Are you the sort of reader who likes sword and sorcery fantasy, Dungeons & Dragons, and the like? Well, do I have a book for you. The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson is the first volume in the Eidyn Saga. It absolutely scratches that itch for quests, magic, and complicated party dynamics. I’m finally calm enough after reeling from the book’s twists and turns enough to articulate my thoughts on it.
This will be a largely spoiler-free review. That said, we will be discussing plot elements of The Lost War in broad terms, so keep that in mind if you want to go in completely blind.
Book review: The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson
The basic premise of The Lost War is that several years after a terrible war that shattered the country of Eidyn, a band of strangers must set out on a mission to escort a foreign dignitary across a landscape filled with dangers. Eidyn is overrun with demons, undead, people who’ve been turned into rotting zombie-like creatures thanks to a plague, and more. It’s got plenty of the sorts of trappings that you’d hope for in a quest fantasy, but strings them out so well that it’s impossible to predict what creatures or dangers lie ahead.
There are a few big ways that The Lost War sets itself apart from your average fantasy tale. The biggest is probably the novel’s eclectic group of heroes. Led by the draoidh (mage) Aranok and his archer bodyguard/lover Allandria, this party is the beating heart of the story. The various character archetypes will feel familiar to the gamer crowd; there’s an old warrior, a rogueish sea captain, a monk, a paladin (they’re called White Thorns here), and a young blacksmith. These characters originated in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign that the author was playing with his real-life friends, and it feels like it.
The personalities of the characters consistently pop off the page. They argue constantly but secretly all love each other. The Lost War is never as much fun as when the various characters are chafing against one another, and fortunately it happens a lot. They are based on archetypes, but they’re so much fun to hang around with it’s never a problem.
Tonally, this is a darker fantasy book, but never enters grimdark territory. The world of Eidyn has been recovering after narrowly defeating a powerful draoidh in a terrible war, and the scars left by that conflict are still very visible. There are happy moments, but the cover artwork depicting the characters against a dark, ominous forest captures the vibe of the book perfectly.
The ending of The Lost War left me totally stunned
Then there are the twists. The Lost War has some very compelling turns; one of them is so momentous that it elevates the story from being a somewhat light fantasy romp into something far more poignant and thought-provoking.
In fact, there were criticisms that I had planned to make of this book that were washed away by the clever choices that Anderson made in the final chapters. The things I thought were faults became strengths. I don’t know if I can ever think of another time that has happened in quite this way. It was such a pleasure to realize that I fallen so completely into the author’s trap. I’ll be thinking about the ending of The Lost War for a long time, and will absolutely be re-reading it at some point to catch everything I missed the first time around.
The Lost War starts out as a dark sword and sorcery fantasy quest, but becomes something much more powerful by the end. With this book, Justin Lee Anderson firmly establishes himself as a unique voice in the fantasy landscape. If the sequel to The Lost War were out, I would’ve started reading it already. This is a full, epic quest, but it is also vonly the beginning of a promising new fantasy saga.
The Lost War is available now from Orbit Books, wherever books are sold.