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.
Since it took me a little longer to get to the sequel to The Year of Our War (and to acquire the third and fourth Fourlands books as well, since they’re sadly out of print), I decided I’ll just see it as the perfect opportunity to re-read the first one again. And I still loved it.
Reading the book a second time Swainston’s style didn’t feel quite as challenging as the first time, though there is still a certain amount of work to be done and it’s not an easy read that you just breeze through. But since I was already familiar with the world and the plot (which I remembered much better than I thought I would), a little more ease is to be expected and I was able to focus on some of the details much more. For example, what struck me much more this time is Jant’s appearance – he wears, jeans and t-shirts and mascara, quite an unusual combination for a fantasy novel.
Reading through Jant’s relationship with Genya was still the toughest part for me, and I remain utterly divided about it. It all depends on how much of an unreliable narrator Jant is. Is his attraction to her really such a forceful impulse and have a drugging effect? Are his explanations of Rhydanne culture accurate? Then Genya really wanted him to chase and catch her so that they could have sex. If they aren’t, then he raped her, plain and simple. That he is plagued by guilty conscience points towards the latter, but could also be because he cheated on Tern and/or because he is more accustomed to the Awian way and there would be no doubt about it being rape there.
Fortunately it’s not necessary to think of Jant as a good person. It’s entirely clear that he isn’t most of the time. But he’s a compelling character regardless of that. Or maybe because of that. He’s also a fascinating mix of immature and old (“23 for 200 years” just about covers that), and underneath all of his wisecracking harshness covers an abused little boy looking for a father. And Jant is very aware of that, but he doesn’t really know what to do with that awareness, other than drown it out with drugs. In short, he is deeply flawed and I really want to know more about him and the world he lives in. Fortunately there is more.
Summarizing: Read it.