveled south from Winterfell, and having her raped after all the other things she’s been through was just too much. Besides, it was offensive. I have a feeling this last counted for more than their supposed critique of the forming of her character.

Unfortunately, that’s a little too much like the apocryphal quote attributed to Charles H Duell, Commissioner of the Patent Office in 1899, when he said Congress might as well close down his office as “everything that can be invented has been invented.” Nice thought, Mr. Duell, but a bit shortsighted.

I just want to tell them to get a grip.

Yes, it seems contradictory, but we must keep in mind that these are fictional characters, and yet we must make readers care about them as thought they were real. Will we, as authors, need to start putting a disclaimer on our stories that no real people were harmed in the writing of this book? Do the critics think the general population is so stupid they don’t know the difference between what they see on TV and what’s real?

my-feelings-towards-george-rr-have-changed-slightlyThe development of characters in a story, just as with us in real life, is a complex and daunting task. As writers, we owe it to our readers to make our characters as real and authentic as our skill allows us to do and then some. The world of A Song of Ice and Fire is brutal. It’s not the world of, say, The Princess Bride or a Disney movie. It’s brutal, and cruel, and the idea that Sansa could have her romantic notions even as she grew up in the cold north is something of a miracle in and of itself. That she could hang onto such fanciful notions in a world such as this means she’ll have to have some really nasty things happen to her in order to disabuse her completely of her notions.

Being the victim of rape—on top of all the other things she’s had to endure—is more of the writers forging of her new outlook in life. Now, the thing to me is, this could go one of two ways (and probably more, since others out there can see other outcomes for this): either Sansa Stark will become a cold, ruthless queen who will manage to bring Westeros—or at least the north—together in time to resist the Wildlings from beyond the Wall, or she’ll unite the nations when she remembers what it is to be a victim and she’ll be able to rally the common people behind her cause, thus winning enough support to protect the Seven Kingdoms.

Or, knowing George RR Martin, it could be some other outcome altogether. He’s good at surprising us, isn’t he?

Regardless of the final outcome for Sansa Stark, critics who have not seen the entire picture need to hold their criticisms until they’ve seen the end result of all this. Until then, they’re wasting my time and yours with their petty protests, and contributing in a small—or perhaps large—way to the censoring of creativity, because writers will fear taking their characters where they need to go out of concern of some uninformed opinion of their work.

And that would be a far larger offense than the rape of a fictional character.ef2205c9ecccef6fb26e57fef98accb3


High Fantasy

When you start getting into genres, sometimes you can find yourself quickly becpming overwhelmed. For instance, if you look into modern speculative fiction—the term I use to group sf and fantasy together—you’ll find several categories. In sf, you’ll come across military sf, space opera, hard sf, near space (i.e., set in our solar system), cyberpunk, and God knows how many I’m not even aware of.

Fantasy is the same way. There’s military fantasy, urban fantasy, magic realism, high fantasy, and, again, God knows what else.

If you’re familiar with both fields, you’ll see parallels. Military fantasy and sf are both pretty obvious. Cyberpunk and urban fantasy are rough equivalents. Space opera and high fantasy share many traits.

It’s high fantasy that I want to talk about.

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that I like high fantasy. This subgenre, along with its cousin space opera, tends to share a large canvas and multiple characters. The Lord of the Rings is high fantasy, as are the Deryni books by Katherine Kurtz and, a series that HBO has turned into, well, a series. The author of the books calls it A Song of Ice and Fire. HBO calls it Game of Thrones, which is more or less the title of the first book in the series.

If you haven’t seen/read it, the series is set in the Seven Kingdoms, and the Game of Thrones is the main plot line. It’s the same thing as the Great Game that was—maybe still is—played in Europe among its royalty. Jockeying for power, they hatch plots and counterplots against one another, always attempting to gain the upper hand. No character can trust another and, by extension, you as the reader aren’t always fully aware of what’s going on. That’s done to keep you turning the pages.

A Song of Ice and Fire—of which I’ve read the first three books, if I remember right—adds another dimension: author George RR Martin isn’t above killing off characters once you come to care about them. Ned Stark, one of the main characters in Book I, A Game of Thrones, is killed something like a third or halfway into the story, leaving you going, “WTF?”  I heard an interview with Mr. Martin a few months back in which he said he likes doing that because it’ll keep the suspense high. If you never know whether or not Character A is going to live through the whole thing, you’ll stay on the edge of you seat, turning the pages to find out.

