THE BITTER CROWN by Justin Lee Anderson (BOOK REVIEW)
The Bitter Crown is the sequel to Justin Lee Anderson’s The Lost War, and the second book in his Eidyn Saga.
This review will contain spoilers for The Lost War, and they’ll be major, so absolutely read that first if you haven’t already.
“We didn’t know it for a while. But the war was always there. It never ended. It just changed.”
The Lost War of course ended on that Plot Twist of all plots twists and I’d had a good long while of wondering what the hell was going to happen next. I was so relieved when The Bitter Crown picked the story right back, Aranok barely even breaks his stride. There’s a handy little guide at the start to refresh memories on what happened in the first book, which, considering how intricate the story is, was a great idea. As I’d only just re-read The Lost War, I skipped it, but it’s set as a little story within itself , which I thought a nice touch. As I said, I’d re-read the first book, and by the end of it you’re so deeply into the story and the momentum; Anderson manages to keep that feeling going at the start of The Bitter Crown and the transition is seamless.
Everything we thought we knew about this country has been flipped on its head, and now we need to know how Aranok is going to fix it. He needs to set about correcting peoples memories, re-establish Mynygogg on his throne, deal with Janaeus and the other members of the Hellfire Club, repair relations between Eidyn and the Reivers, prevent the Thakati from murdering them all, and cure the Blackening. It’s quite the to-do list, isn’t it. All this whilst also having to deal with the fact that his one rock in the world that keeps him anchored and steady, his love for Allandria, has been utterly shattered and left him unmoored when he discovers this was a part of Janaeus’ construct.
It’s difficult not to feel for Aranok at this point fair play.
As always with my reviews, I try to keep them spoiler free, for the book in particular if not for the series, so I’m going to try and skirt around the plot as much as I can. Because rest assured, Anderson didn’t rest on his laurels for this sequel.
I found it something of a book of two halves. I fairly raced through first half, as our group attempts to gather back together to recoup and re-plan. There’s a lot of action which keeps you burning through the pages. The group must split up once more to tackle different issues from different angles, but it’s not long until things begin to ravel apart… with pretty dire consequences. Everyone is on the back foot coming out from having their memories restored; they’re trying to rediscover themselves, and as a result, there are of course clashes in opinion. Some very… interesting… decisions are made, which sends the team down a whole different and unexpected path.
It’s at this point the tone of the book seemed to shift, but not unnaturally so. Anderson gives his characters something a breather whilst political implications are explored. Both books have of course been very political thus far, there are strong themes of inequality and the inherent issues surrounding social hierarchies, and the consequences and fall-out of war, regardless of seemingly noble its cause. But the second half of The Bitter Crown really dives deeper into these themes and how they affect individuals. Cracks emerge in the group, and it’s a very strong exploration of the characters’ morals and their senses of justice. There are no right or wrong answers at times like these, and it was fascinating to see their convictions, to see the various sides of the issue. I found myself equally frustrated by and considering of each character, which I think takes huge skill to convey. The notion of whether it’s right to take one life to save many, and who should have the authority or right to make that decision. The notion of evil, and how justified acts can be if driven to them; does evil beget evil, are some things forgivable or at least understandable in the face of the injustices that led to those decisions. And finally the manifold ramifications of “doing the right thing” when matters are not so clearly right or wrong.
All in all, Anderson has written a belter of a sequel which does not disappoint. This series is taking the traditions of epic sword and sorcery fantasy and forging them into a whole new and, more importantly, relevant direction.
The Bitter Crown is available now, you can pick up your copy from Bookshop.org