Review: Those Above (The Empty Throne #1) by Daniel Polansky


3 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

You know the feeling of excitement when you get a brand, shiny new book – the cover is gorgeous, the plot sounds perfect, and you can’t WAIT to read it. Then you have to wait a little while to fit it into your reading schedule, but you know it will be worth the wait. And then you finally, finally get to read it.

And it breaks your heart just a little bit, because it is utterly disappointing.

Leslie Knope gif

That is what Those Above was to me. I fell in love with the cover (hello Roman inspired fantasy!) and the premise. I eyed that book up a lot, sat on my shelf, waiting patiently to be read whilst I battled with university work. And then I could finally read it, so settled down for a few hours of cosy reading – and found I couldn’t even concentrate on it for one.

Why, Those Above, why?? In the simplest terms, you just weren’t as exciting as I’d expected. By two thirds into the book, I was still waiting for something to actually happen. Yes, it’s the first in a series so there’s lots of world-building to do and lore to set out, but it’s got to draw me in if it wants me to carry on reading the series. I felt no attachment to any character, and not just because of the fact that they were pretty despicable in their own ways (here’s looking at you, cast of A Song of Ice and Fire), but because they felt rather flat. I honestly did not care what would happen to any of them.

I appreciated the Roman and Greek influences and it didn’t even bother me that they were mixed. But the world in which Those Above is set did not feel particularly original. So, you’ve got your warring nations, your shanty-towns, your aristocrats and nobility, even if that nobility is a strange alien (I think?) race. The issue with ‘Those Above’ as rulers is that they weren’t scary. There was maybe one or two scenes that demonstrated their strength, but I never completely got a clear impression of why the people of this world let themselves be enslaved, or how it happened.

In addition, I suppose this book came at a bad time. I’m getting quite bored of fantasy books where the women are second class. Is this historically accurate? No, it’s fantasy. So why are the women always down-trodden and less important in society than the men? Also due to the story pretty much taking place in one city, or certain parts of one city, I got no impression of the rest of the world and as a result it felt very small. I had no idea what sort of influence ‘Those Above’ had on people outside of this city, because I never saw them.

So regrettably, I only want to award this book three stars – a ‘you disappointed me and it makes me sad’ sort of three stars. I have another book of Daniel Polansky’s, and this won’t put me off reading that – but I’m not sure I will continue with this particular series.

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