The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson

SPFBO: The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson

Now that we entered the fourth month of the SPFBO 6 Finals, we continue reviewing them. Our next one up is The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson, chosen by the BookNest team.

About the Book
Series: Eidyn #1Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Date of Publishing: August 30th 2019Publisher: self-published
Book Blurb
The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson

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.

Review

Jen – 7.4/10

Aranok the king’s envoy, is on a mission to help return the Queen Taneithea, to Gauelle and her throne, in hopes of gaining some powerful allies in this time of unrest.

Joining Aranok are his bodyguard Allandria (who is also secretly his partner), Nirea and Glorbad (liaisons to the court), Vastin (a young blacksmith), and Samily (a young warrior). The group are finding all kinds of abnormalities among the other dangers they face during their travels; the Blackened (the people that have contracted this affliction, think zombie plague) are on the move, the Reivers are alliancing, and these new and terrifying cocooned creatures are being found in the trees and abandoned buildings.

They suspect that somehow Mynygogg, a rare two-powered Draoidh (he is a necromancer and can call forth Demons), is controlling the Blackened and the Demons, from his prison – they hope to find a way to put a stop to him once and for all.

***

So, this feels like a good old classic D&D story. There is a bit of set-up, getting to know the world, getting to know our group of adventurers and seeing them in action and the dangers they face as they set upon their mission. You think to yourself – I know this story. But, as the story you recognize moves along, you start to see things are just a tad different, not much but enough to keep your interested, and about the time you get comfortably settled into the tale, the author throws this little monkey wrench at you and you realize – maybe I don’t know this story at all.

I think that’s why this was so enjoyable for me. It takes the familiar, gets you comfortable and then messes with it, just a little. You get comfortable with this new thing, and again there it is, that little push that says no, that’s not where we are going this time! I loved that about it.

I have been reading for a long time, I do tend to get excited and occasionally think some big fabulous plot is happening, only to have it not be as grand as my imagination. So, when I do read something that pushes those boundaries and let’s my imagination run with possibilities, and after a few surprises, I feel that it just might be clever enough to be actually going in that way – then, I am impressed. I have a lot of praise for a story that can do that. So, here is me praising this story, for letting me, let my imagination, run wild.

And btw. my imagination, was totally wrong. I have no qualms about admitting the only thing I guessed correctly about the bigger mystery, was the easy part about who was involved. I can’t tell you how happy it made me to be wrong on that scale (although my imagination had a pretty grand plan, too).

A little about the characters

First, I loved the women – they became friends, they stick up for each other and they tell the men on more than one occasion when they’re being dumbasses about something. They’re smart and caring towards one another, and towards the men. I also loved the fact that Aranok and Allandria are a couple – that doesn’t happen often in fantasy and it was a refreshing change.

The men are a bit hotheaded – they butt heads a lot. These are two leaders’ personalities having to learn to work together – I found their arguments justifiable (this is where the women have to remind them that each of their points are valid and to smarten up the attitude) and fitting for who they are.

Also, Aranok is a Draiodh, which automatically comes with baggage because the Draoidh have powerful magic that in the past hasn’t always been used for the good of anyone but themselves. There is a distrust towards him and his kind, and that underlying fear doesn’t help in the dealings with others.

Everyone in the group looks out for the younger two of the group – Vastin, and even Samily (though she can easily take care of herself).

There are some big changes as the story proceeds, that shift the friendships between these people and also make me very curious to see how this new information will affect the dynamics of the group – you can already see some of it happening and it’s going to make for some interesting circumstances in the next book. I am excited to see where the author takes these friends.

Minor quibble

The end felt a little on the ‘explainy’ side, especially after how smart the rest was, some of the information felt like it could have been sprinkled into the main body without giving away the mystery; a minor gripe though in a well thought out story.

***

I really enjoyed The Lost War. It was crafty, friendships were great, and it’s told in that nice pace that kept it moving and never felt like the nearly 600 pages book it was.

TLDR

 Clever and entertaining, make time for this one!

Nick – 8/10

The Lost War was a pretty cool book that involved demons and other manner of interesting creatures, which I always enjoy in my fantasy reads.  As the title suggests, a bloody war is just coming to a close at the outset of the book and the Blackened now roam the countryside infecting the populace and causing devastation in their wake.  Sorcerers battle for control and the utter mayhem and action is off the charts.

I really liked so many aspects of this book and was entertained throughout.  The character development was a little on the light side but in a book with this much cool sorcery and battles does it really matter?  This felt like the coolest DnD quest you’ve ever been on and reading some of the situations that the characters are faced with definitely brought me into that frame of mind at times.

As for the world-building, it was amazing and very well thought-out.  Justin Lee Anderson definitely did not skimp on the fantastic setting and blew me away with many of his descriptions of Eidyn.  The desolation of the land following the war is palatable and it is up to a few to undertake a journey that will hopefully save the kingdom.  But along the way, they will encounter so much that will test their will and individual skills.

Such a fun read that I finished pretty quickly because the plot never wavers or lags in any way.  Needless to say, I would love to read more from this world and plan on checking out many more of Justin Lee Anderson’s books based on the promise of this one.  Solid dark fantasy that was right up my alley.

Peter – 9/10

I will be honest and say this took me a little while to get into, but once I did this book and story took hold.  You join the story in the aftermath of a war of succession for the realm of Eidyn and follow a character called Aranok, the newly appointed envoy to the new King.  Aranok is a draoidh, a magically skilled individual who is feared, admired and viewed with suspicion.  This was one of the most intriguing parts of the story, magic is viewed with suspicion and there is a good reason why.