I love these things. Trying to follow the twisting plots, hoping to divine just exactly what one character is trying to do to another, damn near takes a flowchart when it’s done right, and this series is definitely done right—both the show and the books. The production quality on the show is first-rate, and it’s good to get visual pictures of some of these characters—and even more important, in some cases, to hear their names pronounced. And, since Mr. Martin is an executive producer on the show, I have faith that the names are being pronounced as he intended, though I’m sure that most of them are English/Celtic/Gaelic in nature.

Watching these shows has me itching to read the books again, and even to find other high fantasy to read. High fantasy usually isn’t so much about the magical aspect of things as much as straight fantasy (if there is such a thing anymore) can be. In fact, I’m not sure if there are any exotic races in A Song of Ice and Fire—all the characters are human. There are magical things going on, of course. For instance, there used to be dragons in the world, but they’ve pretty much disappeared. You learn quickly, though, that there are a couple of characters hauling three dragon eggs around with them, waiting for the right time to hatch them. So, there are some mythical-type creatures, but even the dreaded Wildings are just humans who have lost a lot of their “civilized” traits—though, in honesty, that’s a matter of opinion. They have goals, too, and they plot to achieve them. They just tend to dress in animal skins and not have the same social niceties as the rest of the world.

Besides the plots, figuring out who’s good and who’s bad is something I enjoy about these stories, and Mr. Martin excels here, too. Not only are you kept turnin the pages wondering who’s going to die next, you also wonder what each character is going to pull next. Characters who just spent the last three chapters giving our hero hell might suddenly change colors and do something to help, and you’re never sure just why. Is it because it suits their own plans? Or was it a chance to do something—gasp!—good in among all this treachery? Maybe it was both. Or something else entirely that won’t reveal itself for 300 pages (these books are pretty big).

Another series that I tried reading was The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. This is also a popular series that deals with all kinds of plots and counterplots and adds in messianic story lines and the roles the main good guy/bad guy play throughout time. And, of course, we are now around to the final battle, the final turn of the Wheel.

At first, I loved these books. They’re rich in detail, and the different cultures are very distinct. As the characters go from one country to another, they encounter wildly different customs, some of which put them in great danger from time to time (of course). This kind of world-building is why I’ve never felt I was very apt at fantasy—I can’t come up with all these details. I think it’s partly because I’m too lazy to try, but there’s also trying to work them into the story without it sounding like some kind of lecture. Though I’ve been exposed to this kind of thing since I first read The Hobbit almost forty years ago, I just don’t seem to have the knack for doing it myself.

I still enjoy reading it, though. The problem I had with The Wheel of Time was that, after a while, I got tired of the Battle of the Sexes that was constantly going on. I realize that it’s a legitimate thing, but I felt that Mr. Jordan overdid it—at least he did for me. It seemed like every time I turned around, women and men were both of the opinion that the world would be a lot better place if only members of the opposite sex would get some sense. Realistic? Yes. But I don’t want beat over the head with it.

I also don’t want to read twelve books that average 600+ pages apiece—and most are close to 1000, as I remember—and have to deal with a stupid Battle of the Sexes every few pages while the world is falling apart around the characters. I finally gave up around Book IV or V because I found myself practically yelling, “Will you people just fucking talk to one another and get over yourselves?”

I’ve never gone back.

Mr. Martin doesn’t have some irritating theme like this in his books. I’d have to say that the most irritating thing is that he came out with the first three books—or maybe it was four, I don’t remember anymore—in relatively short order. But then he took ten years to come out with the latest one. In the same abovementioned interview, he said that he believed fans would appreciate it more if he took ten years to get it right than taking two years and putting out a piece of crap. Valid point but…ten years is still a long time to wait. Add in that Robert Jordan died before finishing his series, and there is the worry that Mr. Martin could kick off before his is completed.

So, anyway, if you like complicated plots and watching characters do their level best to stab one another in the back—along with a few good guys who genuinely want to see something positive happen in the world—check out some high fantasy. And, just because I became frustrated with The Wheel of Time doesn’t mean you won’t like it. There were lots of good things about that series. I just couldn’t overcome my objection the Battle of the Sexes thing. For me, it seemed so trivial and petty beside everything else that was happening.

