Review: Those Below

Those BeklowBy Daniel Polansky

Hodder, out now

The revolt against Those Above begins…

The second half of Daniel Polansky’s epic fantasy picks up the various threads created in Those Above and follows the many different characters through the rebellion against the Eternals. Some will survive, but – as becomes increasingly clear as the book powers towards its dark climax – many more will not, either because they have too much faith in others, or because they simply are victims of forces far beyond their control. The Lady Eudokia “strides” through the novel, a weak and feeble woman on the surface, but in fact manipulating all around her to varying degrees – determined to be the victor, no matter what the cost. Appropriately, the last line of the novel is about her – a new Ozymandias for the ages.

Polansky is a true history buff, using elements of many different conflicts, both military and political within his fiction. The Eternals themselves are reminiscent of the Politbureau in Stalin’s Russia; the revolt, and the attacks on the Eternals – and, more importantly, their aftermath – reflect far more recent warfare. His characters are never “good” or “bad” – they act according to their lights, within the confines of their situation. You can feel sympathy for some of them even when their naivety takes them into peril; you can loathe them yet still want them to gain some satisfaction.

The writing style draws you in, with the omnipotent narrator occasionally imparting nuggets of wisdom, reminding the reader that much as the world that Polansky draws is at one remove from our own, human nature doesn’t change half as much as we’d like to think that it would.

Verdict: At times bleak, never dull and always enthralling, this is the work of a first-class worldbuilder. 9/10

Paul Simpson

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