SPFBO FINALIST: The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson

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I adored this book. 

I hear a decent number of people comment on a slow start that built up, and some people had to wait 30% before they invested themselves in it – not for me! I was so taken by the characters and world building I didn’t need a lot of warm up time to get into the story. I find that many stories end when the ‘good guys’ win the war and that’s that, and it leaves me wondering “ok, then what happened?”. I really love seeing the aftermath of a war and all the various and complicated problems a kingdom has when trying to pick up the pieces. 

When this starts out the main character, Aranok, is remarking on how young everyone is… it’s said that the kingdom lost half it’s population and it’s almost devoid of adult men in fighting age, leaving their kids to run their businesses and farms. Aranok is the King’s envoy, and he has a special relationship with him since they are also best friends. The King has told him that the realm is running out of options. They are broke, devoid of a good work force, and are struggling to mend a broken kingdom after a long and bloody war. They need allies, and the king believes if they can re-instate an ousted Queen, they can gain an ally who can speed along recovery. So, Aranok heads out with a group of people to go find this Queen and reinstate her. That sounds simple but it’s incredible just how many complexities happen after this – up to and including trying to fight off a plague that turns people into what are essentially zombies. There are twists and turns… and the final twist at the end was amazing. 

Aranok was a decent person and you could tell that from the start. For me, that really helps him be relatable and someone I can root for right off the bat. He’s a pretty powerful guy, he’s a mage and he’s hated for it. It’s not like mages are super rare, there are at least a hundred in his kingdom alone – but they are feared for what can happen if they decide to be assholes. The last war was fought against a mage who rose people from the dead and summoned demons. Each mage has power derived from one aspect of the world – Aranok is an earth mage who can use wind, fire, water etc and bend it to his will, but he’s not someone who would turn it against innocent people. 

I felt like all of the side characters were very well fleshed out and had their own back stories, motivations, and distinctness which helped me give a shit about them. I take points off in Character if the side characters aren’t as fleshed out as they could be, and is one of the most common ways I take off points for a book. I am a sucker for ‘healer class’ and Samily is a White Thorn Knight who has the unheard of ability to heal. I liked the fact that there was an established healthy romance between the MC and Allandria who was in her own right a badass. I don’t have a lot of patience of unhealthy romances or romantic strife that happens in things like love triangles. I prefer a cute couple I can root for and get behind. As many of you know, I’m also a sucker for odd-couple pairings and this was no exception. Samily is a very religious character, and not just in speech but in actions. Aranok is not religious at all, but comes to his own reasonings to do the right thing, it made for an interesting yin yang. 

I really liked the world building and in particular the magic. I love a mix of magic system and mysterious magic handwavy magic. There were specific ways each type of mage can and can’t use their power, and varying levels of mages from weak ones to incredibly strong mages. Everything felt thought out and gone over, too. It would be difficult to point to holes or inconsistencies or things left unexplained.

I feel like the prose itself was one of the other highlights of the book, and I don’t say that all too often. When I highlight things in an ebook it’s usually to reference something in the review as far as how to spell a name, major plot points, particular things I didn’t like, spelling errors and other things. I rarely highlight a passage just because I like the way it sounds and I found it quotable. I wasn’t the only one, either, the passages I highlighted had little dotted line underneath it indicating others also found those passages to be particularly well written.

Overall, I highly recommend this to everyone looking for an epic scope high fantasy book. It’s imaginative, well written, has great characters and intriguing world building – all sped along by a sense of urgency, quick writing, and great narration if you like audiobooks. 


  • Plot: 13.5/15
  • Characters: 14/15
  • World Building: 14/15
  • Writing: 14/15
  • Pacing: 12.5/15
  • Originality:13/15
  • Personal Enjoyment: 9.5/10

Final Score: 90.5/100


I also adored this book! It’s a fairly standard epic fantasy, following what are basically a mage and his bodyguard, an archer on their journey. Aranok is a draoidh, which is a kind of mage, and the envoy of the King of Eidyn. Allandria is his bodyguard, and his lover. The King, who is also a longtime friend of Aranok, is maintaining the kingdom but things aren’t going completely great. There is a plague across the land that turns people into mindless zombies, along with demons and other monsters, and the blame lays with the first draoidh to ever have two abilities… which just so happened to be necromancy and demonology (womp).

