Review: Daniel Polansky, ‘Those Above’

As I’ve already talked about here, the Gemmell Award longlists are up and I’m reposting my reviews of the nominees I’ve read. (I’ve already done Joe Abercrombie (here), Mark Lawrence (here) and John Gwynne (here).) Next up it’s the author of the phenomenal Low Town trilogy: Daniel Polansky.

Those Above is the first instalment of Polansky’s epic fantasy duology The Empty Throne. Set in a world dominated by ‘Those Above’ – immortal four-fingered beings who are mentally and physically superior to the human race – the story introduces those who live beneath their eternal overlords in varying states of both poverty and privilege. Although somewhat slow to get going, Those Above does an admirable job of establishing both world and character, and of artfully weaving together a series of events to set the ball rolling for the inevitable conflict to come.
Those Above
utilises the familiar style of having each chapter written in third person and from the point of view of a different character than the previous chapter. This can occasionally make the story lose impetus, as this style forces the reader to pause for breath at the end of each chapter before re-acclimatising themselves with the next character. Although used to good effect the third person narrative and multiple POVs do lack some of the distinctive voice and character of Polansky’s Low Town novels, which were written in first person. However, this style better suits the epic scope of his new series; and instead of following in the footsteps of George R. R. Martin and creating a sprawling cast of characters Polansky has instead wisely opted to focus on just four, in a similar style to Daniel Abraham’s fantastic Dagger and Coin series. In this way the author manages to keep the story tightly focused and avoid the disorientation usually caused by shifting POVs.

Like Abraham’s, Polansky’s four characters are diverse and interesting, and each has their own unique perspective on the upcoming conflict due to their different situations. There’s Bas, a veteran army commander whose name and past deeds are legendary; Eudokia, a powerful noble and religious leader who schemes from behind the scenes of her Roman-esque society; Thistle, an impoverished and angry slum boy forced into crime to feed his family; and Calla, the privileged Seneschal to Those Above, unaware that she lives in a gilded cage and harbouring a dangerous secret. Each of the four characters are entertaining to read about in their own way – I particularly enjoyed Eudokia’s chapters – and though none of them actually do very much it’s clear that all four of them will have a huge part to play in the events of the rest of the series.

To sum up, then: Those Above, while not exactly action-packed, does a great job of establishing character and setting events in motion for the rest of the series. It’s entertaining and clever, and best of all contains Polansky’s trademark dry humour, albeit subtly hidden beneath the surface. Polansky’s first foray into epic fantasy doesn’t disappoint, and I look forward to reading the conclusion to the duology, Those Below.

(Review originally posted over at on 18th January 2015.)


They enslaved humanity three thousand years ago. Tall, strong, perfect, superhuman and near immortal they rule from their glittering palaces in the eternal city in the centre of the world. They are called Those Above by their subjects. They enforce their will with fire and sword.

Twenty five years ago mankind mustered an army and rose up against them, only to be slaughtered in a terrible battle. Hope died that day, but hatred survived. Whispers of another revolt are beginning to stir in the hearts of the oppressed: a woman, widowed in the war, who has dedicated her life to revenge; the general, the only man to ever defeat one of Those Above in single combat, summoned forth to raise a new legion; and a boy killer who rises from the gutter to lead an uprising in the capital.

Review: Mark Lawrence, ‘The Liar’s Key’

In the run-up to the Gemmell Awards I thought it’d be fun to jump on the virtual bandwagon and re-post my own reviews of the titles I’ve read from the Legend longlist. (I’ve already reviewed Joe Abercrombie here.) Since I’m lucky enough to be currently reading The Wheel of Osheim, I thought it rather appropriate that I post about Mark Lawrence’s entry next.

