Daniel Polansky – She Who Waits

She Who Waits (2013) is the third standalone novel in the Low Town series by Daniel Polansky. I call it a standalone series but every novel uses the same cast of central characters. The stories are however only loosely connected so one can read them without needing to read the others. The series is a crime noir fantasy albeit with the twist that the main protagonist is a crime boss with an odd background and peculiar working habits. He has no real organization and often gets himself dirty in several different ways. That does not prevent him from being a key player who lets his opponents think little of him while he manipulates all around him with blunt skill. The element of magic in the series is rather low but it does plays its role in certain points.

The first novel in the series was very strong and ignited the desire to read more. The follow-up was, in my opinion, rather mediocre. It was not so bad that I wanted to drop the series because I hoped Polansky would recover in the next book. As each had a standalone story this was certainly a possibility. In She Who Waits Polansky does manage to provide a better story, but it is still quite away from the level of The Straight Razor Cure. The novel suffers from two issues.

The first is similar to the second novel which main problem was that much of the real excitement happened only at the beginning and the end. Polansky manages to even out the excitement better in She Who Waits but that is mainly because there is rather less excitement at the beginning and the end so that the contrast is less. Even so this is rather secondary to the actual problem which is that the main protagonist already pretty much knows the game he plays early on and the only thing he has to do is prepare for the final play. This means that the majority of the middle part of the novel is occupied by politicking and manipulating. This may be entertaining but the issue is that it feels like filler story to give the book some body and set up some pieces for the finale. You could say that it is not that uncommon in a novel but in this case you could remove 100-200 pages and it would not really affect the plot that much. I do have to say that it is not as bad as it was in the second novel which also had many flashbacks added as well.

The second issue is not so much a flaw but a weakness. All three novels of the series are setup following the same procedure. In essence you could call them police procedurals as the main protagonist has a mystery or crime to solve and his approach in doing so is fairly similar each time. As in the previous issue one could say that the theme or subject of the plot feels rather interchangeable. Polansky tells his stories in the same way, everytime. In police procedurals this is okay because that is part of the concept of solving crimes. In this case such things can easily be avoided as there is no requirement to do so. Polansky can tell his story in many different ways. Falling back to the same approach for the setup of your story every time is a serious weakness here.

One thing that remains great about the novel are the characters. Polansky’s central cast remains well developed which you can easily connect to. As they are familiar from the earlier novels he has plenty of space for the new characters in this story although they do not get much time to shine overall. Nevertheless they are always interesting and well created. Good characters certainly make a novel and it is one of the reasons why I kept reading this series. There may be some flaws but perfect novels are rare so you take all the things you can enjoy.

She Who Waits is far from the best in the series. It is a good improvement after the second novel and provides a decent amount of satisfaction although the novel ends with mixed feelings. This is not that it is bad as it is in line with the nature of the settings. Low Town is a bad place and everyone plays the survival game until the end. Despite my complaints Polansky does deliver where it counts and when you want to read a novel that is where it matters first.

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