The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson

Medium: Audiobook/ebook (558 pages in print)

Overview (No Spoilers):

Sarah’s Thoughts:

Having just finished The Lost War, I feel the profound urge to immediately flip to the front of the book and start again. No, it’s not because Anderson’s first two sentences immediately capture your attention.

‘Fuck. The boy was going to get himself killed.”

Instead, the desire to reread is derived from a truly fantastic ending, which manages to plausibly rewrite everything, from the established history to the nature of magic, and not to mention the identities of friend vs. foe. This major twist is still causing me to reconsider previously innocuous conversations under new light. 

At just over 20 hours, the audiobook was narrated by Euan Mortan who really brings the characters to life. I would have classified the first 7/10ths of this read as a highly enjoyable epic fantasy where we follow a group of talented heroes as they encounter one obstacle after another on their way toward completing their assigned mission. I was highly engrossed in the precarious situations that our constantly bickering group find themselves, as each fight sequence provides an opportunity to learn more about the magical system that Anderson has developed. Additionally, we are treated to various points of view that afford both depth and understanding behind these conflicted characters. Still, I was considering The Lost War as entertaining, while managing to provide detailed world building and character development, but overall nothing spectacular. Then with about seven hours left in the audiobook, events escalate quickly, with Anderson maintaining a breakneck pace right up until the end, totally reworking the foundation that had been meticulously established thus far, leaving the reader frantically trying to reorganize conversations, relationships, and reevaluating the implications for the larger series.

Until the big reveal at the end, my notes regarding this book were filled with complaints that the decisions characters are making don’t match with their personalities or history. These lapses in judgement were jarring as a reader and took away from the story a bit as I kept finding myself pondering these seemingly random rough spots in an otherwise smooth story. That being said, with the final plot twist, all of these seeming miscues turn out to be deliberate breadcrumbs. In some ways, I find myself thinking of The Lost War as a prequel that establishes the foundation for the larger series to begin in book two. Anderson has crafted one of the better endings I’ve read in literature in recent memory. The plot twist manages not only to neatly tie together countless loose ends in one fell swoop, but also to simultaneously open up a myriad of new questions to ponder. Overall, The Lost War is a highly enjoyable fantasy read that is catapulted to higher levels by an ending that will leave one mulling over what this turn of events means for the rest of the series. Sarah’s Rating: 9/10

Jennie’s Thoughts:

The war has been won, and it’s finally time for the kingdom of Eidyn to rebuild. Although the cost was high in terms of lives lost, they succeeded in defeating Mynygogg, a monstrous individual skilled in the dark arts of demon summoning and necromancy. Even before this conflict, the general public has long held prejudices against those with magical abilities, bolstered by fear and ignorance. And yet, the King still chose to install his confidant Aranok, a draoidh, in the esteemed role of King’s Envoy. As part of his vision for a better world, the King forms an advisory council, consisting of representatives from the army, the navy, the Order of the White Thorns, and the King’s Envoy. Their first task: rescue and reinstate the exiled Queen of a nearby land. To do so, they must travel across the country while being careful not to succumb to dangers, known and unknown, along the way. Unfortunately, despite it being peacetime, Eidyn is not yet peaceful: enemies still roam the land, destroying crops, performing raids, and spreading disease. It soon becomes clear that something else is amiss, calling into question alliances and the best course of action as they try to piece together what’s going on.

In The Lost War, Justin Lee Anderson has crafted a thrilling start to the Eidyn series. Part of what made this tale so enjoyable for me is how the perspective shifts across a handful of individuals, both to add layers to pivotal moments and as a way to check in with characters whose paths have deviated from the main protagonist, Aranok. The various viewpoints also effectively add substance to these characters by revealing more about their mindsets and expanding on their backstories. Something worth noting is that all of the major characters bring something to the table such that none feel extraneous. The women at the forefront of this story are confident and play critical roles in combat. The male leads are emotive and able to set aside differences in times of trouble. All are fallible. One critique, however, is that despite all the talk on the importance of keeping details about their mission private, no one seems all that conflicted over divulging info to folks outside of the Council. All in all, it’s clear that a lot of thought went into developing these protagonists – I can only imagine what Anderson had to draw from since they’re inspired by his and his friends’ roleplaying characters.

