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The Year of Our War by Steph Swainston

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Book Information  
AuthorSteph Swainston
TitleThe Year of Our War
SeriesThe Fourlands
Book Reviews / Comments (submitted by readers)
Submitted by Archren 
(Apr 12, 2006)

“The Year of Our War” is a debut novel that puts one in mind of China Mieville. It’s not your everyday, ho-hum, dwarves and elves kind of fantasy. This story spans two realities, one with four species and one with a zoo-full. And while the eponymous war is the central plot driver, it is not the center of the story.

In this low-magic fantasy, God created the world and then left. It left behind an Emperor with an excess of immortality. Over the centuries, the Emperors has formed a Circle of immortals, each the absolute best at one task or trade. They do not age and they are much harder to kill than normal humans. They serve at the Emperor’s sufferance, however, and if a stronger or better mortal comes along and bests them, they can easily be replaced.

The viewpoint character of this first-person narrative is Jant. While one race, the Awians, has rudimentary wings, Jant is a unique crossbreed and can actually fly. He is also blessed with superior running speed and endurance, making him the perfect Messenger, which is his title in the circle. He not only travels on the Emperor’s business, he can also travel between the two realities mentioned above.

This has the edge of the modern “New Weird” fantasy. There are classes and elites, species both imaginative and grotesque, some very nasty interpersonal politics (what else would you do if stuck with the same fifty people for centuries?) and some fairly non-heroic combat. There is also some graphic sex that is disturbing, although character-illuminating. One unique theme that I found in reading it was the conflation of struggling with drug abuse (Jant is an addict) and waging war.

The book is not without its flaws: there are some narrative notes that ring false, and the depictions of naval combat seemed very poorly written compared to the land-based battle scenes. However, instead of looking at a new writer and saying, “Gosh this doesn’t suck. I’ll bet they’ll be good soon,” with this book one can say “This is really good. I hope the next one [already released] will be even better.”

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