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The Lost War
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- Trade Paperback $18.99 $23.99 CAD
- ebook (Digital original) $9.99 $12.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around May 16, 2023. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Justin Lee Anderson's sensational epic fantasy debut was voted best self-published fantasy book of the year* and begins a tale of magic, mayhem, and a ragtag group of adventurers who just might be the key to saving their kingdom.
"Rich in action and intrigue, this fantasy adventure is sure to please fans of David Gemmell." – Anthony Ryan
The war is over, but peace can be hell.
Demons continue to burn farmlands, violent mercenaries roam the wilds, and a plague is spreading. The country of Eidyn is on its knees.
In a society that fears and shuns him, Aranok is the first mage to be named King's Envoy. And his latest task is to restore an exiled foreign queen to her throne.
The band of allies he assembles each have their own unique skills. But they are strangers to one another, and at every step across the ravaged land, a new threat emerges, lies are revealed, and distrust could destroy everything they are working for. Somehow, Aranok must bring his companions together and uncover the conspiracy that threatens the kingdom—before war returns to the realms again.
"Excellent – full of great characters, tense action scenes and truly surprising twists. A highly recommended read." – James Islington
"Exquisite." – Gareth Hanrahan
"Strikingly intense . . . . Immersive and thoroughly compelling." – SFX
For more from Justin Lee Anderson, check out:
The Eidyn Saga
The Lost War
The Bitter Crown
*Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off
The boy was going to get himself killed.
Aranok put down his drink, leaned back and rubbed his dusty, mottled brown hands across his face and behind his neck. He was tired and sore. He wanted to sit here with Allandria, drink beer, take a hot bath, collapse into a soft, clean bed and feel her skin against his. The last thing he wanted was a fight. Not here.
They’d made it back to Haven. This was their territory, the new capital of Eidyn, the safest place in the kingdom—for what that was worth. He’d done enough fighting, enough killing. His shoulders ached and his back was stiff. He looked up at the darkening sky, spectacularly lit with pinks and oranges.
The wooden balcony of the Chain Pier Tavern jutted out over the main door along the front length of the building. Aranok had thought it an optimistic idea by the landlord, considering Eidyn’s usual weather, but there were about thirty patrons overlooking the main square with their beers, wines and whiskies.
Allandria looked at him from across the table, chin resting on her hand. He met her deep brown eyes, pleading with her to give him another option. She looked down at the boy arguing with the two thugs in front of the blacksmith’s forge, then back at him. She shrugged, resigned, and tied back her hair.
Aranok knocked back the last of his beer and clunked the empty tankard back on the table. As Allandria reached for her bow, he signalled to the serving girl.
“Two more.” He gestured to their drinks. “I’ll be back in a minute.”
The girl furrowed her brow, confused.
He stood abruptly to overcome the stiffness of his muscles. The chair clattered against the wooden deck, drawing some attention. Aranok was used to being eyed with suspicion, but it still rankled. If they knew what they owed him—owed both of them…
He leaned on the banister, feeling the splintered, weather-beaten wood under his palms; breathing in the smoky, sweaty smell of the bar. Funny how welcome those odours were; he’d been away for so long. With a sigh, Aranok twisted and turned his hands, making the necessary gestures, vaulted over the banister and said, “Gaoth.” Air burst from his palms, kicking up a cloud of dirt and cushioning his landing. Drinkers who had spilled out the front of the inn coughed, spluttered and raised hands in defence. A chorus of gasps and grumbles, but nobody dared complain. Instead, they watched.
Aranok breathed deeply, stretching his arms, steeling himself as he passed the newly constructed stone well—one of many, he assumed, since the population had probably doubled recently. A lot of eyes were on him now. Maybe that was a good thing. Maybe they needed to see this.
As he approached the forge, Aranok sized up his task. One of the men was big, carrying a large, well-used sword. A club hung from his belt, but he looked slow and cumbersome; more a butcher than a soldier. The other was sleek, though—wiry. There was something rat-like about him. He stood well-balanced on the balls of his feet, dagger twitching eagerly. A thief most likely. Released from prison and pressed into the king’s service? Surely not. Hells. Were they really this short of men? Was this what they’d bought with their blood?
