Because of this participation in such a prestigious contest, we thought we would take a look at our competition, read some of the winners and finalists from previous years, and maybe even take a look at some of the current contenders.
I’ve actually read two of those finalist novels before. During SPFBO5, I read The Blackbird and the Ghost. During SPFBO6, I read Shadow of a Dead God. I thought both books were quite excellent; yet neither of them ended up winning. So, you can imagine my excitement when I started reading the SPFBO6 champion, The Lost War.
Was I still excited by the end of the book? Spoiler Alert—No, I wasn’t. This is a book that strings you along and then kicks you into the gutter in the final chapters.
Continue reading to find out why, I dare you. This review contains spoilers.
The Fantasy Genre—Thrill of Discovery
As we read and review fantasy books during this period, we are approaching each story with this core philosophy:
The primary attraction of fantasy stories is to give the reader the thrill of new discovery without the rigors of academia.
Fantasy offers new worlds to explore, history to discover, culture and civilizations and fantastic beasts, and above all a brand new science with brand new rules; and the reader is now the Magellan, the Einstein, the Howard Carter.
A good fantasy story should spread out this discovery, keeping a consistent pace throughout the exposition. The discoveries should make sense to the reader, even if fantastically impossible, and they should always relate back to the plot later in the book.
So, how did The Lost War meet this requirement?
Background & Exposition
Magical exposition and world-building are probably the bread-and-butter of fantasy novels—especially indie fantasy.
Throughout The Lost War, the readers get to learn about the mysterious draiodhs and their various abilities. We get to learn about the vast, fascinating history of Eidyn, the realm for which this book series is named.
And up until the final chapters, this exposition and world-building are done pretty well, I must confess. But here’s the kicker:
IT. IS. ALL. A. LIE. (Spoiler Alert)
At the end of the book, we find out that literally everything that we, the readers, have learned, and even what the main characters have discovered, is a lie. A fake memory, implanted in the minds of everyone in the realm. Implanted in the readers’ minds, as well.
Thanks a lot for that, Anderson. That’s just what I wanted to find out after wasting a week reading your book (sarcasm). None of it is canon.
Why would I want to continue reading when you publish the sequel? You might as well just start a new series, since even after reading 560 pages of your first book, none of it matters except the last few chapters.
If that wasn’t betrayal enough, consider the characters.
Most of the characters in The Lost War had personality, intrigue, background, and even interpersonal relationships that made the readers get attached. Before I got to the end, I would have complimented the author on writing such great characters.
But then I got to the ending, and guess what?
IT. IS. ALL. A. LIE. (Spoiler Alert)
The characters are not who they believed themselves to be. Their backgrounds are nothing more than implanted memories. Even their relationships are fabricated lies.
Thanks a lot, Anderson (sarcasm). Just when I grew attached to your intriguing characters, you took them away from us, and replaced them with hollowed-out bodies that we know nothing about.
Lies Can Be Fun, Done Respectfully
I can imagine the criticism that some Sparrow fans might have here: But Mr. Haines, isn’t Sparrow a liar also? Doesn’t he also create intricate deceptions?
Yeah, he does. But the lies that Sparrow tells have a purpose: to deceive the antagonists and entertain the audience. Sparrow doesn’t tell a 560-page lie just so that at the end, he can reveal that none of it matters. Sparrow respects his audience.
Gaslighting your readers for such a long book and then spinning a 180-degree twist at the end to leave the readers clueless is not respect.
I’m used to holding the minority opinion when it comes to books like this. Apparently a lot of other people liked The Lost War. All of the judging blogs scored it quite highly.
So maybe you will enjoy it also. I confess, I was surprised at the ending. If you read it (despite my spoilers in this review), you will probably be surprised at certain moments and plot twists.
I get it. Unreliable narrators are trendy right now, and they can really make for a good twist at the end.
But if you’re anything like me, you’ll think back to all of the time you spent reading this book. You’ll ask yourself what you’ve gained from reading it. And the answer will inevitably be: nothing. If you choose to read the next book in this series, you’ll be starting with basically zero knowledge of the characters, the magic, or the history.
I invested in this book. I invested in the characters. I invested in the plot.
The return on my investment was a devaluation of my reading effort and an invitation to invest more in the sequel. Why would you use an unreliable narrator in the first book of your series?
No thanks, Anderson.
Have you read The Lost War? Do you disagree with my take on the book? Please drop a comment below if you feel that I was too harsh on the book, and if you feel that it deserved its award.
And don’t forget to subscribe for more SPFBO reviews! There are many, many gems hidden in this contest, and I’m making it my mission to dig them out and present them to all of the fantasy readers out there!