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Customer Review

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark, witty, expansive fantasy debut, 28 Jun. 2005
This review is from: The Year of Our War (GOLLANCZ S.F.) (Paperback)
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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