“You’ve got the count of three to drop your weapons and move,” the fat one wheezed. “King’s orders.”
“Go to Hell!” The boy’s voice cracked. He backed a few steps toward the door. He couldn’t be more than fifteen, defending his father’s business with a pair of swords he’d probably made himself. His stance was clumsy, but he knew how to hold them. He’d had some training, if not any actual experience. Enough to make him think he could fight, not enough to win.
The rat rocked on his feet, the fingertips of his right hand frantically rubbing together. Any town guard could resolve this without blood. If it was just the fat one, he might manage it. But this man was dangerous.
Now or never.
“Can I help?” Aranok asked loudly enough for the whole square to hear.
All three swung to look at him. The thief’s eyes ran him up and down. Aranok watched him instinctively look for pockets, coin purses, weapons—assess how quickly Aranok would move. He trusted the rat would underestimate him.
“Back away, draoidh!” snarled the butcher. The runes inscribed in Aranok’s leather armour made it clear to anyone with even a passing awareness of magic what he was. Draoidh was generally spat as an insult, rarely welcoming. He understood the fear. People weren’t comfortable with someone who could do things they couldn’t. He only wore the armour when he knew it might be necessary. He couldn’t remember the last day he’d gone without it.
“This is king’s business. We’ve got a warrant,” grunted the big man.
“May I see it?” Aranok asked calmly.
“I said piss off.” He was getting tetchy now. Aranok began to wonder if he might have made things worse. It wouldn’t be the first time.
He took a gentle step toward the man, palms open in a gesture of peace.
The rat smiled a confident grin, showing him the curved blade as if it were a jewel for sale. Aranok smiled pleasantly back at him and gestured to the balcony. The thief’s face confirmed he was looking at the point of Allandria’s arrow.
“Shit,” the rat hissed. “Cargill. Cargill!”
“What?” Cargill barked grumpily back at him. The thief mimicked Aranok’s gesture and the fat man also looked up. He spun around to face Aranok, raising his sword—half in threat, half in defence. Nobody likes an arrow trained on them. The boy took another step back—probably unsure who was on his side, if anyone.
“You’ll swing for this,” Cargill growled. “We’ve got orders from the king. Confiscate the stock of any business that can’t pay taxes. The boy owes!”
“Surely his father owes?” Aranok asked.
“No, sir,” the boy said quietly. “Father’s dead. The war.”
Aranok felt the words in his chest. “Your mother?”
The boy shook his head. His lips trembled until he pressed them together.
Aranok had seen a lot of death. He’d held friends as they bled out, watching their eyes turn dark; he’d stumbled over their mangled bodies, fighting for his life. Sometimes they cried out, or whimpered as he passed—clinging desperately to the notion they could still see tomorrow.
Bile rose in his gullet. He turned back to Cargill. Now it was a fight.
“If you close his business, how do you propose he pays his taxes?” Aranok struggled to maintain an even tone.
“I don’t know,” the thug answered. “Ask the king.”
Aranok looked up the rocky crag toward Greytoun Castle. Rising out of the middle of Haven, it cast a shadow over half the town. “I will.”
There was a hiss of air and a thud to Aranok’s right. He turned to see an arrow embedded in the ground at the thief’s feet. He must have crept a little closer than Allandria liked. The rat was lucky she’d given him a warning shot. Many didn’t know she was there until they were dead. Eyes wide, he sidled back under the small canopy at the front of the forge.
Cargill fired into life, brandishing his sword high. “I’ll cut your fucking head off right now if you don’t walk away!” His bravado was fragile, though. He didn’t know what Aranok could do—what his draoidh skill was. Aranok enjoyed the thought that, if he did, he’d only be more scared.
“Allandria!” he called over his shoulder.
“This gentleman says he’s going to cut my head off.”
“Already?” She laughed. “We just got here.”
All eyes were on them now. The tavern was silent, the crowd an audience. People were flooding out into the square, drinks still in hand. Others stood in shop doors, careful not to stray too far from safety. Windows filled with shadows.
Cargill’s bravado disappeared in the half-light. “You… you’re… we’re on the same side!”
