Late last week, Hodder & Stoughton unveiled the remarkable cover art Rhett Podersoo has crafted for Those Below, the concluding volume of Daniel Polansky’s Empty Throne duology, and I figured it might be a fine time to have few words with one of the most promising genre authors to have appeared on the scene in recent years—not least because the blurb provided by the publisher of the forthcoming book was so unbelievably brief:
For centuries humanity has served Those Above, god-like Eternals who rule from their cloud-capped mountain-city. They built a civilisation of unimagined beauty and unchecked viciousness. They thought themselves invincible. They were wrong.
To explain just how wrong, I asked Polansky to elaborate a little, and he was good enough to do so in the course of speaking to several of the themes of his series:
Those Below is a story about humanity, and about empire, and about fanaticism and bigotry, about the limitations of choice and the constraints of perspective. Also about swords. The age of the Eternal, the god-like race which has controlled the world from their cloud-top city since the beginning of time, is coming to an end. The age of man is coming—the transition will be a bloody one indeed.
As I was to learn later, “bloody” hardly begins to describe the cost of the reversal at the centre of Those Below.
But to understand that, we’ve got to go back. Back into the far distant past, a whole six months or so ago, to an interview conducted by Aidan Moher of the late and regularly lamented A Dribble of Ink. In that piece, Polansky described how Those Above began “in a past which seems very distant, with an image—of a giant of a man in a torn hauberk, scarred and fierce and dying futilely, as most of us do. He sort of held my attention, this killer, this savage, this tragic brute. Who was he and how [had he] become so?”
I asked the author if he had a similar snapshot in mind when it came to concluding the story of the Empty Throne. Polansky hedged his bets a bit, but the one visual he did describe… well. It speaks, at the least, to how very visceral Those Below is bound to be:
I very much considered Those Above and Those Below to be one continuous story, so in that sense the same imagery which drove the first book inspired the second. And actually I have a lot of these pictures in my head for Those Below, but I’m almost hesitant to describe any of them because I feel like they would give such clear spoilers. Maybe I’ll just say—blood. Streams and rivers and oceans.
So let me get this straight: there will be… blood… in Those Below? No!
‘Fraid so, folks.
Once we’d established that, I asked Polansky about his particular perspective on Those Below now that the bulk of the work is basically behind him:
I have a very strange relationship with my books—while I’m working on them I give them everything I got, and then once they enter the world I turn my back on them like an embittered father, can’t even stand to have them in the house. There’s a certain sense of relief at having gotten such an immense piece of work done, and certainly the Empty Throne duology was particularly difficult, there are a lot of characters, a lot of moving parts, a lot of world building, and the language is deliberately a bit complex. So I guess—relief, let’s say relief.
That feeling of relief is still a few months away for most folks, mind. Those Below will be released by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK on March 10 2016.
If it’s even half the book its tremendous predecessor was, I’d recommend it without the most remote reservation. But be warned, all: a little birdie tells me it just might be a bit grim…
Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative Scotsman, Strange Horizons, and Tor.com. He lives with about a bazillion books, his better half and a certain sleekit wee beastie in the central belt of bonnie Scotland.