Review: Those Above

those aboveBy Daniel Polansky

Hodder, out 26 February

Are Those Above immune to the conflicts between those below?

Daniel Polansky’s new series, The Empty Throne, kicks off with this highly engrossing novel that looks at the heights and the depths of a society that has been irrevocably changed by the arrival of the Eternal, avian-like creatures who have subjugated humanity.

Polansky gives us four central characters who provide considerable insight into the world he’s created. In Bas, the soldier who has infamy among his compatriots because he is the only one to defeat one of the Eternal, and Thistle, a young boy whose life is set on a new path by happenstance of circumstance and meeting, we see the way in which life has become coarsened, and in some ways cheapened. In Eudokia, a crafty manipulator (who reminded me of Blake’s 7’s Servalan so much that I could hear Jacqueline Pearce intoning the lines – particularly in the latter part of the book as her plans come to fruition) and Calla, the human servant (read, slave) of one of the Eternal, we see the other side of the society – but even for them, life is at the whim of those above (in both the capitalised sense used in the book to denote the Eternal, and more generally – a point made by a local gang leader to Thistle). The lives of these four intersect occasionally but all are heading inexorably towards a new, broader conflict.

Early in the book, Bas is in the midst of battle, and he notes that there comes a time when such conflicts devolve into individual fights, and a commander doesn’t know what’s going on in the corners of the melee. On a larger scale, that’s what’s happening to the Eternal in this tale: they don’t know exactly what’s going on in the general human world, and it will be very interesting to watch how Polansky manoeuvres his characters as the battle’s scale widens.

As with his Low Town trilogy, Polansky has a gift for descriptions of combat and the realities of such things – the different rituals the men go through (often unconsciously) before conflict begins, their immediate reaction to the proximity of the fight, and their reactions during it – but in this he also demonstrates a deft hand for political games and the subtle battles of words by which they’re played. The interplay of the elements is handled extremely well, and I am looking forward to the next book immensely.

Verdict: From low conflict to high skulduggery, this is Daniel Polansky’s most assured and engrossing novel yet. 9/10

Paul Simpson

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