(2004) Steph Swainston, Gollancz, £9.99, hrdbk, 290pp, ISBN 0-575-07005-6
The Year of Our War is Steph Swainston's debut novel and what a novel it is!
It tells the story of a nation's war against the Insects, a merciless horde who are spreading throughout the land destroying everything in their path. The people engage the help of the Circle, a band of immortals appointed by the Emperor to whom the world can turn in times of need (think interactive Greek gods) to lead them in their darkest hour. Our 'hero', Jant, is far from your stereotypical leading man when you first meet him. He is a self-obsessed drug addict whose frowned-upon habit sets him apart from the rest of the Circle. His personal journey is the focal point of the story, with the war itself serving as a catalyst to his self-discovery.
The book is rather overwhelming at the beginning, with a vast array of characters to get to know (it's worth noting that the immortals each have their 'real' name and an 'immortal' name, which can get a little confusing until you get to know them), but stick with it, it's well worth it. As you progress through the story you grow to know and love the characters. Early on it becomes clear that no character is immune to the author's axe, which adds to the book's tension. Given that the book is only 290 pages, this novel has everything from the horrific battle scenes to the love between Saker, an immortal, and Swallow, his mortal love. Throughout the book is interspersed with flashbacks to Jant's days before immortality was bestowed upon him and his visits to the Shift, a fantastical and horrific world accessed only while in a drug-induced state. All aspects combine to produce an intriguing storyline and an enjoyable reading experience.
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