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Thursday, April 15, 2021

SPFBO Finalist: The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson review



Order The Lost War over HERE

About Justin: Justin was a professional writer and editor for 15 years before his debut novel, Carpet Diem, was published in 2015. He wrote restaurant and theatre reviews, edited magazines about football and trucks, published books about fishing and golf, wrote business articles and animation scripts, and spent four years as the writer, editor and photographer for an Edinburgh guide book.

Justin now writes full-time and is a partner in his own publishing company. He also writes scripts with his wife Juliet, who he met through the BBC Last Laugh scriptwriting competition.

FORMAT: Self-published by the author on August 30, 2019, The Lost War is the first book in Eidyn series. It's available in ebook, paperback, and audio format. The book is 560 pages long. Cover design by Damonza.

REVIEWS

Adam

The Lost War is the final book that our group chose to schedule for reviews, so it has been difficult to avoid the SpiffBo buzz around it. While I knew nothing about the plot of the story going into it, the word on the cyber-street is that it has a kicker of a final act. Full disclosure: I’m only halfway through the story, but am comfortable scoring the entire book based on my partial reading experience.

One positive element of the book that jumped out immediately was the strength and efficiency of its characterizations. By the end of the first chapter, I felt like I already had a good sense of who Aranok and Alliandra were. Their pasts might be mysterious, but their sense of honor, duty, weariness, pain, snark, and love for each other were all on display in the opening pages, and they continued to develop further with each chapter. This also held true as more members were added to the fellowship, and Anderson made sure to balance plot development and action scenes with character-defining moments that breathed life into the story. Whether we were reading about an awkward teenage blacksmith or an asexual warrior monk, each character has a clear, distinct voice throughout the story.

The setting is a traditional fantasy world: inns, kings and envoys, warring kingdoms, magical armor, elemental spells, and so forth. It has shades of a Final Fantasy RPG video game storyline. The demon-summoning aspect is a welcome twist, but overall, the ground feels familiar. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and the author is slowly building a ‘something is not-quite-right’ here series of interconnected mysteries that play into this environment. I’m eager to see where he takes me in the latter half. 

Overall, I’m quite enjoying the ride; the prose allows for fast reading and I like spending time with the characters. The mysteries have me intrigued and there’s good balance and pacing. I’m looking forward to its conclusion and some resolutions, as well as whatever else may be in store.

Łukasz

The Lost War has a lot going on. A lot. With its multi-POV narration and complex world, it requires a level of trust and patience from the reader. Once the pieces fall into place, the initial confusion turns into excitement. And then the ending blows you away (no spoilers - but wow!).

Aranok, an earth draoidh with the ability to control elements, brings a group of strangers together to uncover a conspiracy threatening to bring down the kingdom, and the king who trusted him. The plot follows their dangerous road trip. Years of war left the land and its people devastated and with little hope. To make matters worse, demons burn farmlands, violent Reivers roam the wilds, and a mysterious plague turns people into zombies (not really, but close). 

As the group travels through the ravaged country, they face mysteries and reveal lies. Nothing new, but strong characterization and chemistry between team members make it work.

Anderson fleshed out multiple characters, all important to the plot, most with their POV sections. Besides Aranok, we follow Allandria, his bodyguard and lover; Glorbad - a heavy drinker with the rough-spoken manner; Nirea - traumatized and feisty pirate; Meristan - a monk; Samily - a young knight trained to battle demons, and Vastin - a young blacksmith who lost everything during the war. 

Whew. 

That’s A LOT of characters to keep track of, especially in the beginning. Because all have distinct personalities and quirks, I learned quickly to tell them apart and get the hang of individual arcs. Well, quickly, by epic standards, anyway. It took me around 25-30% of the ebook version, and that equals around 150 pages… The many, many POVs didn’t help - I didn’t feel emotionally engaged in character arcs. Sure, I was curious about how and where they would end, but I didn’t connect with them. 

