The Battle That Was Lost is the latest book in Michael S. Jackson’s Ringlander series.
A 50ish page novella, this entry details a battle that has significant ramifications for the narrative of Jackson’s full-length fantasy novel, Ringlander: The Path and the Way.
On the surface of it, how interesting could a novella about a battle be? Swords presumably clash, armour is rent, and people die. Par for the course. And let’s be honest – the most memorable parts of fantasy fiction tend to be the character moments and world-building.
Fear not, dear reader. The Battle That Was Lost strikes a good balance between character and world-building elements. The frenetic fighting is punctuated with flashbacks that help steady the pace of the writing, giving the story both time and space to breathe.
This is another impressive outing from Jackson, and well worth your time if you’re into fantasy fiction.
Discontent is brewing in the world of Rengas.
The occupying Bohr faction faces a rebellion in the form of the native Tsiorc, led by Tactician Laeb. And whilst this civil war plays out in more detail in Jackson’s full-length novel, The Battle That Was Lost instead focuses on the smaller, but nonetheless important frontier of Drakemyre.
Thugs for hire, Qor and Staegrim – the latter a proud bastard – prowl the outskirts of the battle, moving between the lines of troops in pursuit of their target for assassination.
The banter between the two is a winning formula; it’s authentic and genuinely amusing.
They share an unconventional relationship; friendly, but wildly antagonistic. Each exchange is tense, yet amusing – it’s a compelling paradox that keeps the reader involved in the narrative, and it’s this relationship that forms the heart of The Battle That Was Lost.
But there’s plenty more at stake here than the result of a single pitched battle. After all, this is a world of political intrigue, supernatural forces, and tactical minds. This confrontation between the Tsiorc rebels and the Bohr could determine the future of the continent.
The Art of the Novella
The publishing industry is not short of fantasy novels.
People are constantly on the lookout for the next The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, and because of this, fantasy novels tend to be fairly lengthy in an attempt to replicate the epic scope of the genre’s more iconic titles – whether they justify the length or not.
The novella is therefore a brilliant medium for readers to enjoy the genre. It’s a challenging style that forces an author to be clinical with their prose, including only the best of their writing.
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And in a world where some fantasy authors simply want to write 7-book epics, it’s refreshing to see a writer embrace the short form for a change.
Jackson’s a good writer too, and this novella is no exception. It’s witty, amusingly crude in parts, and tells a good story in a concise manner.
It’s an accessible means of introducing new readers to a larger world, allowing them to dip into a mythos without the need to commit their time and patience to a larger novel. Plus, The Battle That Was Lost also includes the first three chapters of Ringlander, Jackson’s full-length novel, to give the reader a taste of what’s to come.
From the author’s point of view, it’s great marketing for their larger novels. From the reader’s point of view, they get a shorter, more concise snapshot of what to expect from the author’s larger books, as well as their writing style.
Flashbacks to the Future
Flashbacks have a sketchy reputation in fiction, both on-screen and in books. And for good reason.
Too often, they interrupt the pacing of narratives, risking the alienation of a viewer or reader who is thrust into a time or space they don’t immediately recognise. If the flashback doesn’t add to the present narrative, either plot-wise or thematically, it can be jarring.
Fortunately, this isn’t the case in The Battle that was Lost. Jackson uses the technique in a really smart way, with each flashback foreshadowing future events whilst creating a sub-narrative of its own. These are equally compelling as the battle, helping to switch up the full-tilt pace of the titular battle.
The flashbacks make this novella far stronger, and also serve as a window into the events of Ringlander: The Path and the Way.
The Battle That Was Lost is another solid entry into Jackson’s expanding world. It’s an approachable novella that reconnects readers already familiar with the world of Ringlander, whilst serving as a solid entry point for new readers.
It’s witty, features some brilliant battle sequences, and fleshes out the existing lore in a really satisfying way. The inclusion of maps is also a brilliant addition – every fantasy author should do this. It’s a great way to situate the events of the book, whilst still encouraging the reader to use their imagination.
Sure, it won’t change the minds of readers who don’t enjoy fantasy, but for those who do, The Battle That Was Lost – plus its full-fat sibling Ringlander – offers readers a compelling world, a strong narrative, and a bevy of unique characters.
Full disclaimer: A review copy was kindly provided by the author and publisher in exchange for an honest review.