Mark Lawrence is one of my favourite modern fantasy authors. First he blew me away with his Broken Empire trilogy (Prince of Thorns, King of Thorns and Emperor of Thorns). Then, just when I thought he couldn’t get any better, he unleashed a new trilogy titled The Red Queen’s War, set in the same dystopian universe as Broken Empire. The first book in this series, Prince of Fools, was simply awesome; happily, the series continues in the same vein with The Liar’s Key. Although its hefty length means it’s not quite the mile-a-minute thrill ride Prince of Fools was, The Liar’s Key does allow us more opportunities to catch our breath and spend more time learning about our favourite loveable rogue Jalan Kendeth.

lawrence-liars-key-coverHaving been dragged to the ends of the earth in the previous book, The Liar’s Key sees the spoilt prince of Red March dragged all the way back home again in a variety of dangerous and entertaining circumstances. We’re still following several of the same characters from earlier in the series, including Snorri, a Viking warrior on a quest to reclaim his lost family, and Tuttugu, Snorri’s most loyal follower (who actually prefers fishing to axe-fighting). A couple of new characters are also thrown into the mix: the witch Kara and the orphan child Hennan add a new dynamic to the not-so-happy gathering, and open up new and interesting possibilities plot-wise.

The Liar’s Key is essentially a fantastically insane travelogue, meaning that yet more of the wonderful broken empire setting is unveiled here than ever before. Not only are we shown new places that have thus far only been hinted at – such as the dreaded Wheel of Osheim – but we also bump into a couple of characters from the original Broken Empire trilogy, each instance of which feels like a cross between a celebrity cameo and a reunion with old friends. Jalan himself is an incredibly likeable character despite his somewhat despicable nature, and his seemingly ceaseless supply of sardonic retorts and self-deprecating witticisms makes almost everything that comes out of his mouth immensely quotable. Furthermore I really enjoyed the way in which Jal’s character develops subtly and consistently, and the use of flashbacks to reveal more about his family’s history is done in a really clever and interesting way.

Lawrence’s prose flows effortlessly as always, making every page delightfully easy and entertaining to read. While I didn’t enjoy The Liar’s Key quite as much as I did Prince of Fools, it’s not often I find myself reading a book for the first time knowing that I’ll re-read it at some point in the near future. Lawrence’s Broken Empire books have already proven themselves to be even more clever and entertaining upon re-reading, and I’m certain that The Red Queen’s War will be the same. The world of the broken empire is like a distorted jigsaw puzzle, the pieces of which are scattered throughout each book, and we can’t truly start to put it together properly until we have all the pieces.

Mark Lawrence is as creatively talented as Jalan Kendeth is outrageously likeable, and I continue to be thoroughly entertained by both of them.

(Review originally posted over at on 21st July 2015.)


The Red Queen has set her players on the board…

Winter is keeping Prince Jalan Kendeth far from the longed-for luxuries of his southern palace. And although the North may be home to his companion, the warrior Snorri ver Snagason, he is just as eager to leave. For the Viking is ready to challenge all of Hell to bring his wife and children back into the living world. He has Loki’s key – now all he needs is to find the door.

As all wait for the ice to unlock its jaws, the Dead King plots to claim what was so nearly his – the key into the world – so that the dead can rise and rule.


Review: ‘Half a War’ by Joe Abercrombie

In the run-up to the Gemmell Awards I thought it’d be fun to jump on the virtual bandwagon and re-post my own reviews of the titles I’ve read from the Legend longlist. Starting with Abercrombie!

Up until Half a War I’d been kind of ambivalent towards the Shattered Sea trilogy. As a huge fan of Abercrombie’s six First Law novels I entered his latest series with humongous expectations . . . and ended up feeling a little underwhelmed by it. The characters in Half a King and the story in Half the World felt, to me, distinctly lukewarm: there never seemed to be any doubt as to whether the main characters would achieve their goal, and it never once felt as though they were in any real danger.


Not so in Half a War. Despite its title, this book doesn’t do things by half. Half a War is packed from cover to cover with full-on danger, full-on violence, and full-on excitement. The stakes are higher than they’ve ever been: the events of the first two books have finally come to a head, and the Shattered Sea is embroiled in outright war. The High King’s army are marching, and standing against them is the small but dogged alliance of Gettland, Vansterland and Throvenland. But it’s an alliance of necessity rather than friendship, and the leaders of each nation must learn to co-exist for the greater good of their people.

