Drawing attention to Daniel Polansky


My friend­ship with Peter V. Brett is well known. In mul­tiple inter­views, we’ve both talked at length about how we’ve known one another since high school, how we cri­tiqued one another’s man­u­scripts and encour­aged one another to keep going when the climb seemed too steep.

I wax ecstatic about Pete’s amazing books on a rou­tine basis. I mean every word, and even if we’d never met, I’d still say the same things, but I can under­stand folks who cock a skep­tical eye­brow. Nothing I can do about that, except back up why I love Pete’s work so much, which I think I do tol­er­ably well.

I have never met Daniel Polansky. I know nothing about him. From what I can tell from his very infre­quent tweets, he splits his time between Brooklyn and Japan and maybe Bal­ti­more? We’ve exchanged a total of maybe 5 mes­sages on Face­book and Twitter over the 3 years since we met online. He seems like a nice guy, but I can’t call him a friend. I think if you were to count up our total bidirectional-comms, the grand total would clock in at under 1000 words.

So, when I tell you that he’s an absolutely amazing writer, that is pred­i­cated on nothing more than the quality of his work. I have no dog in this fight.

There’s been a lot of buzz and atten­tion devoted to the latest crop of “grim­dark” authors (writers whose work takes a frank look at the darker side of human moti­va­tion in fan­tasy): Mark Lawrence, Joe Aber­crombie, Peter V. Brett, George R. R. Martin, even Scott Lynch to some extent. The pro­tag­o­nists of these sto­ries are deeply and badly flawed, inter­esting but fre­quently not like­able, and all the more com­pelling for it. They are trai­tors, thugs, thieves, polit­ical schemers and crim­inal masterminds.

And they are awe­some. I wrote about the why of their awe­some­ness over at Chuck Wendig’s blog a while back.

I’m bummed that Polansky isn’t gen­er­ally con­sid­ered a member of the grim­dark club. His debut novel LOW TOWN and its sequel TOMORROW THE KILLING are absolutely on a par with the authors I listed above. They are tri­umphs, grip­ping and har­rowing, dis­turbing the way Waters’ REQUIEM FOR A DREAM or Ennis’ CROSSED are: hor­rific car crashes that you simply can’t look  away from. Polansky’s work res­onates with reality in all its facets. It does what the very best fan­tasies do: blurs the fic­tional line, trans­porting the reader to the extent where they lose the dis­tinc­tion between the real world and the one they’re vis­iting. LOW TOWN becomes less of a fan­tasy and more of a 60 Min­utes expose on the darker side of the city you already live in.

I have spent much of my career in law enforce­ment at the fed­eral level, and most recently at the local level. Add to that years in the spy corps and the mil­i­tary. I shudder to think how many of my mental com­pute power has been ded­i­cated to con­sid­ering the crim­inal thought process over the years. I like to think I know a thing or two about how cops, crim­i­nals, spies and sol­diers think.

Polansky nails it. He nails it with such incred­ible accu­racy that I wonder if he’s pos­sibly former CIA, or occa­sion­ally does side work for the FARC. Polansky looks at the crim­inal under­world with a rig­orous hon­esty, never shying away from the depre­da­tion, and never obscuring the heroism and humanity in the name of ratch­eting up the drama. He is a writer who under­stands the cul­ture of retired vet­erans, city alleys and the seedy under­belly of the com­mu­nity of vio­lent pro­fes­sionals who fall on the gov­ern­ment side of the line, occa­sion­ally step­ping over to get the job done.

He takes fan­tasy to a new level, extrap­o­lating with an incred­ible ability. He deserves to be on your book­shelf right next to GAME OF THRONES, THE WARDED MAN, PRINCE OF THORNS or THE BLADE ITSELF.

But last time I checked LOW TOWN’s amazon​.com sales ranking, the paper back edi­tion was kissing the 1,500,000 mark.

That’s BULLS*!T.

There are two main ways books sell. The first and most impor­tant (and I mean by an epic order of mag­ni­tude) is word of mouth and its cyber equiv­a­lent. The second, rightly or wrongly (and this is changing as amazon takes over the world) is the cover.

Take a look at Polansky’s Hard­back cover:

Low Town_HC


Now, take a look at the paper­back cover:


Look, I’m not going to spend a lot of time bashing Doubleday’s art depart­ment, but I will say this: Polansky’s fan­tasy is low magic along the lines of Martin and Aber­crombie. There has been a lot of cross-over (to great suc­cess) lately between the audi­ences for lit­erary fic­tion and genre fic­tion. True Blood and Game of Thrones dom­i­nate TV rat­ings. Tat­tooed hip­sters are going to Comic Con. White­head wrote ZONE ONE. The dude who kicked my ass in high school and took my lunch money is now sport a t-shirt with a D20 on it that reads “THIS IS HOWROLL.”

I think Dou­bleday was trying to market Polansky to a lit­erary audi­ence, hoping to start some kind of mainstream-crossover domino effect.

Bad call. Those covers are doubly bad. For one, they’re not visu­ally appealing. Worse, they don’t pop off the shelf and grab the reader’s eye. They’re easy to ignore.

Pub­lishers make bad calls all day. There’s nothing new about that. I get what Dou­bleday was trying to do. They took a risk and it didn’t pay off.

But the real tragedy here is for the fan­tasy audi­ence. Polansky isn’t just a good author. He’s a ground breaking author. He’s one of the best that fan­tasy has seen in a long time. It kills me to think that fans are missing out on his work because they look at the cover and think “what the hell is that exploding shape thingy? I don’t even … oh, look, here’s another book with a cover that is appealing and makes sense. I’m going to buy that one.”

I’ve only ever blurbed one author in my entire career, another friend of mine, the fan­tastic Wes Chu. If you haven’t read the LIVES OF TAO, get on the stick.

Daniel Polansky is a master. The covers don’t do the work jus­tice. He’s doing some­thing spe­cial for this genre I love so much, and I’m grateful for it. I want him to be able to keep doing it. And for that he needs to sell more books.

So, give him a chance. You won’t be sorry.

Buy LOW TOWN here at Indiebound.

Here at Barnes and Noble.

Here at Amazon.



  • Kendall

    The hard­cover cover baf­fles me a bit (the paper­back cover’s just ugly and weird), but as it hap­pens, I bought this a while back anyway, because it sounded very good. It’s on my too-large to-read stack still. Anyway, yeah, in agree­ment re. the cover; if they were going for cross-over, I believe they went too far, into some­thing no one will like (cover-wise, I mean).

  • Doug M.

    I’ll bash the US pub­lisher then: they botched this debut–they botched it big. I loved Low­town (they botched the re-title, too), but now I can’t even _buy_ Tomorrow the Killing in U.S. stores. Polansky deserves a much bigger audi­ence. Buy Low­town. Tell everyone to buy Low­town and then maybe a US pub­lisher will get their head out of their ass and pick this series back up.

    • Ian

      there is not even a kindle edi­tion for the US Tomorrow the Killing. This Irks me as i read the first novel on Kindle.

  • Eric Chris­tensen

    Myke, you rec­om­mended Peter V. Brett and Naomi Novik to me. Both were great, so I picked up Low Town today.

  • Anna

    I was totally going to go and read this book until I actu­ally looked at the cover and found that I had already read it.

  • Gav

    I agree with you on every respect, Daniel Polansky is an author on par with any out there atm. I am con­stantly amazed he is not better known, I have no idea why he isn’t. I rec­om­mend him to all my friends .. the man needs better adver­tising as even mates who like the same books as myself have never heard of him.
    I have just got his new book and looking for­ward to it ..