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.
She who waits behind all things.
Reading is a journey and nowhere more so than in speculative fiction where if you're not following the progress of an actual journey (thanks for that Mr. Tolkien…) then you're watching the main character make a mental journey towards a complete change in character. Once upon a time, this second kind of journey was the sole preserve of kitchen boys 'with a destiny' who would find destiny/nobility thrust upon them and have to adapt accordingly. These days aren't those days though and thank goodness for that. We now have characters seeking redemption from the pits of immorality, we have others who are happy to sink yet further; the most interesting characters though are the ones where you can see that change but have to question their motives and direction. Did X commit the vilest crimes for ultimate good or were they just scraping the bottom of the moral barrel for their own ends? These are the kind of characters that really get you thinking and invested in a story, genre fiction can't have enough of them as far as I'm concerned.
For my money, Daniel Polansky's Warden is the greatest of these; a character who will happily spread chaos in the pursuit of aims and leave you wondering whether he's a good man forced to do bad things or… the other way round. 'The Straight Razor Cure' (a much better title than 'Lowtown') and 'Tomorrow The Killing' have posed these questions already and to excellent affect. 'She Who Waits'… Well, the best way to sign off a series is to leave the reader with a few tantalising questions and Polansky somehow manages to do this while at the same time giving said reader an appropriate sense of closure at the same time. The story ends here and I for one wish it hadn't.
For those of you familiar with the series, 'She Who Waits' follows a path well travelled by the Warden. Lowtown is starting to fall to pieces under the pressure of a mystery that apparently only Warden can solve. While he is doing this, Warden must watch not only his back but those of his closest friends. And while he is doing this... Warden is also putting the pieces into place that will give him the revenge that he been searching for all these years.
And that's what sets 'She Who Waits' apart from any number of 'trilogy concluders' (I've said it so now it's a word) that follow the safe path through to the end. Not only has Polansky been playing an incredibly long game (seriously, there are things in 'The Straight Razor Cure' that make a lot of sense now) but he's not afraid to torch the whole thing once he has finished playing. Imagine that slow, patient build up; imagine the pieces finally falling into place... And then gasp as Polansky elects not to play it safe after all, sending everything and everyone straight to a hell of Wardens own making. You've got to admire the way that Polansky holds his nerve here when the safe option would have been so much easier. Lowtown is a brutal place at the best of times, by the time 'She Who Waits' comes to an end you will have seen a Lowtown only hinted at previously. Not only does it open your eyes to what Warden has to live with, it makes the story fly by and will have you almost forgetting the inevitability of the ending.
Does 'She Who Waits' tread an awfully familiar path then? I'm afraid it does. Does it matter though? Not to me it didn't, not when the plot flowed the way it did. Should I read it then? Damn right you should, just as soon as you've read 'The Straight Razor Cure' and 'Tomorrow The Killing'. 'She Who Waits' is a worthy finale to what has turned out to be quite the superb trilogy (almost without anyone noticing, shame on you all). Read it.