And check out the Game of Thrones series if you don’t want to read these books—they are thick books, after all, and not everybody likes those.

Just keep in mind that if you read/watch Mr. Martin’s series, don’t get too terribly upset if your favorite character dies—or worse.



An Informal Poll

Unless I have a whole lot more people out there reading this blog than I realize, I don’t exactly have a busload of folks to take a poll with. In fact, I’d say it’s a good chance I’d have trouble filling up a minivan with my readers, even if it meant a free trip to Silver Dollar City.

But I’m gonna throw this out there anyway, see what kind of responses I get. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Okay, so here’s the situation: I’ve had to do a revision of Pipeline: Startup, the first novel in my Pipeline duology (hereinafter referred to as Startup). If you didn’t read that blog—or have forgotten the details—in brief, I submitted my ms to Aaron Priest, one of my dream agents. He rejected me, but gave a brief critique, in which he said:

Your writing, line by line, is skillful. Your main character Lyle Villines is interesting, likable, and even compelling. However, a crime novel must have a strong sense of forward motion in its pacing, and this is what your manuscript lacked, in my view. Your query’s synopsis told me of a plot that sounded enticing, yet by page 75, almost nothing had happened. My best advice to you, as you write, is to put at the forefront of your consciousness the concept of storytelling that sustains a tireless forward motion.

There were a few more things, but that’s the bulk and essence of the letter. I wrote back, asking if I could resubmit my ms if I could revise it. I was answered by one Francis Jalet-Miller (no relation that I’m aware of), who said “…in most cases Mr. Priest does not do second readings, but if you would like to re-send your revised manuscript, Mr. Priest said that he would be okay with my giving it a reading. If you check our website, you will note that my role here is as in-house editor (I do not function here as an agent).”

So, to motivate myself, I count this as half a rejection. I would like to add that I thanked Mr. Priest for his words, because they pointed out something I wasn’t seeing, but should have. All I can say is I must have been entirely too close to the work to get a proper objective look at it. Even a friend of mine, who usually sees this kind of thing, admits he was in the same position: he saw it once it was pointed out, and can’t figure just why he didn’t see it in the first place. And he definitely wasn’t too close to the work.

So, anyway, I set about revising it, after giving it a lot of thought (and having the bejesus scared out of me when my computer tried to crap out on me), and agonizing over it more than I rightfully should have. Heck, I’m a writer. Just sit down and write the damn thing.

But, see, based on opinions I trust, about page 100 or so, it really starts to take off, get really interesting. So, okay, that’s good news. Means I don’t have to revise everything. Just a third or so of it.

I gave it a fresh look, decided the first twenty-three pages were good as is, and went from there. I re-wrote some scenes, deleted others, and changed the entire timeline. The idea I had was, while I’m at it, might as well see if I can reduce the overall word count. Never hurts, so long as you don’t cut out something vital.

So that’s what I did. Then, last Thursday, I took it to group. I started at page twenty, since they’d never heard my revised version of the first section the reporter wrote (the idea behind this book is that Lyle is telling this story to a reporter). They hadn’t like my original reporter section, so I’d rewritten it a long time ago, made it shorter and more to the point, and changed where it occurs in the novel.

Well, most of ’em still didn’t like the reporter bit. And, since it doesn’t happen till page twenty, they pretty much had the idea that nothing has still happened until after the reporter section, at the least.

Crap. I can’t win for losing.

My problem is, this isn’t like going to apply for a job and getting it. You don’t just drop off into the drug world and start moving up. And, since the plot involves Lyle getting close to someone high up in one of the cartels, he sure as hell can’t just walk up to them and make friends. You don’t stay in the business long if you do that. Not on either end of that situation.

So, the first part is necessarily a bit slow. But, at the same time, I gotta make that interesting.

One of the members said that, the problem he had with the reporter being there is that it means Lyle is telling the story, thus we already know he survived his encounter with the drug world.

Okay. That’s a valid point. Then you add in that it’s a first-person POV, which many authors say is not a good POV to use because, supposedly, the first-person narration also denotes that the protagonist survived.

And yet…and yet, I dare you go pick up a crime novel or mystery. Based on the many that I’ve read, chances are very good that it’ll be a first-person narrative. It’s a common technique, especially in mystery, but since crime is a subgenre of mystery, it shows up a lot there, too.

