Those Above by Daniel Polansky

January 22, 2016 Reviews 1 ★★★★

Those Above by Daniel PolanskyThose Above (The Empty Throne #1) by Daniel Polansky
Published: February 26th 2015 by Hodder & Stoughton
Format: Paperback, 416 pages
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Publisher
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4 Stars

Tall, strong, perfect - for three thousand years Those Above have ruled over their human subjects. From the glittering palaces of their eternal city they enforce their will with fire and sword.

Twenty-five years ago mankind mustered an army and rose up against them, only to be slaughtered in a terrible battle. Hope died that day, but hatred survived.

Whispers of another revolt are beginning to store in the hearts of the oppressed: a woman, widowed in the warm who has dedicated her life to revenge; a general, the only man to ever defeat one of Those Above in single combat, summoned forth to raise a new legion; and a boy-killer who ruses from the gutter to lead an uprising in the capital.

Firstly, isn’t that cover gorgeous? It’s what drew me to Those Above in the first place, that beautiful cover with a giant sword that screamed Read Me. And I was further enthralled when I read the synopsis. A human uprising against the Gods? Sign me up.

Those Above, Polansky’s first venture into epic fantasy, is the thrilling beginning to a story I cannot wait to explore further. Set in a brilliantly realised world and populated with characters one cannot help but love, it will capture the imagination of many a speculative fiction reader.

I think my only real complaint about this novel is the set-up, to let’s begin there. Those Above takes a long time to set things up, a somewhat necessary evil considering the scope of the novel, but still vaguely disappointing because this is not Polansky’s first rodeo – far from it. The narrative is told from the viewpoints of four different characters, and it takes a good quarter to a third of the book to get a firm grasp of who these characters are and why they’re important. And it’s only in the second half of the book that things really start coming together, although admittedly, once they do the book is nigh on unputdownable. But that’s not all.

If the first half of Those Above is set up for the second half, then it is undeniable that the entirety of the novel is a set up for the sequel, Those Below. By this I mean that nothing really happens in this book but it ends in such a way that each of its characters is poised to do Great and Terrible Things in the sequel. One might argue that this is a side-effect of writing a duology, but I know it can be avoided (for example, Sam Bowring’s Strange Threads)

The four protagonists are widely varied and incredibly well crafted, from Bas, the only man to ever kill an Immortal and a general in the Aelerian army to boot, to Eudokia, Revered Mother by order of the Senate in Aeleria, to Calla of the Red Keep, Seneschal to the Immortal called the Aubade, and finally to Thistle, an ambitious young street thug. With these four viewpoints come the various facets of life in the world Polansky has created – from the harsh realities and stratagem of war to the mysteries of the Aurelian political landscape, from the grandeur and excess of the Roost, where the Immortals rule, to the poverty and desperation that enables that lifestyle. The greatest strength of this book is the rich and vivid way the author has brought these characters and their worlds to life.

Without a point-of-view character from the ranks of the Immortals themselves, we are left to discover these alien god-like creatures through the eyes of those around them. Calla is closest to them, being the chief amongst an Immortal’s servants, but her view is flawed and deeply biased. Still, we get a good sense of them – their power and arrogance and sheer Otherness. Thistle perceives them quite differently – unfeeling, uncaring oppressors who see humans as little more than chattel. It’s through Bas that we get a happy medium, his healthy respect for their power balancing out his natural abhorrence for their tyranny. Considering that the book is concerned with a war between the Immortals and the humans, we find out very little about the history of the former. I’m hoping the next book will explore some of the mysteries that surround them.

I really enjoyed Those Above. It has moments of brilliance where it transcends expectations, and at all other times is an entertaining and glorious read. I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel!

One Response to “Those Above by Daniel Polansky”

  1. Brett Michael Orr

    This was a really good review Shaheen – I had put this book on my TBR ages ago, and almost forgot about it until I saw the cover on your Twitter feed. Sounds really awesome and intriguing, although I might be waiting a little while to read it – but THAT COVER omg. I think I want the book for the cover alone….

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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