I simply can’t praise Half a War highly enough. This is the Abercrombie I know and love: the Abercrombie who writes killer action scenes and breathless, adrenaline-fuelled battles; the Abercrombie who loads his pages with dark humour and gritty violence; the Abercrombie who creates flawed yet likeable characters whose witty yet realistic dialogue dances off the page and whose fates we as readers become genuinely invested in. This Abercrombie is not afraid to place his characters in dangerous situations, and to force them to make decisions in which they must weigh their own needs against the needs of others. Neither is he afraid to hurt his characters – or, by extension, his readers – and I feel like this is the first time in this trilogy that the ‘true’ Abercrombie really shines through the YA veneer.

In the same vein as the second book, Half a War has characters who previously featured as main protagonists taking something of a back seat, allowing a new set of characters to come to the fore. So, while Father Yarvi and Thorn Bathu both have their fair share of page time, the real focus here is on two new protagonists: Skara, a deposed and recently orphaned princess; and Raith, bloodthirsty swordbearer to the legendary warrior Grom-gil-Gorm. Both characters are remarkably different to one another, yet both are extremely likeable, and I personally sympathised with both of them a lot more than I did either Thorn, Brand or Yarvi. Still, each and every character has a role to play, and when the full extent of certain characters’ involvement with the ongoing conflict is revealed it makes for a delightfully outrageous surprise.

The only aspect of the series I’m still not entirely convinced by is the notion of ‘elf magic’, which to me seems kind of shoehorned into Half a War given that it was only hinted at subtly in the previous two books (rather than made an integral part of the world as in Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire). However, it does allow for incredible plot opportunities; and although I feel that the storyline involving the ruins of Strokom could perhaps have been fleshed out a bit more, I can’t deny that it results in some madly incongruous and awesome imagery (one particular scene involving the elderly Mother Scaer is both hilarious and terrifying, and will likely stick in my mind for a very long time).

Half a War is fast-moving and highly entertaining. It’s a fairly intense read, full of action and twists, and is led by sympathetic yet unpredictable characters who constantly surprise us with their decisions, eventually leaving us with an optimistic yet by no means fairytale ending. All in all, a stunning finale to a really enjoyable fantasy series. I would absolutely love to see more of the Shattered Sea in the near future.

(Review originally posted at on 25th July 2015.)


Words are weapons.

Princess Skara has seen all she loved made blood and ashes. She is left with only words. But the right words can be as deadly as any blade. She must conquer her fears and sharpen her wits to a lethal edge if she is to reclaim her birthright.

Only half a war is fought with swords.

The deep-cunning Father Yarvi has walked a long road from crippled slave to king’s minister. He has made allies of old foes and stitched together an uneasy peace. But now the ruthless Grandmother Wexen has raised the greatest army since the elves made war on God, and put Bright Yilling at its head – a man who worships no god but Death.

Sometimes one must fight evil with evil.

Some – like Thorn Bathu and the sword-bearer Raith – are born to fight, perhaps to die. Others – like Brand the smith and Koll the wood-carver – would rather stand in the light. But when Mother War spreads her iron wings, she may cast the whole Shattered Sea into darkness.

Gemmell Awards 2016: Longlist Voting OPEN!

It’s that time of year again! On September 24th the British Fantasy Society will be hosting the eighth annual David Gemmell Legend Awards at Fantasycon. The ceremony recognises and rewards outstanding achievements in fantasy fiction, as well as commemorating the legacy of David Gemmell and his contribution to the genre.

Since their establishment in 2009 the awards have been presented to a succession of extremely talented authors, including Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, Brent Weeks, John Gwynne, Mark Lawrence, Brian Staveley and Andrzej Sapkowski.


The Ravenheart Award trophy

The awards fall into three categories:

The Ravenheart award for Best Cover Art
The Morningstar award for Best Debut
The Legend award for Best Novel

The longlists are now opened for voting, and will remain so until 24th June. So if you’re keen to see some of your favourite books from 2015 make it to the shortlists (which will open on 8th July) then GET VOTING!

