BOOK REVIEW: THOSE ABOVE / AUTHOR: DANIEL POLANSKY / PUBLISHER: HODDER & STOUGHTON / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 26TH
Daniel Polansky is a rising star in terms of fantasy novelists. His previous series, Low Town, was a noir-style fantasy drama, concentrating on a very narrowly defined world. It’s mix of crime and strangeness that was both engaging and original. Those Above maintains Polansky’s engaging style and storytelling, and yet is very different, being a broad and sweeping high fantasy tale in which mankind has become enslaved by the immortal and god-like Those Above.
These impossible creatures dwell at the heart of the world and control their thralls with an iron fist. Previous uprisings have been attempted, but the beings are so powerful and ancient that utter slaughter was nothing but inevitable. Instead, Mankind bows down to these beings, fighting for the tiniest scraps of freedom and privilege.
Polansky employs a broad and sweeping approach to his narrative; the story jumps across perspectives, gently handing out tiny snippets of a vast world with a rich history and deep backstory. The pace is slow and steady throughout, with certain characters being more sympathetic and engaging than others. As the revelations are gently stacked on top of each other, the work becomes ever more compelling. This may be a slow a burn, but the inevitable explosions are worth the wait.
The gutter rat Thistle is especially well thought out and entertaining, Polansky clearly warming to his preferred theme of crime and its consequences, using the character to further build his rich and complex world. The weakest creation is the military hero Bas, who takes ways too long to grab the reader. Bas makes up for this by introducing essential and necessary elements of the world.
Those Above is clever book, shot through with clever ideas, dry humour and steady world building. It is not an uplifting book, but those looking for well-created and beautifully crafted fantasy, which also happens to be both darkly comic and devastatingly grim, will find themselves swiftly addicted. Slow it may be, but like all good things in life, worth the wait.