“Can’t say I’m on the side of stealing from orphans.” Aranok stared hard into his eyes. Fear had taken the man.
“We’ve got a warrant.” Cargill pulled a crumpled mess from his belt and waved it like a flag of surrender. Now he was keen to do the paperwork.
Perhaps they’d get out of this without a fight after all. Unusually, he was grateful for the embellishments of legend. He’d once heard a story about himself, in a Leet tavern, in which he killed three demons on his own. The downside was that every braggart and mercenary in the kingdom fancied a shot at him, which was why he tended to travel quietly—and anonymously. But now and again…
“How much does he owe?” Aranok asked.
“Eight crowns.” Cargill proffered the warrant in evidence. Aranok took it, glancing up to see where the rat had got to. He was too near the wall for Aranok’s liking. The boy was vulnerable.
“Out here,” Aranok ordered. “Now.”
“With that crazy bitch shooting at me?” he whined.
“Thül!” Cargill snapped.
Thül slunk back out into the open, watching the balcony. Sensible boy. Though if this went on much longer, Allandria might struggle to see clearly across the square. He needed to wrap it up.
The warrant was clear. The business owed eight crowns in unpaid taxes and was to be closed unless payment was made in full. Eight bloody crowns. Hardly a king’s ransom—except it was.
Aranok looked up at the boy. “What can you pay?”
“I’ve got three…” he answered.
“You’ve got three or you can pay three?”
“I’ve got three, sir.”
The boy shrugged.
“Why do you care?” Thül sneered. “Is he yours?”
Aranok closed the ground between them in two steps, grabbed the thief by the throat and squeezed—enough to hurt, not enough to suffocate him. He pulled the angular, dirty face toward his own. Rank breath escaping yellow teeth made Aranok recoil momentarily.
“Why do I care?” he growled.
The thief trembled. He’d definitely underestimated Aranok’s speed.
“I care because I’ve spent a year fighting to protect him. I care because I’ve watched others die to protect him.” He stabbed a finger toward the young blacksmith. “And his parents died protecting you, you piece of shit!”
There were smatterings of applause from somewhere. He released the rat, who dropped to his knees, dramatically gasping for air. Digging some coins out of his purse, Aranok turned to the boy.
“Here. Ten crowns as a deposit against future work for me. Deal?”
The boy looked at the coins, up at Aranok’s face and back down again. “Really?”
“You any good?”
“Yes, sir.” The boy nodded. “Did a lot of Father’s work. Ran the business since he went away.”
“How is business?”
“Slow,” the boy answered quietly.
Aranok nodded. “So do we have a deal?” He thrust his hand toward the boy again.
Nervously, the boy put down one sword and took the coins from Aranok’s hand, tentatively, as though they might burn. He put the other sword down to take two coins from the pile in his left hand, looking to Aranok for reassurance. He clearly didn’t like being defenceless. Aranok nodded. The boy turned to Cargill and slowly offered the hand with the bulk of the coins. Pleasingly, the thug looked to Aranok for approval. He nodded permission gravely. Cargill took the coins and gestured to Thül. They walked quickly back toward the castle, the thief looking up at Allandria as they passed underneath. She smiled and waved him off like an old friend.
Aranok clapped the boy on the shoulder and walked back toward the tavern, now very aware of being watched. It had cost him ten crowns to avoid a fight… and probably a lecture from the king. It was worth it. He really was tired. The crowd returned to life—most likely chattering in hushed tones about what they’d just seen. One man even offered a hand to shake as Aranok walked past; quite a gesture—to a draoidh. Aranok smiled and nodded politely but didn’t take the hand. He shouldn’t have to perform a grand, charitable act before people engaged with him.
The man looked surprised, smiled nervously and ran his hand through his hair, as if that had always been his intention.
Aranok felt a hand on his elbow. He turned to find the boy looking up at him, eyes glistening. “Thank you,” he said. “I… thank you.”
“What’s your name?” Aranok asked. He tried to look comforting, but he could feel the heavy dark bags under his eyes.
“Vastin,” the boy answered.
Aranok shook his hand.
“Congratulations, Vastin. You’re the official blacksmith to the king’s envoy.”
