Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson, which is out in stores TODAY! I had no idea what this one was about going into it, but I’d seen that it previously won SPFBO before being acquired by Orbit. So, I decided to give it a shot.
This sensational epic fantasy follows an emissary for the king as he gathers a group of strangers and embarks on a dangerous quest across a war-torn land.
The war is over, but peace can be hell.
Demons continue to burn farmlands, violent mercenaries roam the wilds, and a plague is spreading. The country of Eidyn is on its knees.
In a society that fears and shuns him, Aranok is the first mage to be named King’s Envoy. And his latest task is to restore an exiled foreign queen to her throne.
The band of allies he assembles each have their own unique skills. But they are strangers to one another, and at every step across the ravaged land, a new threat emerges, lies are revealed, and distrust could destroy everything they are working for. Somehow, Aranok must bring his companions together and uncover the conspiracy that threatens the kingdom—before war returns to the realms again.
***Thank you to Orbit Books for providing a copy of the book! My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***
This book BLEW MY MIND. The world-buildng, plotting, and characters were all fantastic. This was an incredibly intricate story that must have taken a ton of time and mental effort to keep straight while writing it. So, kudos to the author for crafting something so complex in a way that was both easy to follow and totally mind-bending at the same time. There are SO MANY THINGS I want to talk about, but I don’t want to spoil the ending because it was a doozy. I love books that keep me guessing and then make me feel stupid at the end when all the puzzle pieces fall into place. This book was the perfect example of that kind of story.
At first, though, I didn’t know if I’d enjoy the book. I’m not usually a huge fan of the quest trope because all of the traveling tends to get repetitive and boring. There were points in this book where I did feel that way because the characters definitely meandered about all over the place. At times, it seemed a bit aimless, and I never really felt super invested in the mission they were supposed to complete. However, I never wanted to stop reading for two main reasons: the world-building and the characters. I was just so fascinated by this society and ate up every tidbit of its history and culture. The monsters were also really freaking cool. There were demons, zombie plagues, and weird insect-like humanoid creatures. The latter were my favorite, and they were definitely like something from a nightmare. The magic was fascinating, and it was a well-established system that made logical sense while also having a wild diversity in powers. It all came together so well in the end, and the last few chapters completely changed how I felt about the more ‘boring’ bits earlier in the story.
In addition to the stellar world-building, the cast of characters made this book for me. From the very first chapter, I was hooked on them. The characterizations were all superb, and I loved how different layers to the characters were unearthed as the story progressed. There were a lot of characters and perspectives in this book, and I’m not going to be able to talk about them all without writing an essay. Aranok was one of my favorites, though, and I really connected with his perfectionism and his feelings of inadequacy and guilt. He grew up as someone ‘othered’ by society because of his magic, and the scars on his psyche were a huge part of his motivation. I also really loved Vastin, a young blacksmith with the heart of a warrior. I just wanted to give him a hug and keep him safe at all costs. There were so many great character moments and just as many heart-breaking ones. I audibly gasped several times while reading this book and even teared up a bit once or twice. If you don’t get attached to at least one of these characters, I think I’d have to question your humanity. lol.
The book explored some great themes, as well. The group that came together for the quest was incredibly diverse and often did not get along. Their relationships explored how people with radically different ideas about the world can still form a cohesive unit to accomplish incredible things. I especially enjoyed the conversations between Aranok and Samily about faith. It was fascinating to see the two argue over the existence of God yet not lose their respect for each other despite seeing the same circumstances from opposite perspectives. The story also leaned heavily into discussing the impacts of prejudice and discrimination. People with magic in this world were often treated poorly or even outright killed. The overarching conflict of the story illustrated two very different paths to righting those wrongs: revenge or making things better for everyone. There were some important and timely lessons to learn from the paths of these characters, and the book definitely left me thinking, both about the themes and what the hell would happen next.
Overall, I cannot recommend this book enough if you enjoy fantasy. I’m still sitting here amazed at how it ended, and I need to know what happens next as soon as possible. Therefore, I rate this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.