Those Below. Book Review

51BWSIP16lL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_THOSE BELOW by Daniel Polansky
Hodder & Stoughton. h/b, 368pp, £18.99
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins

There are those among the lower rungs who have taken new names and new voices and use them to speak against the Eternal and their companions who have enslaved humanity for so long, casting off their lower rung names to rise up anew. Once he called himself Thistle and took pains to ensure his own survival. Now he is someone else, someone with a purpose higher even than his life.

Calla stands at her Eternal’s side as she always has, neither Eternal herself nor akin with the human visitors newly come to the Roost. Bas too has an Other as a companion. Side by side, on opposite sides, they prepare for the battle to come, God and God-killer waiting for the inevitable.

The Reverend Mother’s plan has been long in the making but it is almost time for it to come to fruition. The players have been manoeuvred into place, the seeds of action have been planted, and now Eudokia’s final act must begin. It is time to visit the Roost and face the Prime. With her motives closely guarded, her intelligence and long-laid plans will serve her well, as they ever have.

Eudokia remains the outstanding character of this series, her cunning machinations driving the story as we realise just how much she has been bending the will of others to her desires. She may be hated by those around her but the reader cannot but be impressed at all she accomplishes and at the ease with which she does. There is a certain joy in knowing that the Eternals may meet one whose abilities are not so far removed from their own.

There is a definite change in pace in The Empty Throne from Polansky’s earlier work – perhaps because there is so much groundwork to lay before the final confrontations or because there is so much political complexity to detail – and this book moves at a languid pace for the most part. That said, this feels like a purposeful decision, so that when the climactic moment of Those Below comes it feels as monumental as it is, and the pace also puts the spectacular worldbuilding and the gritty and cruel essence of this world on full and thorough display.

Those Below brings The Empty Throne to an impressive if inevitable close and this is one of those stories that will be all the richer on a second reading. Don’t judge this against Low Town, for here Polansky brings us more fantasy elements on a more traditional epic scale which is in total contrast to the snappy, noir crime aspects of his debut. Think gods and slavery, battlefields and armour.