The Lost War focuses as much on individual characters and relationships as it does on the events in which they are caught up. The book uses many tropes common in epic fantasy, such as long struggles against an all-devouring foe, powerful artifacts, demons, long and perilous journey. Anderson understands how to pace the book and create interesting chapter hooks. I found the middle section of the book meandering, but not boring. Creepy and scary things kept me engaged. 

Despite grim circumstances (demons, plague, evil king), The Lost War doesn't get cynical or nihilistic. It never indulges in gratuitous violence or gory details. It never loses sight of the human level and the human need for interpersonal connections. I found Anderson’s work surprisingly kind and leavened with humor. As much as I enjoy a good grimdark story, I appreciate books that remain exciting without making everyone miserable and cruel. 

My biggest complaint concerns the world. The team spends a lot of time meandering about, but none of the individual locations come to life. Not really. It’s all doom and gloom around, but a week after ending the book I barely remember visited locations. But that’s ok; I was here for the plot, not for the setting. And the setting provides a solid platform for the plot and brilliant ending.

I usually bounce off most epic fantasy, but The Lost War had me flipping through the pages. I didn't see the last twist coming, and I loved it. And I can't wait to see where's the series going from here.

                                                                      Mihir

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Lost War is definitely a title that will make you scratch your head at the high praise when you start reading it. It begins in very stereotypical medieval environment that (on purpose) lulls you into a state of comfortableness. That’s the first trick that the author employs within this book among others until he finally shocks you. All of this and more is within this SPFBO finalist.

The book’s synopsis has been covered by my blogmates and I don’t wish to rehash it. The book definitely has an epic fantasy feel with a medieval setting, and a high number of POVs. The author certainly does a fine job of immersing us within the story as with the multiple POV characters who are distinct and a bit confusing from time to time (more on that in just a bit). The story begins with an aftermath of a pyrrhic victory, which has left the nation and our main protagonist Aranok is tasked by the king with a mission.

Several different characters who have their own agendas but are going along with the king’s wishes join him. It’s from here on that story takes on quest(s) narrative and we are taken along a geographical tour of the country. I must confess that I had a bit of trouble keeping the names separate as they all sounded similar beginning from towns to regions. This facet however didn’t detract a lot from my enjoyment of the story but I had jumbled up a lot of names in my head as the reader is taken through a lot of places.

The plot pace is another interesting facet of the book that perhaps could have been better. The story begins very energetically and proceeds to set up all the character introductions and scenario very quickly. But once the quest aspect of the story begins, the pace becomes stunted and this happens to a major degree. It however picks up again in the last third of the story leading up to the final climatic twist. Which brings us to the main highlight about this story which is the end twist. I want to highlight that unlike thriller-mystery books, fantasy books rarely have a twist planned within the story that completely upends the plot. So kudos to Justin L. Anderson for bucking the genre trend.

The plot twist goes a long way in explaining quite a few character deficiencies as well as story speedbumps. Retrospective it explains things a lot but on its own, it was an all-satisfactory one. For me, I did wonder why the antagonist did go through all this trouble and not just bump off several folks, which would have made their victory a more satisfactory one. I would like to highlight that this is entirely my opinion and this definitely might not be the case with other readers.  For many of fellow judges, this twist was an excellent one and so this definitely is a subjective piece.

Lastly I want to highlight that this is a 550-plus paged tome and so definitely on the hefty side. With my observations about the loss of plot pace in the middle and the quest like nature of the story. I do have to wonder how much of a different story this would have been if atleast 120-odd pages had trimmed. Would it have created a streamlined story? Would the end twist be equally effective or would it have a lesser impact? All of these things have lowered my personal score as I originally thought I would definitely be scoring it higher.

CONCLUSION: The Lost War is definitely a story that deserves its place in the SPFBO finals. It plays on readers expectations while serving us up to pull the rug from under our feet towards the very end. Yes there are some things to be bettered but this book definitely sets up the series spectacularly. I’m sure almost all of us SPFBO readers will be queuing ourselves for the sequel and I certainly can’t wait to see what the author does next. 



OFFICIAL SPFBO RATING



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