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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new type of fantasy
After a while, one grows tired of elves and orcs and barbarians and the typical fantasy stories. Steph Swainston has invented a new and unique world with none of the normal suspects in it, with great imagination that still leaves a lot to the readers to ponder.

She creates a world with mortals and immortals, where the immortals must earn their place by being...
Published on 23 Dec 2006 by Larry Ketchersid

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A frustrating novel
Steph Swainston is the author of three books set in the Fourlands, a series she collectively calls The Castle Series. Two more are forthcoming. The Year of Our War is the story of Jant, the Messenger, one of fifty immortals who serve the Empire, a large nation covering most of a (fairly small) continent which is under threat of destruction from the Insects, a vast,...
Published on 17 Mar 2008 by A. Whitehead


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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A new type of fantasy, 23 Dec 2006
This review is from: The Year of our War (Paperback)
After a while, one grows tired of elves and orcs and barbarians and the typical fantasy stories. Steph Swainston has invented a new and unique world with none of the normal suspects in it, with great imagination that still leaves a lot to the readers to ponder.

She creates a world with mortals and immortals, where the immortals must earn their place by being the best at what they can do: the best swordsman, the best sailor, the best archer. Immortality is betowed upon them by the Emperor San...where he got the ability to do this is one of the mysteries of the series.

Jant Comet is one of the immortals, called the Messenger because of his unique ability to fly. Because he is the Emperor's Messenger, we get to see the politics of the realm, and even see Jant change a few things.

The Emperor's realm is at war with the Insects, who look like bugs many times the size of humans and who build paper nests out of counqueorer lands. Where the Insects have come from is yet another of the mysteries in the book and series.

Jant is an addict to a substance called Cat. Ms. Swainston's portrayl of Jant's addiction, in this book and the next, is dead on...she must have known or studied addicts quite closely.

Jant's addiction gives him entrance into a parallel world, a world he and we the readers are not sure is real until we explore it further. Then it becomes tied in with the Emperor's world and the Insects.

Ms. Swainston mixes political intrigue (immortals battling each other for position; non-immortals vs. the Emperor; mortals vying to become immortals), war (vividly imagines human vs. insect fighting scenes, shades of Stormship Troopers!), addiction and Jant's journey of self-discovery into an excellent fantasy novel. As an author, what I most admire about the writing is her ability to not tell the reader what is going on (at least for the big stuff) but to let us figure it out. The novel held me in suspense till the end, made we eager for the next (which is equally good).

Highly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good read..., 21 May 2004
By A Customer
Steph Swainston has created an incredibly imaginative & original fantasy novel. Her characters range from the macabre to the beautiful. There are (thankfully!) no elves, goblins or magic swords, just exciting action, believable dialogue and a main character that is by far the most interesting hero we have seen for a long time. I look forward to reading more of her work.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another new light shines hope on modern fantasy writing, 6 May 2004
By 
Andrew Walker "Andrew Walker" (Hastings, UK) - See all my reviews
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Swainston has a direct style of storytelling that doesn't let you relax and draws you in to a world not so far from ours. This world, though, is peopled by fantastic beasts and great characters, and you cannot help but relate to the Immortals - Tornado, Jant, Lightning and the rest - as they veer between the internal politics of the Court and the wild and terrible battles raging outside. Jant, flying man, hero, lover and junkie is destined to become one the memorable few fantasy creations - like King's Roland of Gilead, more than human but all too fallible when he needs a fix or spies something sexy but off-limits. More to come - I hope so.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark, witty, expansive fantasy debut, 28 Jun 2005
By 
Peter Fenelon - See all my reviews
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At first glance, there's little to separate this debut novel from a score of other fantasies - an island is being threatened by strange insects, and only a mysterious emperor and his circle of immortals provide any hope of salvation. You've read the same kind of thing dozens of times before, and I admit that it deterred me from buying this book - but it had very strong word-of-mouth recommendation...
In fact, if anything, this is reminiscent of the steampunk noir of China Mieville. It's much more a novel of character, intrigue and politics than most fantasy. The basic setup places four kingdoms on a moderately-sized island, all four nominally governed by an immortal emperor (and no, we don't know how he got there) who coordinates the fight against the mysterious insects, and his Circle of immortal heroes. The war is starting to go badly - the Insects are on the advance and are gradually turning more and more areas into hive-like Paperlands.
And immortality is a gift - and one that can be taken away. The Immortals are the best people in the Empire at any particular trade or craft or skill that can help repel the Insects - so there's a master archer, sailor, warrior, etc. Nobody's place is secure - anyone can be formally challenged at any time.... you're only immortal until someone better comes along!
We see this novel through the viewpoint of Jant Shira, a halfbreed who is the only person left with the ability to fly. Jant is an outcast, a street kid elevated to immortality in his early 20s who spent his early years involved in drug smuggling, and whose habit still grips hard now he's immortal. Jant is the Emperor's messenger; trusted, known to all, and trying to keep the war against the Insects going in the face of conflict between various mortal lords and kings.
Jant's task is complicated by his addiction, and by the first signs of cracks appearing in the Circle....
This is a densely-plotted, richly-characterised novel, told with wit and relish, a lot of surprises, a well-imagined world, and a much more sophisticated view of power politics and intrigue than most fantasy.
A great read, and a very fine debut
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awe inspiring debut, 5 Aug 2006
By 
S. Hartland (Worcestershire) - See all my reviews
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At first I was a little apprehensive but after having the book recommended so highly to me I thought I should give it a go!! I bought a copy and finished it within a week. I thought it was fantastic!!

