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Banner of the Damned by Sherwood Smith
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Banner of the Damned

by Sherwood Smith

Other authors: Matt Stawicki (Cover artist)

Series: Sartorias-deles (5)

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Showing 5 of 5
Wow, this was really good. I loved the gradual shift in perspective, and the world-building, and the characters. Will definitely look for other books in this series, and by Smith generally! ( )
  lquilter | Jul 4, 2017 |
After years of rigid self-control and endless training, Emras is chosen as Royal Scribe to the Princess Lasva. Lasva is beautiful and kind, the younger sister of Colend's queen and the presumed heir to its throne. The Colendi court is full of poetry, music, flirtations and dance. Generations ago Colend signed the Compact, which swore the country to have no weapons. In the Colendi court, hierarchy is determined through wit and beauty, not martial superiority. But when Lasva's sister finally bears a child, Lasva is no longer the heir or free to love who she pleases. Instead, a political match is sought for her. Prince Ivandred of the warlike barbarians of Malroven Hesea foils Lasva's kidnapping, and the physical attraction between them is so strong that they marry almost immediately. Lasva (with Emras and other handmaidens in tow) follows Ivandred to her new kingdom, where everything is about survival and physical might, and no one respects or understands the arts or the Colendi's desire for peace. While Lasva toils to gain respect and power in a homeland that discounts everything she prizes, Emras strives to learn magic to keep them all safe.

This is set generations after the Inda series, and it's sad to see what little survives of those characters' efforts. Inda has faded into legend, his tale generally known only through a book written by Elgar the Fox, his sometime ally. The reforms Inda made in the Academy have faded, leaving the Academy as damaging to its students as ever. Many of the places and titles in Malroven Hesea will be familiar to readers of Inda, but this book would still have made sense without reading that series. That said, this book definitely had a lot more power and resonance with me because I was looking for clues as to what had happened to everyone's ancestors and their plots.

There are two odd things about this book that I didn't like. One is that the first ~300 pages deal entirely with the personalities and court politics of Colend. It's told in a wonderfully detailed way. It drew me in to their way of thinking, until I could tell that someone accepting a particular pastry was an insult and I actually cared. But the second half is told in much broader strokes and with uneven pacing. The personalities of the Marloven court remain cyphers, their plots and love affairs rear their heads and then are dropped, to be replaced with some other plot that Emras is equally confused by. Several times, ten years pass in a single sentence. This means that the epic battles against foes beyond time and the magic, all of which take place in the second half of the book, are given far less attention and time than who wore what ribbons in the first half of the book, which seems to me a poor choice. I felt like Smith got bored with the second half and rushed through it. And although I appreciated the contrast between the vicious emotional backstabbing in Colend and the physical wars in Marloven Hesea, the many characters and customs of Colend never become important to the plot after Lasva leaves the court. I don't know why so much time was spent introducing Carola as a villain, or Lasva's fan training, if none of it ever influenced the plot. I really wish the second half of the book had been split off into its own book, or even developed into several books, because there was enough plot there to fuel it, and I would have appreciated more characterization and detail for the Marlovens.

The other difficulty I had was with the lack of affect. Emras is very intellectual and often closes herself off for days or even months at a time to pursue her studies. The section where she discovers that she has been manipulated by a Norsundrian and is using magic in an evil way was powerful and a fascinating twist on fantasy tropes. But most of the time, the driving action is done by Lasva or Ivandred, and I don't feel like I really had a good idea of what was going on inside their heads, especially Ivandred. And since there's this whole big ending in which Lasva is Guinevere, Ivandred is Arthur, and Kaidas returns for no apparent reason to be Lancelot, I really wanted to be inside their heads and know what their frustrations and loves were. As it was, it was very hard to take anyone's love affairs seriously, or feel that it was Epic and Doomed.

