The Write Hive is running ‘Fantasy May’ this month!
Different contributors have the opportunity to talk about the fantasy they love without the need for the formality and structure of a normal review.
When I was asked to choose my book I spent some time deliberating. There were probably 6 or 7 immediate considerations.
Do I choose Harry Potter – the first full Fantasy series I ever read, and still love?
The Lord of the Rings – a behemoth of an influencer and bar setter for many fantasy books. A series I struggled with the difficult prose for as a young teenager to digest the amazing world?
A Song of Ice and Fire or The Name of the Wind – books that reignited a passion again after a long break from regular reading?
The book I’ve chosen is The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson.
If you want to read my review from November ’19 you can do so here.
So why did I choose The Lost War?
Well, for a start it has everything.
“Intriguing world building, well developed characters (including strong, brilliantly written women), imaginative locations, twists and turns, murders, weapons, demons and monsters, magic, friendship, loss.”Original blog review
This book made me smile, quite a few times. I enjoyed the characters so much I tried to draw them – and gave up because I am fucking awful at drawing people. One part (by the river) made me feel really sad and tearful. Movies always do this to me, but rarely do books affect me emotionally. This did. It wasn’t even about any of the main characters that provoked it!
The characters though are brilliant. As I wrote in my review, I really love that there’s a group of characters who are all so interesting, unique and enjoyable, and who all fit together so well. The group works so excellently that there are no definitive gender roles in the group and no reason to differentiate the characters or their usefulness in the group based on gender – everyone is EQUAL. No male protagonists who use a woman for her useful ability. No god-like unrealistic woman who controls everyone to tick a girl power box. An equal group of differently skilled people all working together. I had a hard time putting this into words in my review and am struggling again here – I’m fully aware that I’m a straight white guy talking about gender but I did run it past someone very close to me who is very passionately engaged with social issues.
The best way I can convey what I mean is if you put it this way: an author feels they should represent women better. They put in a fear-inducing, merciless female character who never tires, who only ever feels rage, never makes a mistake or considers anyone else’s emotions. They’re stronger than everyone and they can stand on the battlefield alone. Surely this is Girl Power and a real feminist character right? Well no, they haven’t given us a woman, they’ve given us a God. Is this a strong woman? Or is this a cardboard caricature of what a proportion of men believe makes a person strong? Will women relate to her, will men hear a woman’s voice through her?
I think it’s important to celebrate the strength in real women. It’s also important to let men be vulnerable and uncertain and the male protagonists not be some smirking ‘alpha male’ without exception.
The characters in The Lost War are human beings with flaws, doubts, uncertainty. They need each other, mentally as well as when faced with adversity. That’s why I love ALL of them. How the author is able to create a group of unique people with different personalities, traits and viewpoints yet still make them all so easy to love is a massive skill and shows how much he understands people. Obviously there’s only so much character development you can fit into one novel and it’s not all character focused, the story is brilliant too.
To have such a big twist at the end (one that necessitates a re-read to spot all the subtle clues) also makes the Lost War stand out. I only got a sort of small inkling that something wasn’t as it appeared, as I got further towards the end, but I still never expected it. The fact that there are so many small clues layered through the story and everything suddenly makes sense is proof that this wasn’t just a last minute plot device, but a planned, considered haymaker delivered when you think you know how everything has panned out.
I keep writing this like a review and going back to delete stuff! All that is on my actual review – I keep forgetting I’m just meant to be talking conversationally about this (pretty liberating actually!)
I’m a very sentimental person and part of why this book will always hold find memories is because I read it when I’d only just started blogging and didn’t have many followers. I was even wondering whether anybody even read my reviews. I’m a long way off some bloggers but I feel so happy with how many people engage with me now, how many people have told me a review I wrote made them buy a book. My blog is nearly at 5,000 views which I find insane. This wasn’t the case back when I reviewed this book. I wanted to do an interview with an author for my blog and Justin reached out. He gave such amazingly thoughtful, considered answers and really gave me the time that you’d expect an author to reserve for a newspaper or well known blogger. He didn’t know if anybody would even read it. If you follow Justin on twitter @authorjla you’ll know he’s an all round nice person who cares about the things that matter who you can always be sure to have a laugh with too. There’s been great books written by shitty people, but it’s always nice to know that book you love was also written by someone likeable.
I have promoted the book a fair bit on my twitter account but I believe in shouting books I enjoyed, especially self published. This post may put me in fanboy territory – afterall I did get particularly passionate about a 1 star “review” the book got and managed to get a few people to buy it off the back of my rant. But come on, it was absolutely pathetic:
You know a book has been labelled ‘Dark Fantasy’ before you read it. And the story is based on medieval Edinburgh. Of course there’s going to be some fucking swearing! But to admit you gave a book a 1 star review when you had only read 1 sentence, well. If I ever write a book I have my villain right here. Who I shall serve a grisly on-page death *evil laugh*.
Anyway, there’s no point analysing the story and other stuff like that when I already have a review. Hopefully this might have piqued your interest – it was fun to do for me at least!
Thanks for including me on The Write Hive Fantasy May!