Plus, first-person narrative is very popular these days. So, strike that as a negative. It’s obvious readers today are willing to suspend disbelief in that direction.

So, what about the reporter aspect?

Well, after some thought, and discussing it with my daughter and that same friend I mentioned above, I’m of the opinion that I’ll leave the reporter bits in. Why? For one, there aren’t that many. When you’re reading this thing with a greater sense of continuity than I can give you at writer’s group, I think it’ll look entirely different. Also, the reporter bits, much like the reporter in Interview With The Vampire, add a perspective to it that Lyle can’t give us. Lyle’s too deep in the story. He lived it. The reporter gives us an outsider’s perspective.

Lastly (I think), the point of Lyle’s story, as I’ve written it, is not whether or not Lyle lives. I mean, be honest: how many books have you read in which the protagonist died? The only one I can think of offhand is To Live and Die in LA. Yes, the hero is often in mortal danger. But finding examples of where the good guy dies is hard to do. We know when we pick up a book that the good guy will live (unless it’s a George RR Martin novel, and then no one is safe. But not all of us can kill off main characters like he does). The suspense, the suspension of disbelief, comes not from whether or not the character lives, but how he does it. And, in the case of my novel, how he not only keeps himself alive, but escapes from the drug world and also fulfills his deal with the government and goes back to a normal life (which he realizes fairly early on that he’ll never be able to do. Getting arrested and dealing with powerful drug figures means his life will never be the same again).

So, here I sit, with two opposing viewpoints on how to go about this, which boil down to, do I leave the reporter a part of the story—and by that, I mean an active part, not just an implied one—or do I do away with that pretty much altogether. One alternative I’ve been offered is to start with a short prologue in which it is announced that there will be an ongoing series about Lyle. But, to me, that still does the same thing. All it leaves out is the rare parts actually written by the reporter that some say intrude on the story—while others say they like those parts.

That makes it a wash, in my mind, but I’d like to get a little broader poll, a little more input. Yes, I’m leaning toward leaving the reporter in, but going back to my original idea and framing the story with reporter bits. In other words, do a prologue-type thing at the beginning—one that isn’t very long—and another at the very end. Then maybe open up the second book with another, though I don’t think I’ll end it with one, because it’s structured differently.

What’s your opinion? Does the reporter aspect add anything, at least academically (I know it’s hard to judge when you haven’t read the thing)? Or does it distract a reader? Let me know, if you would.



Low Town

Drug dealers, hustlers, brothels, dirty politics, corrupt cops…and sorcery. Welcome to Low Town.

                                                         —copy from the back of Low Town by Daniel Polansky


Well, somebody else has gone and done it: written a fantasy crime novel.

I doubt Daniel Polansky is the first. After all, there is the Thieves’ World series of shared-word anthologies, and I’m sure there are others I’m not aware of. No one can read everything that’s out there in the fantasy genre, and who would want to? Let’s face it: some of it’s not worth reading. I can’t speak for Thieves’ Word, as I’ve never been big on reading anthologies, and shared-world ones are even less appealing. I think the most valiant effort I ever tried was in reading the first four or so of George R.R. Martin’s Aces High series, where there’s an alternate earth populated by superheroes.

I say someone else has gone and done it because, off and on since writing Pipeline, I’ve given thought to writing a sf crime novel. It wouldn’t be the first, either. Asimov wrote a sf mystery by the name of Caves of Steel way back in the 40s or so, after someone told him there was no way to write a sf mystery because technology would solve crimes all but instantly. And, since mysteries primarily concern themselves with murder, that’s the crime that would solve the easiest. Naturally, Asimov being the type he was, he couldn’t let a challenge like that pass.

But I haven’t been able to come up with anything good. My first thought was to do, basically, Miami Vice 2280 or something like that. You know, the old buddy cop story, and make ’em vice cops so we could get off into the drug trade that I find so fascinating. But, let’s face it: that’s kinda hokey. My first problem with the story—how do you smuggle something in space?—was easily answered, at least in a speculative setting. Some people argue that galactic war a la Star Wars would never work because of the distances and traveling times involved. I’m sure that keeps George Lucas awake nights—as he counts all that money.

Never let the fact get in the way of a good story.

