Daniel Polansky – She Who Waits

danielpolansky-shewhowaitsLow 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. But now he’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.

If he can ever hope to escape, Warden must finally face his terrible past – including the one person whose betrayal made him the man he is today. The one woman he ever loved.

She who waits behind all things.

Last year I read the first two books in the Low Town trilogy, The Straight Razor Cure and Tomorrow The Killing, in quick succession and both books made it into my favourites for 2012, so I had high expectations for She Who Waits. And Polansky not only managed to equal those expectations, he blew them right out of the water. In fact, She Who Waits was so good, it’s going to take a lot to not just gush and fan-girl all over it for the entire review. Bear with me; I’ll try to actually make sense as well. 

It’s been three years since Tomorrow the Killing when the story starts and Warden hasn’t really turned his life around. He’s clean, but he’s still dealing and still the kingpin of Low Town. Wren has grown and Adeline and Adolphus are the same as always–solid and dependable. Rigun, however, is falling apart. Under the reign of a new king and with the Old Man slowly losing his grip on Black House the city poised on the brink of revolution under the leadership of the Sons of Śakra, also known as the Steps, a new religious sect that has sprung up. To add some more inflammatory material to this mix, there is also a new drug that has surfaced in the city, a drug they call red fever. One of the side effects of this drug is that some people go into a violent psychosis and become murderous. To investigate the origin of this new drug, the Steps bring in Warden, who is then roped back in by the Black House to spy on the Steps. This sets the stage for a breathtakingly paced narrative.

Of the three books this one is the darkest. Polansky creates a world where there is a clear distinction between good and evil, though his characters are many shades of grey. However, unlike as is often the case, Warden never seems to apologise for being so dark a grey it’s hard to distinguish it from black. He knows he’s a bad man and he doesn’t pretend otherwise. Astonishingly, he’s still a sympathetic protagonist, despite this fact. Exactly how Polansky pulls this off I don’t know, but pull it off he does. One of the things I think helps in this regard is that Warden knows exactly who and what he is, is unapologetic about it, yet at the same time regrets that his life has turned out this way. I think the moment he shows Wren what his business is really about and Wren well and truly realises the man Warden is, it kind of breaks Warden’s heart. He’s no longer Wren’s hero, which Warden thinks is all to the good, but at the same time feels as a loss, which in turn made me feel so sad for him.

In She Who Waits there is betrayal round every corner, people betraying Warden, Warden betraying others and everyone double-crossing everyone else. This means the reader has to pay close attention to remember where allegiances lie at any moment and that Polansky presents the reader with some major twists and surprises. As with the previous book we get a story arc from the past told through flash back chapters. I really enjoyed this storyline featuring Albertine quite enlightening, as we finally get the answer to why he was kicked out of the Black House and why Crowley hates him so very much. I also really, really liked the resolution of Albertine’s story arc and what she meant to Warden.

She Who Waits has a stunning, stunning ending which wraps up the trilogy in a wonderful way. I think it’s the best ending of a series I’ve read in ages. I’ve adored Warden, Low Town and this trilogy fiercely and She Who Waits has cemented it as one of the best series published in the last couple of years. Readers already invested in this series will need no encouragement, but if you haven’t read these books and if you don’t mind dark, morally grey, and gritty, then you need to read these books, because you’re missing out in a major way if you don’t. Daniel Polansky has firmly established himself as one of my must-read authors and I can’t wait to see where he takes us next.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.