The longlists for each category are as follows:

The Ravenheart Award (vote HERE)

(I *strongly* urge you to visit each page to check out all of these amazing covers!)


This is one of my personal favourites. I’m utterly in love with this cover!

James Annal for Uprooted by Naomi Novik  (Pan Macmillan)

Tommy Arnold for Skyborn by David Dalglish  (Orbit)

Kerem Beyit for The Dread Wyrm by Miles Cameron  (Gollancz)

Jason Chan for The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence  (Harper/Voyager)

Wendy Chan for Swords and Scoundrels  by Julia Knight  (Orbit)

Alejandro Colucci for The Boy Who Wept Blood  by Den Patrick  (Gollancz)

Bastien Lecouffe Deharme for The Darkling Child  by Terry Brooks  (Orbit)

Krzysztof Domaradzki for Old Man’s Ghosts  by Tom Lloyd  (Gollancz)

Larry Elmore & Carol Russo Design for Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia



I’ve always been a fan of bold, striking covers

Mark Ferrari for The Flotsam Trilogy Omnibus by Peter M Ball  (Apocalypse Ink


Christopher Gibbs for The Cathedral of Known Things  by Edward Cox


Sam Green for Shadows of Self  by Brandon Sanderson  (Gollancz)

Manuela Hackl for Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien de Castell  (Jo Fletcher Books)

Mohamad Hani/Archangel Images for An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir


Teddy Eduardo Iglesias for The House of Shattered Wings  by Aliette de Bodard


Patrick Insole for The Iron Ghost by Jen Williams  (Headline)

Jaime Jones for The Vagrant by Peter Newman  (Harper/Voyager)

Nik Keevil & Nick Castle for Queen of Fire by Anthony Ryan(Orbit)

Patrick Knowles for Foreign Devils by John Hornor Jacobs  (Gollancz)

Laura B for Spinning Thorns  by Anna Sheehan  (Gollancz)

Tim McDonagh for The Hunter’s Kind by Rebecca Levene  (Hodder & Stoughton)


Stylised covers like this are neat and eye-catching, but readers’ tastes differ wildly

Chris McGrath for The Aeronaut’s Windlass  by Jim Butcher  (Orbit)

Jackie Morris for Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb  (Harper/Voyager)

Lauren Panepinto for The Fifth Season  by NK Jemisin  (Orbit)

Lauren Panepinto, Gene Mollica & Michael Frost for The Autumn Republic by

Brian McClellan  (Orbit)

Rhett Podersoo for Those Above by Daniel Polansky  (Hodder & Stoughton)

Larry Rostant for The Skull Throne by Peter V Brett  (Harper/Voyager)

Larry Rostant for Black Wolves  by Kate Elliott  (Orbit)

Larry Rostant for War of Shadows by Gail Z. Martin  (Orbit)

Larry Rostant for Reign of Iron by Angus Watson  (Orbit)


So. Damn. Gorgeous.

Duncan Spilling for Angel of Storms by Trudi Canavan  (Orbit)

Steve Stone for Battlemage by Stephen Aryan(Orbit)

Steve Stone for The Dagger’s Path by Glenda Larke  (Orbit)

Raymond Swanland for Archaon: Lord of Chaos by Rob Sanders (Black Library)

Andrew Unangst for Twelve Kings by Bradley Beaulieu  (Gollancz)

Stephen Youll for The Silver Kings by Stephen Deas  (Gollancz)

Paul Young for Ruin by John Gwynne (Pan Macmillan)

Paul Young for Acendant’s Rite by David Hair  (Jo Fletcher Books)

Paul Young for Valkyrie’s Song  by MD Lachlan  (Gollancz)

The Morningstar Award (vote HERE)


The new Morningstar Award trophy

Stephen Aryan, Battlemage  (Orbit)

Seth Dickinson, The Traitor  (Pan Macmillan)

Francesca Haig, The Fire Sermon  (Harper/Voyager)

Lucy Hounsom, Starborn  (Pan Macmillan)

Peter Newman, The Vagrant  (Harper/Voyager)

Sabaa Tahir, An Ember in the Ashes  (Harper/Voyager)

The Legend Award (vote HERE)

Joe Abercrombie, Half A War  (Harper/Voyager)


Who else thinks it’s a crime that poor Joe has yet to win a Snaga?

