The Year of Our War (Steph Swainston)

The Year of Our War is the first novel by Steph Swainston and the first book in the Fourlands Series.

The Fourlands are at war with the (man-sized) Insects that threaten to overrun the entire kingdom. King Dunlin leads the attacks, supported and advised by the Emperor and his group of 50 Immortals, all the best in their respective fields. One of said Immortals is Jant, the messenger – a position he has because his father was Awian and his mother Rhydanne, which gives him wings and a light enough frame to actually fly, the only person to be able to. But by now, it is the only reason he still has the position as he is also incredibly self-centered and addicted to the drug cat and the Shift to another world that comes with it. As things become worse, Jant will have to make some choices.

The Year of Our War is very much unlike any fantasy novel I read so far and I really, really loved it, despite the fact that it took me a while to get into it.


Swainston plunges you into this world straight away. There is no pause for explanations. Jant practically lands in the middle of a battle and the reader is swept up in the events with him. Since I barely read the back cover of the novel and didn’t know what it was about, that went doubly for me. For the first 50 pages or so that meant that I was more confused than anything else. It just took my a while to get my bearings but once I felt that I had at least a bit of a grasp on that world, I could lean back and enjoy it.

It still never became a light, easy read. Swainston’s prose is dense and reading the book is work, but it’s worth it.

For one, Jant is an interesting narrator. His commentary can be quite scathing sometimes, at least when he’s not commenting about himself and I don’t know if I would like to meet him, but I liked his take on the story.

But most of all it’s the sheer inventiveness that went into the world. Neither Awian nor Rhydanne are races that we’ve seen before. The political structure, the Circle of Immortals and the Insects are also shaped in such a way that they become quite new. And that is not even touching on the Shift and the creatures that lurk in cat. That was some disturbing shit right there.

The novel’s weakest point is in its plotting. While there is an overarching story that makes a lot of sense, there are several parts that come seemingly out of nowhere (and sometimes disappear to nowhere again). A bit more streamlining would have been good.

Despite that, I really loved the book and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the Series.

Summarizing: Definitely give it a try!

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