Friday, 29 June 2007

‘The Year of Our War’ – Steph Swainston (Gollancz Books)


‘The Year of Our War’ is one those books that I’ve always meant to pick but, for whatever reason, never got round to doing it (too many books to read, not enough money for more books, the usual reasons). All this changed a couple of weeks ago at a book signing in Waterstones (Piccadilly); I was there, Steph was signing her books and all of a sudden everything just clicked. I went home with a copy of the book, and the warning that it was nothing like what I normally read (we had a little chat about what I was into), and got stuck in at the first opportunity. I have to say that Steph was right; ‘The Year of Our War’ is fantasy but nothing like Erikson, Martin or Williams (my favourites). The closest things I can compare it to are China Mieville’s books (but without the overemphasis on politics) or M.John Harrison’s ‘Viriconium’ (but eminently less pretentious and more accessible).
Jant Comet is the Messenger, one of a circle of immortals who oversee the Four Lands on behalf of the Emperor. He is also the only man alive who can fly and a hopeless drug addict who has unwittingly done something that will turn the tide of war (against the Insects) against humanity. If this wasn’t enough, he must also deal with the machinations of his fellow immortals and make good on his word to deliver all that the Emperor asks of him…
Given the number of years that Steph spent building this world up it’s no surprise that I was completely enthralled and sucked into the everyday life of the Four Lands. It’s one of those books that will stay with you even when you’re not reading, the characters are vivid and the situations they face are intriguing. I’ll be re-reading it to see if things become clearer second time round. The only issue I had was that while technology had made rapid advances in some areas, it felt like it was deliberately held back in other areas so as to make the war against the Insects more difficult for humanity to win. It could well be that the mark of a truly ‘fantastical’ world is one where things like that will never make sense to the reader but it didn’t quite gel with me.
Where things really took off for me were Jant’s trips into the ‘Shift’, a place only accessible through imbibing large amounts of drugs. I’ve never wanted an addict (fictional or otherwise) to overdose until I took a trip to the ‘Shift’ with Jant and saw how well written ‘weird fiction’ can be. Vermiforms, the Tine, talking lizards and a fibre-toothed tiger are only the tip of the iceberg… I’ll be buying more of Steph Swainston’s books just for the chance to go back there.
All in all, a very enjoyable read that actually makes you think about what you’re reading. I think I’ve found myself a new series to get into, I hope they’re all as good as this.

Nine out of Ten

4 comments:

The Viewer said...

Really? I couldn't get into it. I really didn't care. I was on the side of the bugs. It would have made the opening so much more exciting.

Graeme Flory said...

One man's haute cuisine is another man's gruel I guess ;o) I also had issues with the way that war was waged on the insects but overall I found that the worldbuilding and characters really struck a chord. Have you read the others?

The Viewer said...

I couldn't even finish this one I'm afraid.

I did try - I'm not a fan of war stories in general and because the set-up focused so much on the tents and the flying and the breaking of the wall and the main character was being used to show us all this. So I didn't feel anything towards to main character or anyone else's plight.

Jamie Starbuck said...

I'm with 'the viewer' on this, Graeme. It all felt like so far removed from the world, if that makes any kind of sense. I'm all for entering the world at a run but to have no background information on such a unique world was a little...annoying.

So much emphasis was placed on the immortals it meant the exclusion of the more common folk which left me distracted by the questions running around my head; it being ages since I read it I can't remember most of them but they hinged on how the immortals dealt with the rest of the world.

And it felt as though noone actually gave a toss what the outcome of the war was. And who were the insects? Their motivations? Anything?? God it was an annoying book.