Book Review: Those Above

Those Above by Daniel Polansky, The Empty Throne #1

They enslaved humanity three thousand years ago. Tall, strong, perfect, superhuman and near immortal they rule from their glittering palaces in the eternal city in the centre of the world. They are called Those Above by their subjects. 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 stir in the hearts of the oppressed: a woman, widowed in the war, who has dedicated her life to revenge; the 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 rises from the gutter to lead an uprising in the capital.

In 2011, Daniel Polansky took the fantasy world by storm with his Low Town/Straight Razor Cure debut. This first installment in the Low Town series was a downright dark-gritty-noir themed fantasy book, part crime part detective but all taking place in a less then pretty world. I read all of his book in the Low Town series and they just kept on getting better, Tomorrow the Killing and She Who Waits were pitch perfect sequels. I do have to say that I felt sad not seeing book four in the Low Town series appear though. Daniel Polansky choose to show his writing skills in a completely new setting, more Epic Fantasy related, and the results is well, what else can you expect from him? It's amazing.

A first sentence always has to be catchy, it has to get you excited for the remainder of the story. Just take a look at the first sentence of the synopsis: "They enslaved humanity three thousand years ago." this already promises a lot and the followup even more so. Superhuman and near immortal with an epic fantasy setting, what more can you wish for? All what is mentioned above is also seen in the first chapter of the book. Just a quick sidenote in Those Above you follow multiple storylines. So this introducing chapter introduces Bas an army general. He is about to wage war, and it's serious business all along this introduction I knew that Bas was much more. In the end of it all you learn that Bas indeed is more, he is the only person ever able to kill one of Those Above, the near immortal gods and he carries something with him to proof. The other storylines, those of Calla, Eudokia and Thistle. Calla is an agent for Those Above she acts in their court, this is where it turns interesting as by her part you have a direct view on Those Above and how they act, which is most interesting. 

Next up you have Eudokia, from her first introduction you learn that she has an infernal hate against Those Above and that she is hellbent on getting her revenge. Eudokia is a noble and has a well placed spot in society, she can do what ever she likes and makes her cause for getting revenge somewhat "special" as this is something not often seen and with her status she can easily get to places where others can. And most importantly, she can put on a face, who would expect a innocent women to be up to that stuff? Last and definitely not least is Thistle. Thistle is a young boy who lives on the lowest rung of the Roost, basically he lives in the most terrible place with pretty much only criminals, and since Those Above like to show how powerful they are, they are not afraid to show in on those poor people. But sometimes enough is enough and this is precisely what will happen if it is up to Thistle. These last three storylines those of Calla, Eudokia and Thistle are less action packed than that of Bas, by you see one aspect that makes Epic Fantasy so cool, political intrigue and scheming and plotting of high placed people.

In essence the story of Those Above is about revenge of humanity against Those Above. This could have turned into a straightforward story. However this is far from what Daniel Polansky does. By involving different perspectives and thus diversifying the storyline you get to see so much more from the world and how the different people have a view and opinion on Those Above. They all want to get rid of Those Above but what will in the end be the factor? It might seem impossible for them to come together but I think that Daniel Polansky will weave a most interesting plot twist to make this happen. 

What stands in direct connection with these diverse characters is the world building. If you know Daniel Polansky's Low Town series you know he is pretty good at it. The world of The Empty Throne is intricate. It has a lot of details and expected by Daniel Polansky some grey zones; zones where he lets your imagination run wild.Something that you got to learn in his Low Town series. I do have to mention that the whole context of the world of The Empty Throne was a bit harder to grasp compared to his earlier stories. You are thrown a bit in the deep end from the go and have to learn on the fly on what are the pillars of this world and the different levels. It took me a while to get completely familiar with it. In describing his world Daniel Polansky doesn't spare the reader anything. As I already mentioned there are several storylines that play in different societal rungs. In the lowest of the low with the story of Thistle you get to so the brutal nasty and grim parts, in the other it becomes more refined as they are nobles and a agent to Those Above, but even there in what might seem beauty on the first assumption is a dark shadow casting over everything. The world of Those Above is dynamic it might ask some more focus than other books of the reader but it will pay off twice over in the end. 

With Those Above, Daniel Polansky proves himself once more that he is an author to watch out. He is not only a great author when it comes to the dark noir detective genres, but he can also write the classic Epic Fantasy genre very vividly. I might have called him an underdog one time with his Low Town series, not many people have heard of it, and he again has this position within the Epic Fantasy genre. Watch out is all I can say. In Those Above Daniel Polansky hits all the right snares for a terrific Epic Fantasy story and series to be. Introducing enigmatic and likable and diverse protagonist and even though they might act in less savory ways, you will be rooting for them in the end. The immortal Those Above are very nicely portrayed as oppressors and ultimate rulers. You could really see the tension building up all along the story and I think in the second book something will definitely give. Or break. Or explode perhaps. And next to this all comes a complex and dynamic world. As with Daniel Polansky's other books, Those Above once again comes highly recommended. It's out 26st of this February. 


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