Those Below by Daniel Polansky

December 31, 2016 Reviews 0 ★★★★

Those Below by Daniel PolanskyThose Below (The Empty Throne #2) by Daniel Polansky
Published: March 8th 2016 by Hodder & Stoughton
Format: Paperback, 358 pages
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Publisher
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4 Stars

For centuries beyond counting, humanity has served the Others, god-like Eternals who rule from their cloud-capped mountain-city, building a civilization of unimagined beauty and unchecked viciousness.

But all that is about to change. Bas Alyates, grizzled general of a thousand battles, has assembled a vast army with which to contend with the might of Those Above. Eudokia, Machiavellian matriarch and the power behind the Empty Throne, travels to the Roost, nominally to play peacemaker - but in fact to inspire the human population toward revolt. Deep in the dark byways of the mountain's lower tiers, the urchin Pyre leads a band of fanatical revolutionaries in acts of terrorism against their inhuman oppressors. Against them, Calla, handmaiden of the Eternals' king, fights desperately to stave off the rising tide of violence which threatens to destroy her beloved city.

It was hard to let go of Those Below. So hard that I delayed reading the last ten or so pages until I was dangerously close to allowing 2016 to end before I turned the last page. I love this world, I love these characters, and I’m sad that it’s over.

The second book in Polansky’s duology, Those Below takes up two years after Those Above ended and reunites readers with a widely varied cast at the cusp of changing the world. They have each grown and changed in interesting ways and the Great and Terrible Deeds hinted at in the last book now become reality. Somehow, even without ever giving us a chapter from the eyes of an Eternal, the author made them both beautiful and terrible. They are cruel and unknowable and yet achingly familiar.

I love political books and enjoyed this aspect of the story the most. While the existential musings about humanity and its place in the world were interesting, it was Eudokia and her machinations that kept me turning the pages. (And Bas, the hero whose life is a tragedy of epic proportions.) It’s a hard and harrowing journey, and Polansky pulled no punches, but the plotting is in keeping with the tone of the series. There are lots of surprises to keep readers on their toes!

My only complaint would again be about the pacing. Those Below is a slow-moving book. I thought it’d be faster given that it’s the concluding volume, but the story unfolds pebble by pebble until it builds into an avalanche in its last chapters. Even then, I felt a little cheated — robbed of closure when it came to some storylines.

Polansky’s first attempt at epic fantasy has been a success in my eyes, and I’m looking forward to reading the Low Town books for a taste of his urban fantasy. A fresh take on some old tropes, The Empty Throne duology is perfect for readers who are looking for something new in the genre.

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