Jant, the Immortal Messenger, is the only man in the world who can fly. However, he’s not the only immortal. The Fourlands are beset by a plague of giant insects. The fight has raged for over a 1000 years. The story starts with another in a long line of fights, which initially goes well. Soon, however, the insects are surging across the land, further than they’ve reached in centuries. Jant is tasked with finding out why, which is something of a problem given his drug addiction.

Image result for "the year of our war" steph swainston

To combat the threat of the insects, Emperor San creates a circle of immortals. Only those who are the best can join; the best archer, the faster runner, the best sailor, swordsman and so on. Those in the circle can be challenged, and the Emperor can take back their immortality at any time. I found the relationship of the immortals with the rest of the world intriguing. I was mostly surprised by how very reasonable it all seemed- the rules regarding ownership of land, relationships with mortal political leaders, the rules for joining and leaving the circle etc. In most fantasy I feel like Immortal Emperors aren’t known for being practical or reasonable.

Jant, the main character, is deeply flawed. Most of the characters are pretty flawed, but I think Jant is the winner in this regard. He’s addicted to Cat, and at the best of times is unreliable and selfish. He can be downright pathetic in his worst moments. Even so, I wanted him to succeed (though my version of succeed may not match his version), and I wanted him to figure out the secret of the insects. I really enjoy books with very flawed lead characters, and I think it’s quite difficult to write that type of character successfully.

The story is short and fast, and the situation gets very bad very quickly. It’s exciting, and the writing and descriptions are quite brutal and gory. As a result the insects feel like a terrifying threat. The fear of death, the desire to live forever, is a recurring theme throughout the story. It was overall a very enjoyable book, and it’s stuck in my mind in the few weeks since I read it. I have the rest of Swainston’s books on my desk, waiting to be read. I’d highly recommend ‘The Year of Our War’.