I think I hold Smith to too high of a standard, because her books are so ambitious and innovative, while still satisfying my childish hopes for fantasy. Her characters deal with (fantasy) racial stereotypes, cultural customs, sexuality, how to be pacifistic without being submissive, how to raise children in blended families...Her magic systems are both fantastical (worlds beyond time!) and practical (cleaning spells, message spells). Her characters relate to each other in all manner of ways, from friendship to distant respect to lust to platonic love. The world began in the Inda series is a fascinating one, and one I hope she continues writing in. I just wish she'd give herself a little more time and space to properly explore all the characters and plots she introduces. ( )
  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
(n.b.: I read partial drafts of the novel, so I'm not an unbiased reviewer)

Banner of the Damned is a cunning novel that leads you to believe it’s doing one thing (and indeed, it is ) and then another (which it is too), and then, suddenly, you turn around, and you realize it’s also doing a third thing. At that point you’re reeling from Sherwood Smith’s storytelling skills.

So what is the third thing? Let me answer a question with a question: Have you ever wondered about the motivations of an evil mage, working for the benefit of an evil king? Many fantasy stories don’t let you ask the question. The king’s just evil, that’s all---or if a reason must be given, it’s something like, “He wants to rule the world, you see. He’s power mad.” And the mage is just his minion---probably wanting the scraps of power that fall off the king’s plate. Or else it’s the mage who’s in control, and the king is just a puppet. In either case, both are mere villains, complete with sinister laughs. Banner of the Damned is not that kind of story.

Structurally, the book falls into two parts. The first is set in the country of Colend, where elegance, refinement, and grace are prized, where unspoken messages are transmitted by the angle at which a fan is held and stepping on someone’s shadow is a rudeness. This part covers the coming of age of the narrator, Emras, a young woman who becomes the personal scribe of the stunningly beautiful and intelligent Princess Lasva. The pleasure in this part is in getting to know the people in Emras’s life in intimate detail—her cousin Tiflis, her friend Birdy, Princess Lasva’s sister, the old queen Hatahra, Lasva’s ambitious rival Carola, and the dashing but impoverished nobleman Kaidas. It's also in becoming immersed in Colendi culture: the court slang, the changing fashions, which neighboring countries are admired (Sartor), and which ones are despised (Chwahirsland)—so immersed, in fact, that you’ll find yourself thinking in its terms. And that's what this part of the novel is doing: immersing you in the world, familiarizing you with it, getting you to think and feel like Emras and those around her.


It’s not all frivolity at the court of Colend, however: political machinations are always going on, and real threats exist. The birth of an heir to Queen Hatahra leads to heartbreak for Lasva—which the charismatic Prince Ivandred, newly arrived from distant Marloven Hesea can relieve, if not erase.

The second part of Banner of the Damned takes place in Marloven Hesea, a land as different from Colend as iron from silk. Emras accompanies Lasva—now married to Ivandred—to Marloven Hesea, where political threats are issued and rebuffed with swords and arrows, not words, and where, furthermore, it is rumored that an evil magical threat may lurk. This half of the story has wonderful depictions of clashes of culture and painfully accurate depictions of the difficulty of communication across those barriers (and other, personal barriers), but overall it’s much more concerned with Emras’s increasing involvement—and skill—in magic and her tackling of hard questions of right and wrong, temptation and justification. This part of the novel is doing life-and-death danger, excitement, fear and hope. And then that third thing. Emras has been enjoined to look out for an evil mage. That mage is uncovered, eventually, and both is and isn't whom you expect.


This is a long book that doesn’t feel long: you nestle right into it and live it along with the characters. Those who love thorough, three-dimensional worldbuilding, wonderful characters and relationships, romance and deadly danger, and big questions thoughtfully addressed mustn’t miss it.
( )
  FrancescaForrest | May 12, 2014 |
(n.b.: I read partial drafts of the novel, so I'm not an unbiased reviewer)

Banner of the Damned is a cunning novel that leads you to believe it’s doing one thing (and indeed, it is ) and then another (which it is too), and then, suddenly, you turn around, and you realize it’s also doing a third thing. At that point you’re reeling from Sherwood Smith’s storytelling skills.

So what is the third thing? Let me answer a question with a question: Have you ever wondered about the motivations of an evil mage, working for the benefit of an evil king? Many fantasy stories don’t let you ask the question. The king’s just evil, that’s all---or if a reason must be given, it’s something like, “He wants to rule the world, you see. He’s power mad.” And the mage is just his minion---probably wanting the scraps of power that fall off the king’s plate. Or else it’s the mage who’s in control, and the king is just a puppet. In either case, both are mere villains, complete with sinister laughs. Banner of the Damned is not that kind of story.