Bradley Beaulieu, Twelve Kings  (Gollancz)

Peter V. Brett, The Skull Throne  (Harper/Voyager)

Terry Brooks, The Darkling Child  (Orbit)

Jim Butcher, The Aeronaut’s Windlass  (Orbit)

Miles Cameron, The Dread Wyrm  (Gollancz)

Trudi Canavan, Angel of Storms (Orbit)

Larry Correia, Son of the Black Sword  (Baen)

Edward Cox, The Cathedral of Known Things  (Gollancz)

David Dalglish, Skyborn  (Orbit)

Stephen Deas, The Silver Kings  (Gollancz)

Aliette de Bodard, The House of Shattered Wings  (Gollancz)

Sebastien de CastellKnight’s Shadow  (Jo Fletcher Books)

Kate Elliott, Black Wolves  (Orbit)

David Guymer, Gotrek & Felix: Slayer (Black Library)

John Gwynne, Ruin  (Pan Macmillan)


The most coveted award of all: the Snaga

David HairAscendant’s Rite  (Jo Fletcher Books)

Joanne Hall, Spark and Carousel  (Kristell Ink)

Markus Heitz, Devastating Hate  (Jo Fletcher Books)

Robin Hobb, Fool’s Quest  (Harper/Voyager)

John Hornor Jacobs, Foreign Devils  (Gollancz)

NK Jemisin, The Fifth Season  (Orbit)

Drew Karpyshyn, Chaos Unleashed  (Del Rey)

Julia Knight, Swords and Scoundrels  (Orbit)

Snorri KristjanssonPath of Gods  (Jo Fletcher Books)

M.D. Lachlan, Valkyrie’s Song  (Gollancz)

Glenda Larke, The Dagger’s Path  (Orbit)

Mark Lawrence, The Liar’s Key  (Harper/Voyager)

Rebecca Levene, The Hunter’s Kind  (Hodder & Stoughton)


Will the Red Queen come back fighting after last year’s double defeat?

Tom Lloyd, Old Man’s Ghosts  (Gollancz)

Alex Marshall, A Crown For Cold Silver  (Orbit)

Gail Z. Martin, War of Shadows  (Orbit)

Brian McClellan, The Autumn Republic(Orbit)

Naomi Novik, Uprooted  (Pan Macmillan)

Den Patrick, The Boy Who Wept Blood  (Gollancz)

Daniel Polansky, Those Above  (Hodder & Stoughton)

Steven Poore, The Heir to the North  (Kristell Ink)

Anthony Ryan, Queen of Fire  (Orbit)

Rob Sanders, Archaon: Lord of Chaos  (Black Library)

Brandon Sanderson, Shadows of Self  (Gollancz)


If Williams makes the shortlist, d’you think she’ll let the Copper Cat attend the awards ceremony?

Anna Sheehan, Spinning Thorns  (Gollancz)

Brian Staveley, The Providence of Fire  (Pan Macmillan)

Adrian Tchaikovsky, Guns of the Dawn  (Pan Macmillan)

Ian Tregillis, The Mechanical  (Orbit)

Angus Watson, Reign of Iron (Orbit)

David Weber, The Sword of the South  (Baen)

Django Wexler, The Price of Valour  (Del Rey)

Jen Williams, The Iron Ghost  (Headline)

What. A. List. HUGE congratulations to all the nominees!

Voting will remain open until 24th June. And remember, if there’s a book you think should be on there, members of the public still have two more weeks to submit nominations.

Now for the hard part: choosing who to vote for . . .

See you in July for the shortlist announcement!DGLA Logo