Some may feel the storyline jumps in a seemingly irratic manner however once the reader becomes really comfortable embracing the plot, the jumps that at first appear pointless become integral to the story.

This book is quick paced and a complete feast for the mind, a must read for all fantasy fans.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, different, pacey and involving., 9 Mar 2008
By 
D. Powell (Reading, UK) - See all my reviews
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Having read many different fictions, Fantasy , Sci Fi, Murder mystery amongst others I rarely try to analyse books. Generally I just go with feel of the story and how quickly it manifests itself in my mind visually. As an idea of what kind of thing I read (which I hope helps others get a feel for if they might like this), Heinlein, Asimov, Tolstoy, Brooks, Tolkein, Reilly, Forsyth, Pratchett, Wells.
With TYoOW the world was both imaginative, beautifully colourful and wonderfully written. I loved the way Ms Swainston manages to encapsulate what's happening so decriptively without being overly verbose. Some people try to describe everything down to how many petals are on the flower between the rock on the prarie in the town in the state in the country that someone is thinking about...boring and unnecessary, most of the time. This book is concise, slick and refreshing. I thoroughly enjoyed it and can't wait to get stuck into 'No present like time'!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A different fantasy, 16 Oct 2007
By 
Mr. S. Crook (Way out west) - See all my reviews
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Normally I stay well away from fantasy as most is formulaic. This book (and the others in this series) stand head a shoulders above most fantasy writing.

At the start I found Swainstons style took a little getting used to, as it seemed to wander all over the place. It becomes apparent that everything is there for a purpose and I got drawn into a small but perfectly formed world. Indeed, I started the book over a year ago, and stopped about 30 pages in because I couldn't get into it. Recently decided to have another crack at it and stuck at it this time.

Swainston keeps multiple plots moving while revealing the absolute minimum of information at any moment. Every morsel has to be squeezed out of the book and savoured. It's bit like a difficult journey, where just as you're beginning to wonder if it's worthwhile, you turn a corner and there's something new and different that makes that days travels worthwhile and you just know that tomorrow has more unexpected delights in store

The work of a writer on top of her game.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Postmodern, druggy, immortal fantasy adventure - well worth a read, 13 Aug 2007
By 
Ms. J. Nash (A place quite similiar to earth) - See all my reviews
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I was given this book by recommendation and it wasn't something I would have immediatley picked for myself. I'm a big fan of SF but found a lot of the fantasy genre tideous and repetitive.