Structurally, the book falls into two parts. The first is set in the country of Colend, where elegance, refinement, and grace are prized, where unspoken messages are transmitted by the angle at which a fan is held and stepping on someone’s shadow is a rudeness. This part covers the coming of age of the narrator, Emras, a young woman who becomes the personal scribe of the stunningly beautiful and intelligent Princess Lasva. The pleasure in this part is in getting to know the people in Emras’s life in intimate detail—her cousin Tiflis, her friend Birdy, Princess Lasva’s sister, the old queen Hatahra, Lasva’s ambitious rival Carola, and the dashing but impoverished nobleman Kaidas. It's also in becoming immersed in Colendi culture: the court slang, the changing fashions, which neighboring countries are admired (Sartor), and which ones are despised (Chwahirsland)—so immersed, in fact, that you’ll find yourself thinking in its terms. And that's what this part of the novel is doing: immersing you in the world, familiarizing you with it, getting you to think and feel like Emras and those around her.


It’s not all frivolity at the court of Colend, however: political machinations are always going on, and real threats exist. The birth of an heir to Queen Hatahra leads to heartbreak for Lasva—which the charismatic Prince Ivandred, newly arrived from distant Marloven Hesea can relieve, if not erase.

The second part of Banner of the Damned takes place in Marloven Hesea, a land as different from Colend as iron from silk. Emras accompanies Lasva—now married to Ivandred—to Marloven Hesea, where political threats are issued and rebuffed with swords and arrows, not words, and where, furthermore, it is rumored that an evil magical threat may lurk. This half of the story has wonderful depictions of clashes of culture and painfully accurate depictions of the difficulty of communication across those barriers (and other, personal barriers), but overall it’s much more concerned with Emras’s increasing involvement—and skill—in magic and her tackling of hard questions of right and wrong, temptation and justification. This part of the novel is doing life-and-death danger, excitement, fear and hope. And then that third thing. Emras has been enjoined to look out for an evil mage. That mage is uncovered, eventually, and both is and isn't whom you expect.


This is a long book that doesn’t feel long: you nestle right into it and live it along with the characters. Those who love thorough, three-dimensional worldbuilding, wonderful characters and relationships, romance and deadly danger, and big questions thoughtfully addressed mustn’t miss it.
( )
  FrancescaForrest | May 12, 2014 |
A stand-alone novel, set some 400 years after the Inda series. Set first in Colendi, then in Marloven Hesea (the renamed remains of Iasca Leror, which in another 400 years will be Marloven Hess), this is a first-person account by Emras, trained as a scribe, who is writing this for her judges. Emras is an appealing character, a classic scholar who finds herself in the middle of momentous events.

I did figure out (more or less) what was going on by about the halfway point. That just added to the dread caused by knowing who Ivandred was and what he would be remembered for. I think this would work for a new reader, but it would be a different book without the background (in both directions, Inda and later). ( )
  readinggeek451 | Apr 11, 2012 |
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Stawicki, MattCover artistsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0756406773, Hardcover)

Princess Lasva is about to be named heir to her childless sister, the queen. But, when the queen finally bears an heir, Lasva's future is shattered. Grief-stricken, she leaves her country of Colend and falls into the arms of Prince Ivandred of Marloven Hesea. His people are utterly different-with their expertise in riding, weaponry, and magic- and the two soon marry.

When the sensational news makes its way to Lasva's sister, the queen worries for Lasva at the hands of the Marlovens, whose king's mage is in league with the magical land of Norsunder-considered by Colendi to be their enemy. The queen orders Emras, a scribe, to guard Lasva.

But it may be too late-Lasva is already deeply involved with the Marlovens and their magic. War wages on, and all are forced to redefine love, loyalty, and power...

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:58 -0400)

Princess Lasva falls into the arms of Prince Ivandred of Marloven Hesea, sparking a war fueled by a mage in league with the magical land of Norsunder--considered by Lasva's people the Colendi to be their enemy.

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