Aranok righted his chair and dramatically slumped down opposite Allandria. The idiot was playing up the grumpy misanthrope, because every eye on the top floor was watching him. He looked uncomfortable. Secretly, she was certain he enjoyed it.
Allandria raised an eyebrow. “Was that our drinking money, by any chance?”
“Some of it…” he answered, more wearily than necessary.
Despite his reluctance, Allandria knew part of him had enjoyed the confrontation—especially since it ended bloodless. The man loved a good argument, if not a good fight—particularly one where he outsmarted his opponent. Not that she’d had any desire to kill the two thugs, but she would have, to save the boy. It was better that Aranok had been able to talk them down and pay them off.
“You could have brought my arrow back,” she teased.
He looked down to where the arrow still stood, proudly embedded in the dirt. It was a powerful little memento of what had happened. Interesting that the boy had left it there too… maybe to remind people he had a new patron.
“Sorry.” He smiled. “Forgot.”
She returned the smile. “No you didn’t.”
“You missed, by the way.”
Allandria stuck out her tongue. “I couldn’t decide who I wanted to shoot more, the greasy little one or the big head in the fancy armour.” The infuriating bugger had an answer to everything. But for all his arrogance, she loved him. He’d looked better, certainly. The war had been kind to no one. His unkempt brown hair was flecked with grey now—even more so the straggly beard he’d grown in the wild. Leathery skin hid under a layer of road dust; green eyes were hooded and dark. But they still glinted with devilment when the two sparred.
“Excuse me…” The serving girl arrived with their drinks. She was a slight, blonde thing, hardly in her teens if Allandria guessed right. Were there any adults left? Aranok reached for his coin purse.
“No, sir.” The girl stopped him, nervously putting the drinks on the table. “Pa says your money’s no good here.”
Aranok looked up at Allandria, incredulous. When they’d come in, he wasn’t even certain they’d be served. Draoidhs sometimes weren’t. Innkeepers worried they would put off other customers. She’d seen it more than once.
Aranok tossed a coin on the table. “Thank you, but tell your pa he’ll get no special treatment from the king on my say-so, or anyone else’s.”
It was harsh to assume they were trying to curry favour with the king now they knew who he was. Allandria hoped that wasn’t it. She still had faith in people, in human kindness. She’d seen enough of it in the last year. Still, she understood his bitterness.
“No, sir,” the girl said. “Vastin’s my friend. His folks were good people. We need more people like you. Pa says so.”
“Doesn’t seem many places want people like me…”
“Hey…” Allandria frowned at him. He was punishing the girl for other people’s sins now. He looked back at her, his eyes tired, resentful. But he knew he was wrong.
“Way I see it”—the girl shifted from foot to foot, holding one elbow protectively in her other hand—“you’ve no need of a blacksmith. A fletcher, maybe”—she glanced at Allandria—“but not a blacksmith. So I want more people like you.”
Good for you, girl.
Allandria smiled at her. Aranok finally succumbed too.
“Thank you.” He picked up the coin and held it out to her. “What’s your name?”
“Amollari,” she said quietly.
“Take it for yourself, Amollari, if not for your pa. Take it as an apology from a grumpy old man.”
Grumpy was fair; old was harsh. He was barely forty—two years younger than Allandria.
Amollari lowered her head. “Pa’ll be angry.”
“I won’t tell him if you don’t,” said Aranok.
Tentatively, the girl took the coin, slipping it into an apron pocket. She gave a rough little curtsy with a low “thank you” and turned to clear the empty mugs from a table back inside the tavern.
The girl was right. Aranok carried no weapons and his armour was well beyond the abilities of any common blacksmith to replicate or repair. He probably had no idea what he’d use the boy for.
Allandria raised the mug to her lips and felt beer wash over her tongue. It tasted of home and comfort, of warm fires and restful sleep. It really was good to be here.
“Balls.” A crack resonated from Aranok’s neck as he tilted his head first one way, then the other.
“What?” Allandria leaned back in her chair.
“I really wanted a night off.”
“Isn’t that what we’re having?” She brandished her drink as evidence. “With our free beer?” She hoped the smile would cheer him. He was being pointlessly miserable.
Aranok rubbed his neck. “We have to see the king. He’s being an arsehole.”