But wow, a gorgeous immortal drug addict with wings wearing ripped jeans! I was hooked. Brilliantly written and researched with plenty of witty asides. The characters are vivid and exciting, I found myself wrapped up in this story and unable to put it down. The insect fights are gruesome and gory which I loved. Steph Swainston doesn't hold back. This is fantasy with a very modern twist, sexy and entertaining. An original and intriguing world unfolds through the eyes of the extremely horny and charming Jant, a messenger and immortal for The Circle, in the war against the insects.

Extremely trippy and great to read with a few shots of Jack Daniels. Give it a go even if you don't normally like fantasy.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars my fave read of 2005, 23 Jun 2005
By 
S. D. Joyce - See all my reviews
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It's about a drug - addicted immortal guy with wings who is involved in a 2000 year old battle against giants insects on two different dimensions of reality, with a bit of sex and humour thrown in for good measure....which was more than enough for me. I loved it, can't wait to get the next one.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A frustrating novel, 17 Mar 2008
By 
A. Whitehead "Werthead" (Colchester, Essex United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Steph Swainston is the author of three books set in the Fourlands, a series she collectively calls The Castle Series. Two more are forthcoming. The Year of Our War is the story of Jant, the Messenger, one of fifty immortals who serve the Empire, a large nation covering most of a (fairly small) continent which is under threat of destruction from the Insects, a vast, endless horde that dominates the northern part of the landmass. Jant is a drug addict, but with good reason: the drug he takes, cat, transports him into the Shift, another world where some of the dead souls of his own world go, and where he has vital allies in the war against the Insects.

This is a pretty difficult book to review. Just when I was certain that I was going to end up hating it, the story would take off, the characters and the writing would click and I'd end up enjoying it. Then something else would happen and it would end up annoying me again. This pattern repeated itself throughout the book until it finally reached a highly ambiguous conclusion (there is no resolution, the book just stops with less of a climax than many of the standard chapter endings). To some extent it was a frustrating book, but I think its positives outweigh it problems.

The writing is quite interesting, with a sense of bright-eyed whimsy which is often at odds with the subject matter (drug abuse, a soldier getting his stomach torn out, a violent sex scene) in a manner not entirely removed from Jack Vance (although Swainston doesn't push it quite as far as Vance). The strange mixing of time and space in the book - this is a medieval world with T-shirts and jeans and added steampunk moments - is much more reminiscent of Mieville, which I get the impression is what Swainston was aiming for (and was successful, given her acknowledged place in the New Weird pantheon and Mieville's endorsement on the cover). The anachronisms and incongruities were initially rather jarring, but you rapidly get used to them and assume there is some kind of explanation for them.

The characters are all reasonably well developed, with the immortals coming across as a mix between superheroes, Greek legends and ordinary people in over their heads. Swainston crams a surprising amount of plot into the book's 360 pages, such as the tortured family history of Lightning, the Archer, and the machinations of Swallow, the musician-governess of Awndan, as she attempts to become immortal herself. These backstories give the characters weight and depth that informs their actions and doesn't feel incongruous, which is quite an achievement. Less successful is the attempt to give Jant himself development, with his flashbacks coming in disjointed scattershot, making it difficult to put together the pieces of his life and find out how he came to be who he is. Also, because Jant is exceptionally emo a lot of the time (being immortal , one of the fifty most important people in the world and the only person alive who can fly is extremely traumatic, obviously) and spends much of the book either urgently wanting a fix or going through cold turkey, he is a hard protagonist to like, which is a problem in a first-person narrative.

The climax also leaves much to be desired. This is very much the first part of a series and not a self-contained novel at all. As well as Jant's under-developed backstory, there are numerous storylines and characters left hanging in mid-air. I assume that these points are addressed in the sequel, No Present Like Time.

The Year of Our War (***) aspires to be different and certainly achieves that. Swainston is clearly a talented writer and I look forward to investigating her other work, but at the same time this debut novel is rough around the edges and the ending doesn't really justify the build-up.
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The Year of our War by Steph Swainston (Paperback - Feb 2005)
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