The King orders Aranok and Allandria to find an ousted queen and re-instate her to her throne so that she can ally with Eidyn, who is plenty in need of allies. They head out on their journey with a former-pirate, and an old soldier, and collect another few allies along the way, including a young paladin and a monk. Many, many shenanigans are hard along the way, as they run into zombies, demons, insect people, other draoidhs and more.

I listened to the audiobook, which was a no-brainer since it is narrated by one of my favorite narrators ever, and it was 20 hours or so of just… a great story. There were twists and turns, there were highs and lows, and there were some really great characters on interesting adventures. Also, at times it felt like this book was written entirely so that Euan Morton could read it to people. It just… fit. He fit.

Aranok is easy to cheer for. He’s lead a difficult life, as draoidhs are mostly reviled in this world. He managed to become the second most powerful person in the country by chance. Aranok is also just a good dude. Even despite people treating him badly for what he is, he goes out of his way more than once to help a person in need. The relationship between him and Allandria is lovely too. I dig a main character falling in love along their journey, but one in an established relationship that isn’t a shitshow is also great. Allandria protects him, but she also doesn’t take shit from him and will tell him what’s on her mind. It’s kind of adorable, in its way.

The last hour or so of this book was fucking bonkers, and I mean that in a good way. I saw absolutely none of that coming. There were clues… but they were so subtly placed… just wow. Well done.

All told, I thought this one was written well, paced well, and while it does use tropes that have been in epic fantasy since forever (not gunna lie, it kind of feels like a D&D campaign at times), I really enjoyed my time with it. It felt… traditional, but told in a way that was compelling, to me, and I look forward to more of the story! Especially since that ending!! 9/10 stars!~


I really enjoyed this book. From the outset the writing flows,  and draws the reader in. In my time in SPFBO this year that indefinable X factor is something that’s really rung true. Some books, and some authors, just have it. Something about the prose, the dialogue, the pacing that works just so… The Lost War has it in spades, and I loved almost every part of it.

Anderson tells the tale of a kingdom barely holding itself together in the aftermath of a brutal war. Eidyn has lost almost half its population, emptied its coffers, and barely has enough adults to have a functioning workforce. In an effort to gain allies, the king has tasked the draoidh, Aranok to find a dethroned queen and return her to power. It’s fair to say that almost nothing goes right for Aranok in this quest. Between the attacks from demons and zombies, numerous injuries, and every twist and turn you could imagine, it’s a miracle that he makes it to the middle of the book.

Aranok isn’t alone in his quest. His partner and guard, Allandria, does her best to keep him in one piece, and, as the book progresses others join the party. With the addition of a pirate, a smith, a soldier, a paladin and a priest, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was going to end up like an oversized party from dungeons and dragons. Instead, Anderson works hard to turn the cliché D&D party on its head. They don’t all get along, they don’t instantly trust each other, and they’re not blessed with plot armour. Characters get hurt, and badly, but what I liked most was that they got tired! So often it feels like characters in fantasy books travel across a continent in two days, leap off their horse, wrestle a dragon before breakfast, and still have enough energy to climb up a tower using only their fingernails to battle the evil sorcerer. It was so nice to see characters run out of breath, get injured, or black out.

The worldbuilding in this novel is excellent. Anderson does a masterful job of painting a picture of a country just barely holding itself together, but the real gem lies in the disdain and prejudice against the draoidhs. This is shown in a dozen little ways that all combine to paint a picture of intolerance, and ignorant bigotry, that serve beautifully as the foundation for many of Aranok’s beliefs and behaviours.

The pacing in this story, if I’m honest, didn’t blow me away. I found the first third of the novel even dragged a bit, but it wasn’t enough to make me want to stop reading. The plot is good, the dialogue is excellent, and I always wanted to keep going.

By the half-way point I was fully invested and wanted to know more. I had questions, they were irritating me, and Anderson was going to answer them, damn it!

And he did, but not in a way I would ever have expected. I was fully expecting to finish and then write a review criticising this book and the way that two particular characters were handled. They are both central to the plot and yet, are on the periphery of the story for the vast majority of it. I simply couldn’t work it out, until Anderson dropped a bombshell. Yes, there’s a twist in this book. No, you won’t see it coming, and yes, it is well worth the wait.

SPFBO score – 8/10

Judge Average: 8.66 FINAL SPFBO SCORE: 8.5/10