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The Finnish edition of The Year of Our War has been shortlisted for the Tähtifantasia award, for best translated fantasy book published in Finnish last year.
The award is given by the Helsinki Science Fiction Society and decided by a panel of experts. This is what they had to say about Kuolemattomien Kaarti: 'An original, genre blending novel that doesn’t shy away from the brutal'.
Kuolemattomien Kaarti is published by Like.
It was reviewed in the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, available online here and in translation below. Thank you very much to Sini Neuvonen for translating it for us:
Steph Swainston writes fantasy directed at adult readers.
Fantasy series translated into Finnish have long been dominated by Harry Potter-oriented children's books and YA adventures based on JRR Tolkien. Despite some starting points, Steph Swainston's first novel is in a completely different league. The Year of Our War is an ambitious book, meant for adults.
An unconventionally built book deals with human weakness, brutality of power games and cruelty of war. The viewpoint character, winged Jant Shira, is an egoistic freak who is addicted to scolopendium drug. Descendant of two humanoid races, he is the only one in the world able to fly. Due to this skill, he has made it as the messenger of the emperor ruling the Fourlands.
Jant, who is heavily indebted and constantly thinking about the next shot, is not the most reliable messenger. On the other hand, he is ready to do heroic sacrifices for his friends and his homeland. There is a need for heroic deeds, as the Fourlands is at war against Insects. These Insects, who look like a pony-sized cross between crabs and beetles, trickle in swarms of thousands to the Fourlands' populated areas, destroying everything in their path. Insects represent something absolutely alien. They are an instinctively-behaving force of nature, which cannot be connected to concepts such as good or evil.
In this complicated situation, the characters of the book fall into mutual disputes, which are fueled by sexual lust, addictions, pursuit of immortality and lust for power. These weaknesses and character faults - which make us human - offer Insects an opportunity to win the battle for habitat. And Swainston does not spare details when she describes armies who are crushed in the jointed and barbed claws and saw-toothed jaws.
Swainston's creation examines the laws of this peculiar society in an edged way. The Emperor has ruled the Fourlands like a substitute for god for two thousand years. With his immortal elite he has maintained an atmosphere of stagnation. Fencing and archery skills are honed to the maximum, but firearms have not been invented. Arts have developed freely, as from the emperor's narrow perspective, they are nothing more than trivial amusement. A medieval world is mixed subtly with jeans, printed t-shirts and newspapers' page three photographs. The impression this creates is intriguing, at the same time both familiar and confusing.
Besides the different humanoid races, the most unusual feature of the Year of Our War is the Shift. It is up to the reader to decide whether it is a genuine parallel reality or merely delirium caused by the drug Jant has taken. When Jant overdoses with scolopendium he ends up in the world of the Shift. It is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll's classic Wonderland - spiced up with Dante's Hell. Square-spotted jeopards wander in the bustle of Epsilon's market square. Ebony skinned fruiting bodies, problemmings rising to the skies from ledges of cliffs and market analysts of the Triskele company celebrate in Sliverkey palace. Swainston has written a rich and an engaging novel.
The Year of Our War also shows a different way of looking at history. Even the most demanding ordeal finally becomes no more than a memory among others to a man living for hundreds of years.
by Toni Jerrman