A few ears pricked up at the nearest tables, but he hadn’t said it loudly.
“It can’t wait until tomorrow?” Allandria may have phrased it as a question, but she knew he’d be up all night thinking about it if they waited. “Of course it can’t,” she answered when he didn’t. “Shall we go then?”
“Let’s finish these first,” Aranok said, lifting his own mug.
“Well, rude not to, really.”
Her warm bed seemed a lot further away than it had a few minutes ago.
“Demon’s balls, woman, how are you still standing?” Glorbad’s orotund belly laugh echoed off the damp stone walls of the Anchor Inn.
Nirea slammed the glass back down on the bar, shook off the burning in her throat and stared triumphantly at the old soldier. He had the gut of a man used to drinking beer. He might be able to drink more than her tonight, but her leaner body would burn it off quicker and leave her feeling fine in the morning. She doubted he’d be able to say the same.
“Live at sea, drink rum,” she slurred. The floor lurched unpleasantly toward her. She leaned heavily on the dark wooden bar until the room went back to its natural shape.
“Whoa, there, Captain!” Glorbad was playing to the crowd. “Don’t spew on my new boots!”
He waggled his battered old leather footwear around for the others to see. They were filthy. There may even have been blood on them, but Nirea’s balance wouldn’t tolerate bending over for a better look. She was in no fit state for… anything. Getting this drunk hadn’t been the plan, but the soldier had a way of making you forget yourself—and a lot of the evening. They should have eaten.
“Shite,” she said, a little louder than she’d intended. “What if we’re summoned tonight? I can’t see the king in this state.”
“It’s past sunset,” the soldier answered. “All the king will want tonight is a bottle of wine and a good seeing to—and I’m not giving him either!”
Glorbad roared again and a number of others joined him.
“Seriously, though…” Nirea tried again. “We’re liaisons to the court now. Should we be more… sober?”
Glorbad put his drink on the bar and drew himself up to his full height. It wasn’t quite Nirea’s, but she was taller than average, and his bulk was mostly horizontal—the stocky chest and rounded belly making him look like a barrel in uniform.
“A year of war is over. The people we’ve lost… I’d rather drink to their memories than lament their deaths.”
A wave of ice swept through Nirea. They’d lost so many. The mood in the bar quickly turned sombre, until Glorbad smiled that infectious, disarming grin again, raising his cup in salute before draining the contents. But when he caught her eyes, the facade wavered, and she saw the same pain, the same horrors buried in shallow graves.
Glorbad waved his cup at the innkeeper and plonked it on the bar for a refill. “Mind that horde of Dead south of Leet?” His voice quiet now. This was not for the crowd.
“Aye.” Of course she remembered. She remembered everything. Every misshapen demon, every shambling corpse. “The bloody stench.”
Glorbad wrinkled his nose. “Fuck, don’t. I’ll lose my lunch.” The stink was the thing people didn’t expect. They’d recount the horror of a man with his guts dangling round his knees or a woman with her ribs split open like some gaping, demonic mouth, but they rarely talked about the absolute reek of decay that crept like fog with the Dead. Half a dozen soldiers emptied their guts before the fight began.
Their ranks seemed endless. Dragged from graves, some fresh from other battles—their own dead sent to wear them down. And how many soldiers survived the battle only to die of infection from filthy, rusted weapons, rotting flesh, or the thick black syrup of Dead blood?
And then they came back.
Another day; another field; another fight. The ones they lost, raised to come against them.
The fresh dead were the greatest danger. They moved faster, fought harder. The armour that failed them in life made them lethal in death. It had taken months to realise what needed done. Well, months to accept it.
Decapitating their own dead. Hacking their bodies beyond use. Preventing their fallen from being used against them. Burning them, when they had time. When it was safe. Whole fields aflame in the dying light, before demons came with the dark.
“Gershin was a good man.” Glorbad’s voice was morose now.
“Aye. Deserved better.” Her second had taken an axe in the neck at Leet. A good man. A good friend. She’d watched the life drain from him and then, screaming, crying, wailing, she’d finished the axe’s work. Watched the blood mat his thick grey beard.
