Those Above review

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Those Above is Daniel Polansky's first book in a new duology titled The Empty Throne. The Fantasy author was known before mostly for his Low Town Noir series. The book was released back in February of this year and the follow up Those Below will be out... in the near future. It's my first take on the author's work.
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.
As the title suggest or evoke, Those Above are beings worshiped by a population of distant human relatives, or kind of, and are literally residing in a several layered mountain palace called the Roost in the center of the known land. That's actually where half of oftentimes uneventful story takes place. The two protagonists we follow who are inhabitants of this dwelling of the few mighty divine sentinels and leaders are Calla, the servant of The Aubade and Thistle, a street thug living in the lower wrung.

Calla is essentially a restrained witness to the various deliberations of her lord, in his native language that she secretly learned, when he decides to meet with his fellows to talk about the fate of the human Empires, the mating of their race or an incident in one of the lower wrung in need of an investigation. She develops a relationship with a merchant, foreigner to the Roost but making a living by trading with them. Aside from generally witnessing and assessing, I think that I wasn't able to discern much involvement or enthusiasm while reading her chapters. This character felt really bland for me. Her purpose seems to be the herald of the worldbuilding and the host for the events surrounding those above. A point of view from one of them may have been more interesting even if they often seem as emotionally detached as her.

The second one is Thistle. The young boy is leading a sorry gang of braggarts and bullies and is trying to fight his way to the top of the vicious world he lives in. That's the way he found to survive and with the push of a mysterious one time benefactor, he'll finally enjoy some success in it up until he finds a cause aside from surviving, participating in a rebellion against those above. This event will change his perception of the world dramatically. His story doesn't feel much connected with the rest of the narrative up until that point but then you can feel the build-up, mostly a preparation for things to come, at least I hope so for the sake of the follow-up. Thistle's tale isn't without interest but then...

In the world outside of the Roost, the Aelerian Empire, the main emerging force, is trying to conquer the smaller nations bordering it and taking an interest in the other big players. Politically, pulling the strings, is Eudokia, the Revered Mother. A cunning woman, she plays her hand slowly and seems to be always one step ahead of everybody. Her goals are connected with the overall plot involving those above but the author offers a couple of intrigues for her to untie for her plans to go accordingly to her grand vision. Even if sadly her adversaries look like children in comparison, her schemes are sometimes entertaining to witness.

Finally, there's Bas, the Empire's elite general who was previously an enemy subjugated to work for the Aelerians. The competent, silent and sullen commander is typical but surrounded by some fellows that give him slightly more dimension. His role becomes clear soon enough and with a rudimentary backstory here again, his thread didn't feel quite exciting. His engrossment toward one of those above serving as sentinel within the human population is the best aspect of his personality and narrative, although a short one. Another problem with his part of the story are the few battles. Aside from numbers throwing, the strategy doesn't seem imaginative or revealing.

Taking into consideration that the series is a duology, I may have expected a slow build-up for the second book but for me Those Above felt like a long and usually too serious introduction and a tenuous one at that more often than not. The characters have potential but they are not really accomplished protagonists or positioned in surprising ways as the story evolves. Even if I appreciated some of  Polansky's ideas, his world and his prose, the pace and the overall lack of excitement and threads progression left me quite unsatisfied. I'll quote the book toward the end to summarize my remarks: "It has not begun!".

Cover: That beautiful cover is the work of Rhett Podersoo.
Release date: February 26th 2015
Map: Sadly no...
Number of pages: 416 pages hardcover edition (Hodder & Stoughton)
Acquisition method: Audio book purchase
Other: None

I liked...Was disappointed by...
Elements of the world buildingCalla and Bas
Some of Eudokia's schemes or momentsEudokia's antagonists
A bit of Thistle's evolutionThe overall lack of progress or rising action, it feels like a prologue

The lack of excitement in the conflicts and the few events of note


Those Above review rating :


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