Aranok and his companion Allandria are tasked by the king with a quest, to bring an exiled Queen from her prison back to her rightful place, in order to stabilise the realm.  They are joined on this quest by the newly formed King’s council and a White Thorn, a renowned warrior with secrets of her own.

There is plenty of exposition in the book, world building to the highest degree which I really enjoyed, Justin’s descriptions of a land recovering from war were superb and the images conjured were never of a happy place.  The land, Eidyn, is not at peace for demons still roam the land and this is where we see the magic system that Justin has masterfully used for the first time when the group encounters one.

The Draiodh magic is unique in that it can be used as much as the user wants, but there is a cost, it is tiring and hard work for them to use it and that cost can be deadly.  There are different types, for example Aranock is an Earth Draiodh but there are other such as Illusionists.  This use of a hard magic system, with rules, is one of the unique aspects of the book, it allowed it to be more real for me.

This is a gritty tale to be sure, the group have a tough and perilous journey ahead of them but I hope that you will grow to love them all, Aranok, Allandria, Vastin, Glorbad, Nirea, Samily and Meristan are wonderfully drawn out realised characters all with a backstory and their own demons from the war.

All in all The Lost War is a really well written book as well, Justin switches the action between characters well and uses this at critical and exciting moments to great effect.  A POV view style is used, but rather from being from just one person for each chapter, it switches between the company and this was another really great aspect for me.  It allows Justin to really build tension, excitement but also really get i to the head of each character so that you can see what they are thinking about events and their reactions to things, as well as their super cool and frankly awesome fighting skills.

I for one really enjoyed The Lost War, it had everything for me that I enjoy in a fantasy novel and a bit extra as well.   A gritty, war torn world awaits you with damaged characters who are so well realised, an epic quest which gets more and more complicated, a unique magic system with rules and a cost.  I loved the descriptions of the world, I was reading this with the Skyrim soundtrack playing once and was so perfectly at home I read a massive chunk and realised I was over half way through.

I am really excited for book 2, book 1 ends in such a way that book 2 is going to be awesome.

Timy – 7/10

This is my first time reading anything from Justin Lee Anderson and aside from a couple of friends loving it, I had no idea what to expect from The Lost War. Definitely not what I got out of it in the end. It took me way longer than I would have liked to get hooked, but eventually, I did, and I’m happy for it.

The war has just ended, Aranok, the king’s envoy and his bodyguard, Allandria just arrived back in town to rest. Or so they thought as King Janaeus has other ideas. Together with general Glorbad and the captain of the navy, Nirea they are sent to escort a foreign queen back to her country in the hopes of building diplomatic relationships. Aranok also takes the young blacksmith, Vastin under his wings. But Aranok is not really in a hurry as he is more worried about his family in Mournside. Although the war is over against a powerful draoidh, Eidyn can’t breathe freely yet. Its lands are ravaged by the neighboring Reivers (I still have no idea who they are and how they got into the whole conflict) as well as ridden by a plague that makes people into Blackened. The cast gets completed by the White Thorn Knight, Samily and the head of the order, Meristan. Their road is quite dangerous and twisty and does not lack blood and loss.

On the surface The Lost War seems like your average adventure fantasy – a group of mismatched people goes on a quest to save their kingdom while they come across dangerous creatures and enemies. And for the first half of the book, I kept wondering if there really wasn’t anything else to it. Questing is not among my favorite fantasy tropes, so I was a bit worried that I won’t see what everyone else likes about this book. Was the problem in me? The fact that I wasn’t really into the narrator – I half-listened to the audiobook, half-read it – didn’t help things either. It’s not like there was anything wrong with him, I think it might have been his accent? I’m not quite able to put my finger on it. One other thing that bothered me was the awkwardness of the dialogues, especially in the first half of the book. There were too many dialogue tags, especially “said” to the point it was really repetitive.

But I think my biggest issue overall was the fact that though the characters are very diverse and are well written, I just couldn’t really connect with any of them. It really comes down to the fact that there is a wide range of characters and they don’t have enough spotlight to really make us care for them on a deeper level.

Anyway, once I started to read it more than listen and it became clear there is a deeper mystery to the story, making the puzzle pieces dropped along the way slowly coming together, I got hooked. I had to know how the events will play out and who is behind the whole thing. My suspicions were proved, but Anderson still managed to surprise me with a twist toward the end. For which I tip my hat because it was damn smartly written. It took me a while to see it and I was on the verge of just putting the book aside, I’m glad I didn’t do it.

Though I was left with questions – well, this is only the first book of a series, so that’s expected – I felt like The Lost War got a satisfying ending. Justin Lee Anderson clearly put a lot of work into the worldbuilding and it shows. There were parts I especially loved, like the time the group spent at the University or their time in that kirk – I can’t be more specific, because spoilers. I also liked how the group grew together during their journey and how they learned to trust each other. And that one of the strongest characters is one of the youngest, Samily. I admired her dedication, rock-solid faith, quick wit and strength.

Although my review has been a bit on the critical side, I believe the Eidyn series has a lot of potential to become a great one. The Lost War, although an ambitious novel, fell a bit short on the execution. Felt like Anderson wanted to cram into a bit too much than it was required. Despite a rocky start, the mystery masterfully woven into the plot eventually got me hooked and then kept me glued to the pages. The Lost War is an intriguing blend of adventure, mystery and mindfuckery.

Our Judgement
Jen: 7.4Nick: 8Peter: 9Timy: 7

Our overall rating for The Lost War: 8/10

The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson

For more SPFBO content, please visit my SPFBO 6 Finals page!

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