About the Book
The war is over, but something is rotten in the state of Eidyn.
With a ragged peace in place, demons burn farmlands, violent Reivers roam the wilds and plague has spread beyond the Black Meadows. The country is on its knees.
In a society that fears and shuns him, Aranok is the first magically-skilled draoidh to be named King’s Envoy.
Now, charged with restoring an exiled foreign queen to her throne, he leads a group of strangers across the ravaged country. But at every step, a new mystery complicates their mission.
As bodies drop around them, new threats emerge and lies are revealed, can Aranok bring his companions together and uncover the conspiracy that threatens the kingdom?
Strap in for this twisted fantasy road trip from award-winning author Justin Lee Anderson.
572 pages (kindle)
Published on August 30, 2019
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I have been aware of Justin Lee Anderson for a while now, though it took me until this last bit of life happening for me to pick up his book (I’m sorry it took so long). The Lost War ended up being just the thing I needed, which is odd, because when I started it I was pretty sure I was going to bounce off it. You see, on the surface, this book feels a lot like your quest-trope fantasy and that’s not really my bag of oats. However, once I really settled into the story, I realized there’s a lot going on under the surface, I just had to give myself time to see it.
In short, I really ended up having a lot of fun with this one, and enjoying it to a degree I did not anticipate.
Anderson thrusts his reader into a world where a war just ended. Now, let me take a moment to appreciate this setting, because I loved it. I saw what was going on right away, and thought, “Yes, I am here for this.” The reason being, in fantasy, we read a lot about wars starting, wars being fought, wars simmering in the borderlands, but we rarely read a book set in a time after the war has been fought, and everything, for good or ill, is starting to settle.
The dynamics The Lost War were masterfully played out. Anderson created a whole new category of strife for the bereaved residents of Eidyn to deal with in the form of plagues and demons, other horrors that make life miserable. So, the war ends, which is not always a good thing, but usually there’s some form of relief… “Yay, no more fighting” at least. Anderson, however, uses this ending as a vehicle to unleash a whole new slew of trials upon the land. As the description says, “the country is on its knees” and as the reader, you’ll feel that throughout. Furthermore, this aspect, this tug-of-war with such a big event and its ramifications provoked a bit of thought in me regarding my own writing, how one thing can spark another. How unexpected results can move a story down unexplored pathways.
And here’s the thing. You might read that and think, “Well, that sucks,” but it’s truly an example of how the entire book works. Anderson sets you off balance, and you don’t even realize he’s done it.
You’ve got this really interesting setup, a place steeped in pain, with a lining of hope, and insert your plot. Aranok, a draoidh (read: magician) has been called by the king to restore an exiled queen to her throne. In order to do this, he has to lead a group of strangers across unknown lands, and somehow you know, at this point, unexpected things will happen and swords will be drawn. Blood will spill.
As you can see, this book might feel a lot like a lot of other fantasy books you might have read. The first chunk of the novel will likely either make it or break it for you, because there are a lot of names and places, people being introduced, and this quest is set up. However, if you’re a reader who doesn’t mind all that, the payoff is fantastic. There’s a whole lot going on under the surface that Anderson hints at, alludes to, or toys with in supremely subtle ways, and this, friends, is what hooked me. The example of the war/beasties aspect I listed above is just one. His ability to take something that should be straightforward (Yay, the war is over!) and make it absolute crap (Oh, a plague.) kept me absolutely engaged and intrigued.
What this all leads to is an atmosphere that is welded like a hammer in Anderson’s toolkit. You don’t really realize how ominous things feel until you’re in the middle of the book thinking, “Holy shit, when did things start feeling like this?” What I’m saying is, the book sort of creeps up on you. At the start, you’re thinking this is your typical fantasy quest story, but you keep pushing on and one thing leads to another. It’s like Anderson is playing a song on the piano, throwing in a minor key here and there. You don’t realize he’s turning this peppy song into a lament until it’s too late to turn back. All it takes is one note here, one note there, and this song you thought you knew turns into something else entirely.
The truth is, none of that would be as effective without that familiar-feeling beginning. It’s through that understood starting point that the rest of this book is able to be as effective as it ended up being. Added into that, the pacing was near perfection. Once the story takes off, it’s like rolling a boulder down a hill. It picks up speed and momentum, something always happening right where it needs to to drive the plot along, or build the world or characters, sometimes all three. By the end of the book, the pacing is relentless, and the ending is… really a thing to behold due to that.
Anderson’s magic system is superb, and he has a way with writing not just magic and action to keep them vivid and interesting, but characters as well. Even the intrigue was really well done. In fact, when I think of this book, I’m fairly amazed by how well balanced all the different elements of it were. Anderson basically threw a whole bunch of balls in the air, and then juggled them all without dropping any of them at any point.
When I think about The Lost War, what I realize is it’s Anderson’s ability to tell a story that really captivates me. The entire book felt like the piano song I mention above. You start out feeling like this is a familiar tale, and you recognize it. He throws in some minor notes here and there, subtly fiddles with the tempo, and before you even realize what’s happening, you aren’t hearing that familiar song anymore, but something else entirely. Every element plays off of every other element to create something that, in the end, you both recognize and not. It’s pure artistry. I was amazed by how he managed to transform something I went into thinking, “Yeah, I know this story” into something I left thinking, “Holy shit, what did I just read? That was… WOW.”
So, what do you have here? Something truly unpredictable. This book showcases what sleight of hand and manipulation of a story can really attain. It’s the first book in a new series, and I absolutely cannot wait to read more. The Lost War ended up being a huge surprise, and one I hope you read and enjoy as much as I did.