As captivating as the characters are, I really loved how the direction of the story evolves with each new piece of information. Especially interesting was how these new insights transform what is already known. In setting it up this way, I was kept on my toes and the plot never grew stale. Given the nature of this tale, a significant amount of time is spent traveling the countryside between different locales, but the changing viewpoints, bursts of action, and fast-paced narrative kept it from feeling tedious. As part of the worldbuilding, Anderson has infused aspects of Edinburgh (his hometown) in his portrayal of Eidyn, most noticeably in his use of Scottish Gaelic words for the casting of spells (not that you need to be fluent to understand what’s going on). Magic itself is prominent in this world, with its potential limited only by Anderson’s imagination. One last thing that may be an unpopular opinion, but despite an exceptional and world-shattering ending, the way in which it is presented felt underwhelming as a result of my expectations. That said, its implications leave me very interested to see what is to come in the next chapter… Kudos to Anderson on all that The Lost War delivers! Jennie’s Rating: 8.5/10

Stephanie’s Thoughts:

For me, the measure of a great fantasy book is all about layers: multiple engaging plot lines that turn and twist regularly, fully formed characters with stories that intertwine yet are independently interesting and deep, changing settings that feel unique and otherworldly, and below it all, a deeper message to the reader that transcends the fantasy world of the novel to give us insight into the reality in which we live.

Justin Lee Anderson’s The Lost War delivers on each of these criteria; it’s a story that falls into the questing genre but is filled with action-filled tangents and plenty of turns to keep the story fresh each step of the way.  Anderson opens his tale by introducing the reader to Aranok, the king’s envoy in a nation struggling to overcome the heavy toll taken from the war resulting from his coup d’etat.  Raiders, demons, a necromancer, and a depleted military have left the fledgling government on its knees, so Aranok is sent on a mission to find an ally.  Joining him is his personal bodyguard/lover Allandria, the spunky head of the Navy, Nirea, and the curmudgeonly army general, Glorbad.  I thoroughly enjoyed all of these characters with their various personalities and idiosyncrasies; their dialogue flows easily and is punctuated with humor, adding a nice counterbalance to battles and gore they encounter on their journey.  The setting shifts continually as the characters move from the capital through the countryside and several cities to complete their mission, and Anderson’s effortless prose brings each new location to life.  

The Lost War touches on topics ranging from PTSD to discrimination to sexual violence, allowing the characters to reveal their personal tragedies slowly, through old scars and fresh wounds.  Anderson has given each intricate layers of experiences and motivations, bringing them together in ways that both breed conflict and force cooperation.  Of course I was hooked by the plot of the book, but it was the characters that I found most compelling.

Speaking of the plot, each storyline is well paced and the book doesn’t ever seem to lull; although the audiobook clocks in at about 20 hours, I was constantly finding excuses to pop my headphones in and keep listening.  Indeed, during the last hour as the author turned the story on its head in grand fashion, I was enthralled, rooted to the spot until the last word was spoken. Although he shakes the story upside down and inside out, Anderson pulls off the surprise ending and leaves the reader eager for the release of book two.  Stephanie’s Rating: 9/10 

The Critiquing Chemist and her Bookish Boffins Average Rating: 9/10

Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):

