British Fiction Focus

For the Love of Those Above

Over the course of the brilliant Low Town trilogy, which came to a suitably brutal conclusion in She Who Waits twelve months or so ago, I dare say Daniel Polansky established himself as one of the greats of grimdark.

Project Polansky has been paving the way for his next novel for some time. To wit, we’ve known its name for a bit: Those Above is the first half of The Empty Throne, an epic fantasy duology about race hatred.

“In a mountain stronghold amidst objects and architecture of great beauty and craftsmanship [lives] a sort of super-human elvish race,” and then there’s “the humans themselves, a subjugated race who live on the lower slopes of the mountain. Twenty-five years before [Those Above begins], the humans rose up against the Others, and were defeated. A single man, Bas, defeated one of the Others in combat, and took the sword of his foe as a trophy.”

That same sword plays a central part in the “truly iconic cover” released this week.

To find out just how it came about, I reached out to Machine Room’s Rhett Podersoo, Ravenheart Award-nominated for his work on She Who Waits. He gave deserved credit to “a well-researched brief [which] perfectly conveyed the idea of the divide and war between The Others and humans—above and below,” before admitting to being “very happy with the final design. It worked out exactly how I hoped—it’s not often I get to say that.”

Additionally, Daniel Polansky is pretty pleased, as indeed he should be:

[It’s] really a great cover, in keeping with the earlier covers that Rhett has done for me, and like those earlier covers, I can claim absolutely no credit for it. 0. Nada. I have learned one thing in five years being a published writer (hopefully more than that, but only one that’s relevant) and that one thing is I have absolutely no visual sense, and ought to keep my mouth shut when it comes to the pictures that are on the front covers of my books. My feeling about this one, like the other ones, is that it’s awesome, and I’m glad Anne and Oliver and Rhett are better at this sort of thing than I am.

So, in all its glory, behold the cover of Those Above:

Striking, right?

The significance of the sword we know about, of course—and the divide between the fire above and the ice below almost certainly represents the elemental alignment of the fiction’s opposing forces. I couldn’t leave it there, though; I had to ask Polansky about the birds of prey on the blade:

The birds. The birds! Well, put simply, Those Above is about the interplay between humans and a non-human sentient species who identifies closely with an avian aesthetic. There’s a bit more to it than that but I don’t want to spoil anything. Except that everyone dies, which if you’ve read any of my other books you know is not really a spoil.

So there you have it. Everyone dies, because birds—the end!

But first, the beginning, and helpfully, Hodder & Stoughton plan to publish Those Above in the UK on February 26, 2015. Brave the evil avians with me, won’t you?


Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative ScotsmanStrange Horizons, and Tor.com. He’s been known to tweet, twoo.

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