She remembered too much. So she drank rum. “Fuck. We’re getting miserable again. Let’s not get miserable again.”
Glorbad supped from his newly filled cup and found a twinkle of a smile. “Aye. Fucking cheer up, ye miserable bitch.”
Nirea carved a smile on her face and slapped the old goat’s shoulder. “Barkeep! Barkeep! Food, for fuck’s sake. This idiot is trying to kill me!”
The noise of the huge oak doors swinging open echoed around the chamber. Aranok strode in as if he were the king. Allandria followed a few steps behind, nodding apologetically to the two kingsguards he’d completely ignored. She’d never been in Greytoun before. Having lived in Dun Eidyn for so long, she’d come to think of it as home, though her real home was on the other side of the country.
The throne room was longer than Dun Eidyn’s, with pillars stretching along both sides like a guard of honour. Ironic, since the real guards who would have populated the throne room in the kingdom’s traditional seat of power were absent. Only two stood either side of the throne at the far end of the room, silhouetted against the huge fireplace, which burned with the familiar smell of peat.
Eidyn’s colours hung above the hearth. This was the capital—for now.
King Janaeus looked up from the map on the table in front of him as Aranok approached. The soldier next to him swung round, hand on the pommel of his sword. Allandria didn’t recognise him. She hadn’t recognised anyone since they entered the castle, which made her wonder what had happened to all the kingsguards she knew. Janaeus placed a calming hand on the soldier’s arm and nodded. The man stepped back.
Aranok strode forward. “How are they supposed to pay taxes if you shut them all down?”
The king cocked a disapproving eyebrow. “Aranok. Welcome back. I see you’ve been to the tavern.”
“I have,” he answered. “Pleased to see it’s still open.”
Allandria winced. He was pushing his luck—but he had a lot of it here. Still, there were ears that ought not to hear their king addressed this way. Janaeus’s look changed from indulgence to irritation. He turned to the soldier.
“Give us the chamber.”
“Sire.” The man rolled up the map and backed out of the room, the pair of kingsguards following. One glowered at Aranok as he did—the
“The uncertainties of a traumatized society provide the thematic underpinning for The Lost War by Justin Lee Anderson. An eclectic cast of characters traverse a war-ravaged kingdom as Anderson's cleverly constructed plot winds its way towards a truly unexpected denouement. Rich in action and intrigue, this fantasy adventure with a Scottish flavor is sure to please fans of David Gemmell.”—Anthony Ryan, New York Times bestselling author
“Excellent - full of great characters, tense action scenes and truly surprising twists. A highly recommended read.”—James Islington, author of The Shadow of What was Lost
"Justin’s book reads like you’ve been dropped in the middle of a classic fantasy adventure, full of familiar elements twisted to be terrifying again - and then ramps up the tension to distract you from the sucker punch he’s been planning all along. Exquisite."—Gareth Hanrahan, author of The Sword Defiant
- "Enjoyable and high-energy."—Kirkus
- "The Lost War is full of exciting action, but the interpersonal relationships of the party are even more compelling. This tightly plotted magical odyssey, which was originally self-published, will be a hit with fans of grimdark fantasy like Joe Abercrombie’s Half a War or Nicholas Eames’ Kings of the Wyld"—Booklist
- "The classic adventure tale is made all the more enjoyable by the baffling mystery that simmers beneath the surface, and the stunning climax throws a wrench in all preconceived notions and stretches the bounds of imagination ... This exciting novel manifests as fierce and fresh epic fantasy with DnD undertones. Perfect for fans of Anthony Ryan."—Library Journal
“A fantastic read. A twist which is just magnificent. It’s an exceptional book and I can’t recommend it enough.”—Steve McHugh, author of The Last Raven
- "[A] gripping epic ... Anderson’s talent at crafting memorable characters will whet appetites for the sequel. Raymond Feist fans will be especially enthralled."—Publishers Weekly
- "A grand (and strangely surprising) adventure."—Paste Magazine
- “Strikingly intense … immersive and thoroughly compelling.”—SFX
- “Compelling and entertaining … inventive and fun.”—SciFiNow
- "A blistering tale packed with action and adventure."—Evening News
- On Sale
- May 16, 2023
- Page Count
- 528 pages