  • I found Janaeus’ and Aranok’s first exchange to be quite odd. It was not the conversation of best friends and Janaeus did not seem like a king who would have inspired a rebellion. 
  • Why did Janaeus say to Aranok that it was good to see him with ‘emotion in his eyes’? Was it due to their old friendship when they were part of the Hellfire Club? The very next and last time they met Janaeus seemed genuinely sad to be sending Aranok off to be killed, as such why would there be such displayed nostalgia? The fake King seemed to be trying to justify his actions to Aranok. 
  • There’s a scene about 5% of the way through the book where Aranok wakes up to the feeling that something was wrong and he couldn’t remember where he had received a few of his injuries. He shakes off this notion but it makes more sense now knowing the ending that his memory was reset the day before.
  • If the Thakati are meant as a way to merge people raised from the dead and demons, and Allandria was thrown into a cocoon live, does that mean all Thakati start from living people? How did that happen? How long does it take to transform into a Thakati?
  • Will someone tell Reiver’s clan chiefs what’s going on in Eidyn to prevent a new war with their allies?
  • What will happen to Emelina? How long will everyone be able to keep her being a draoidh a secret from Pol and Dorann?
  • I’m good with a short sword, but I prefer the axe.’ Glorbad reminded me of Gimli from The Lord of the Rings. What really happened to Glorbad’s family?
  • Will Vastin heal and be cured? Will his arm injury prevent him from continuing to work as a blacksmith?
  • I understand how being damainte protects Morienne from the Blackened curse, but why is she able to calm the afflicted? Does she not register as a human the Blackened can pass the plague on to? Will she still be able to pacify the Blackened while wearing the totem if others no longer feel the effect of her curse? Will she have to take it off? If Master Balaban is a mundane master, did someone else make the totem for her? How were Morienne’s father and mother both cursed with such a rare curse? How about all four of her grandparents and such? It seems rare two people with the same rare curse could find each other and marry, let alone four?
  • How did Nirea beat Morienne and Meristan to Calavas’ office? What were they doing if they weren’t there?
  • Who is Janaeus’ agent at Traverlyn that places A History of Eidyn, vol. 22 in the caibineat puinnsean and murders Conifax and Calavas to cover it up? Why not destroy the book or put it somewhere where it won’t be found by masters who can put it all together? Who killed Conifax? Who killed Calavas? My money is on Master Rotan at the moment. 
  • Why didn’t Tull get trapped in Caer Amon when it disappeared? Was he outside its city limits when Tempit shouted, ‘Air adhart’? Why does it flicker back into existence and repeat itself? Will Caer Amon always be cursed? What would have happened if Allandria and Aranok had stopped the girl and boy from the time flashback in Caer Amon from being killed?
  • If the heart of devastation was discovered by Crostorfyn’s priest just after Caer Amon disappeared and then was promptly locked up, where did the stories come from? How did they know what it could do? Had it just been theory/assumption based on other relics? How did Janaeus learn about the relic? How did he find it?
  • Why is Aranok able to say Clìor to remove Janaeus’ spell from Allandria if he had to say it himself while with Mynygogg? Because a draoidh has to do it? Could Aranok use the relic to ‘clear’ Janaeus’ hold on the people of Eidyn, even though they won’t be touching Janaeus’ charm at the same time? Who gets to wear the amulet in case Janaeus recasts the spell before they can stop him?
  • Did Meristan know Anhil Weyr before Janaeus used the heart of devastation? Because surely then he would’ve had ‘feelings’ about Weyr being someone to avoid… Will Meristan get his armor back?
  • Samily’s power is so neat! Did Meristan really not know she was a draoidh? How convenient that Samily quickly goes from using too much energy healing wounds to turning back time multiple times in a row with limited training and practice… Where did Samily learn her ‘prayer words’? Will she spend time at the university to learn more about her draoidh skill after she’s done saving the world? Could she go back far enough to prevent Janaeus from usurping the throne? What if Meristan hadn’t taken Samily with him on the mission? It does make more sense that if he was a powerful knight that he trained her to be just as skillful with the sword, instead of being trained by a peaceful priest. 
  • Will the truth about Mynygogg reach Rasa before she goes to see Janaeus? And why is everyone so taken with Rasa when they interact with her? What secrets is she hiding? As a metamorph, can Rasa take on the powers of the being she changes into? What are her secrets? Is she really on Aranok’s side?
  • What are the next steps for the Hellfire Club? Why are the Blackened being drawn north? Where is Weyr, the demon summoner, now? Is Baroness de Lestalric (the one who locked up Darginn Argyll) Shayella, the necromancer? What was in the letter? Was Weyr wearing Janaeus’ amulet so he wasn’t impacted by false history? Wouldn’t Janaeus have relayed what part Weyr was supposed to play?
  • If the Blackened only responded to sight couldn’t Aranok have magicked some kind of shield to obscure them from the view of the cursed? Maybe because he is an earth draoidh it wouldn’t have been that easy? Since he can wield fire and solid earth, could he have created a fog?
  • I was routinely annoyed that Aranok kept referring to Allandria as his lover or in some context to their relationship. She’s a super badass without constantly having to be identified in a way that references their relationship. That being said, it made so much more sense that Anderson emphasized the relationship when in reality they’re just best friends. 
  • When will Nirea and Mynygogg be reunited?
  • Where did all the dead come from in the Capital?

Vocabulary Builder:

Frippery: something showy, frivolous, or nonessential

Maudlin: drunk enough to be emotionally silly

Scrabble: to scratch, claw, or grope about clumsily or frantically

Sibilant: having, containing, or producing the sound of or a sound resembling that of the s or the sh in sash

Sleekit: crafty, deceitful

Tosh: sheer nonsense; bosh

Witter: to chatter or babble pointlessly or at unnecessary length


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