As for a fantasy crime novel, I guess growing up reading Tolkienesque fantasies colored my imagination. I could see a thief—they’re as common as elves, or almost. That wasn’t a problem. My problem was, just how interesting could you make a thief’s story? It wouldn’t take very many second-story jobs for both writer and reader to be bored.

The bottom line: I let my imagination stall out. And Polansky’s book showed me what I’ve been missing.

This ain’t high fantasy, folks.

Low Town is just what it says: the low end of Rigus, which the book bills as the finest city of the Thirteen Lands. Low Town contains the slum. It’s where the nobility goes—for its sexual escapades, and for its drugs.

That’s where the protagonist for Low Town comes in: he’s a drug dealer, and he runs a lot of Low Town. He has about half the Low Town guard on his payroll. He’s called the Warden. He knows all the pimps, and he’s even hobnobbed a bit with some nobility. But don’t hold that against him. They pay well for their pixie breath, after all. And their wyrm.

The problem is, a young girl is missing, and it has Low Town concerned. It’s not that they care, exactly. After all, a young, unblemished girl will bring five hundred ochres on the slave markets. There’s the profit margin to consider. Besides, everybody likes kids. Right?

Well, that’s not the Warden’s problem—until he stumbles across her body late one day as he’s finishing up his rounds. He’s supposed to go watch a performance by his friend Yancey the Rhymer, but once he finds the girl, he knows that’ll have to wait, even if Yancey is his ticket to nobility and their money.

See, the girl is mutilated and covered in blood.

The Warden corrals a couple of street urchins and sends the dumber one after the guard. The smarter one he hands an argent and his stash of remaining drugs. The guard is pretty much worthless when it comes to investigating crimes, and everyone knows it. That means they’ll have to send for an agent from the Black House—the empire’s secret police. Think of them as a mix of FBI, CIA and KGB—with a dash of the Spanish Inquisition thrown in for variety. When the guard walks by, everybody ignores them. When the Throne’s Justice walks by, everybody lowers their heads and makes room. And answers right up if asked a question.

The Warden doesn’t exactly look forward to being interviewed by someone from Black House. Not because he fears them, exactly, but because he used to be an agent, and he fell from grace while he was part of Special Operations—they’re the Spanish Inquisition part I mentioned earlier. There’s this unmarked door that leads underground, and it’s not a door you want to go through.

Thankfully, the man who shows up is Crispin, an old friend named from his days there, and the interview goes all right. But the Warden takes the murder as a personal affront—he’s Low Town’s guardian, after all. He tracks down the killer thanks to a peculiar alchemical smell and, just as he’s about the kill the guy, this…thing shows up, something evil from the void, and the way it kills the murderer isn’t pretty.

When the Warden wakes up, he’s surrounded by agents from Black House, and they’re well on their way to beating him senseless. Crispin arrives on the scene and rescues him, but it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire as his old friend takes him to Black House, where he learns that the brass is calling it a closed case: the Kiren killed the girl, the Warden tracked the Kiren down and witnessed him being murdered by a person or persons unknown, and that’s that. Apparently Black House doesn’t want to touch something that reeks of this particular brand of magic.

Why? Because, during a war ten years ago, the government used sorcerers to call just these kinds of beings against their enemies. Most of those sorcerers died that night, but not all.

It’s after this that things get really convoluted, but in a good way. The Warden has to untie this increasingly complex knot of intrigue and magic as children continue to disappear.

Polansky manages to write what is basically a fantasy/mystery/crime novel, and he juggles all the parts well. We get to see a gritty world—don’t go into this one expecting Lothlorien or any other place in Middle-earth—except perhaps for Mordor. There’s mud and worse in the gutters, even the good guys cheat when they fight wars, and the Warden is just the kind of anti-hero who can move through this world and present it to us in an interesting way. He knows a lot about it, and not a lot of it is good.

But the story is. It keeps you going. Polansky maintains the tension without wearing you out, making you want to read “just one more chapter.” I put that in quotes ’cause I ain’t the only one who’s ever said it while reading a good book. And Polansky pays you back for your undivided attention by keeping the true solution to the mystery, um, well, mysterious until the last possible moment. And then he hits you broadside with it.

Low Town. Go find it and read it. If you like fantasy, mystery or crime, you’ll be satisfied with this one. I’m looking forward to the next one from Polansky and the Warden.