Daniel Polansky’s “Those Above” is like an idling Lamborghini. The sound of the engine makes you believe that rubber will be burning at any second, thunderous speed following shortly after. And even at idle, it’s still a sight to behold.
Unfortunately, “Those Above” idles for its entire length. On page one you can feel tension in the air. On page 400? The tension has grown thicker, but there’s been no release. In fact, much of the book is filled with characters going about their daily business. It takes a lot of pages to shift out of park and never gets past first gear before the end.
While there’s very little forward movement to Polansky’s plot, the prose is exquisite. Readers of lighter fare may want to invest in a good dictionary before picking up “Those Above.” The detailed descriptions are thorough, sometimes laborious, and rich with interesting vocabulary. Laborious or not, the prose alone is enough to recommend this work.
At times “Those Above” gets more complicated than it needs to be. For instance, the titular beings are called by many different names; Those Above, the Others, the High, the Eternal, Gods, Demons, the Wellborn, the Four-Fingered, the Lords. Furthermore, each individual of the kind typically has two names, one a title, the other a proper name. So the Aubade is also known as Lord of the Red Keep. While all of this may have been easy for the author to follow, it’s a lot to take in for a reader.
The geography gets a bit complicated too. I can’t tell you where Salucia, Dycia, The Baleferic Isles, or The Marches are in relation to our main settings, Aeleria and The Roost. And I can’t tell you the geographic relation between those two places either. I’m not typically a fan of maps in fantasy books, but I think it might have been warranted for this one. Preferably, I’d like the geography to reveal itself naturally through the characters actions. That doesn’t happen in “Those Above.”
Elmore Leonard’s “10 Rules For Writing” are generally a good way to ensure your book is enjoyable. Daniel Polansky broke nearly all of them. Especially the more important ones. However, Leonard is a pulp writer and “Those Above” is about the least pulpy book you’ll ever read.
“Low Town,” Daniel Polansky’s first series, came across as a pulp noir with the wittiest of dialogue and a class of prose rarely seen in the genre. It was a masterful series that fused fast-paced action with exceptional literary craftsmanship all while exploring a fantasy setting.
Why that action and wit couldn’t have been more present in “Those Above,” I couldn’t say. The opportunities were there but never seized upon. But now that the chess board has been set, will Polansky deliver in the sequel? When “Those Above” ends, conflict is just over the next rise. Let’s hope it’s bloody and violent and satisfying in a way that this book was not.
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Hardcover Release – February 26th, 2015
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Dusty Wallace lives in the Appalachians of Virginia with his wife and two sons. He enjoys reading, writing, and the occasional fine cigar. Find him online: DustyVersion.blogspot.com and on Twitter: @CosmicDustMite