Before I dive into a relatively detailed review I'd just like to mention one thing that I've noticed a few authors doing and which irritates me somewhat. That being writing a story set in a world loosely based on the Renaissance and yet failing to account for the monumental changes that caused and were caused by the Renaissance in our own world. In the case of the Tattered Banner the most glaring example of these is military in nature. Specifically the fact that barring the leather wearing barbarians there are no descriptions of any soldiers or duelists wearing any armour at all. Indeed towards the end when an army is moving off he refers purely to their uniform tunics, meaning for the reader there is nothing to imagine but an army more in common with a later Early Modern force (1650-1700) than one from the Renaissance itself. Why is this a problem? Because there is no gunpowder. Gunpowder was what started to make armour obsolete due to its ability to punch through chainmail with ease and even pierce plate at a close enough distance. Even with gunpowder, more specifically muskets, it still took hundreds of years for armour to disappear almost completely, and in a world without gunpowder there is little to no practical reason for the soldiers described in the book not to be wearing armour of varying sorts, from heavy cavalry decked in plate and chain to infantry with breastplates and brigantine. Indeed even if this was a world with gunpowder you would still have a fair amount of armour present, from the helmets and breastplates of the first few ranks of the pikemen to the armour of the heavy cavalry who would still be providing the shock of the charge for a few decades before the caracole came into fashion. So yes, in my opinion it's a silly oversight that detracts from the believability of the world and thus my immersion in it.
Onto the review itself. The story is ok, but suffers from what I think are a few noticeable flaws which I'll list not. If, for whatever reason, the author happens to read this review please take this as constructive criticism and not an attack on your ability. No doubt you've grown as a writer since this novel so it may be that the points I'm about to make have been rectified.
1. Things move too quickly. Some novels luxuriate in their plot, spending chapters on the growth and development of the characters and the world around them. The Tattered Banner does not dwell, but rather skips along at breakneck pace, managing to cover three years in a little over 350 pages. Now moving fast isn't always a problem, thrillers do this as a matter of course after all. The problem is that when laying out a new world with new characters and new potentially complicated motivations moving too quickly can lead to metaphorical whiplash for the reader. It also creates problems that transfer into the second point...
2. There isn't enough focus or detail. If you asked me to describe any of the major characters I'd be hard pressed to do so. If you asked me to describe the main characters time in the academy I would be able to sum it up in a sentence or two. His love interest is his love interest... well just because. The city where most of the plot is set... is a city. As I said above the plot moves forward at breakneck speed, and what suffers is that there is never enough time to really get to know the characters, never enough time spent exploring the nooks and crannies of the city, never enough time spent just inserting incidental details about the world in which they live. I suppose the best way to describe it would be to compare and contrast this story with the Lies of Locke Lamora, which takes it's time and uses that added space to effectively characterise both the people and the city and world in which both reside.
3. The main character is dull. He is great with a sword... has a magical gift... and those are his defining character traits. He comes from the streets... but within the first hundred pages that is no longer a problem. Apparently his accent magically changed so he would fit in with his peers and others, because after a short while the fact that he was an orphan who had to beg and steal to survive is never once brought up by anyone but the main character.
Part of the problem, I suppose is that he's never given any true agency, he almost always acts on orders from someone else and never really questions why he's doing it or what he really wants from life outside from things he's already doing. There's also little to no conflict within him, he never has to struggle with adversity that might force him to confront himself and start acting to influence things that are happening. Though perhaps that will change in the second book.
So, yeah. This is not the greatest work of fiction ever written. Though it is an enjoyable enough read all things told. Good to switch off to at the end of the day, and hopefully part of a series that will improve as the writer has hopefully found their feet a bit more.
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Soren is eighteen, trying to survive on the streets, when a theft gone wrong results in a street fight and a passing swordsman recognises some talent in him. He is taken to the Academy to learn to wield a rapier and be a gentleman. The early chapters are the usual street-boy-goes-to-posh-school affair, but fortunately Soren has the intelligence to keep his nose clean, so he's not constantly getting into trouble. He also turns out to be something of a fighting phenomenon, not an unusual theme in fantasy, but nicely intriguing here. Is his ability a natural talent, or some kind of magic?
Fortunately, the author avoids getting too entrenched in schoolroom dramas and Soren is soon out and about wielding his rapier and discovering the extent of his extraordinary gift. These early battles are beautifully described, the highpoint of the book for me, and I loved every moment of each one (especially the belek). The romantic entanglement is slightly more clunky, but that fits with Soren's rather self-effacing nature. The background scenery is lightly sketched, with more emphasis on architecture than geography, but it works fine, and the deep history - of empires and mage wars and other intriguing events - is no more than hints. I found it interesting that Ostia (Soren's country) has outlawed magic, but still makes use of mage lights, while the barbarians still practice magic.
Soren is a likeable protagonist, making (mostly) sensible decisions. I liked his response to a trick played on him by a fellow student. His friends tell him his honour has been impugned and he must challenge the trickster to a duel, but Soren is reluctant; he is far more concerned with trying not to break the rules of the Academy and thereby get himself thrown out. Unlike his rich, titled friends, he is more focused on making a career for himself than on abstract concepts like honour, and he never forgets his origins. He seems to adapt surprisingly well to a life of protocol and diplomacy, but he's clearly a smart cookie, so I can go along with that (and frankly, a socially inept character would be pretty tedious - I wanted Soren to succeed, not trip over his own feet). It has to be said, though, that he's very gullible - although to be fair, it fits with his personality and previous life, since he's too grateful for his reprieve from the streets to question things, and he has no understanding of political nuances.
The writing style is enjoyably literate, if rather wordy, but it works very well for a story like this, built around formality and protocol. The author has a habit of dumping information occasionally, but it's small scale stuff and not obtrusive. There is some untidiness, repetition and excessive exposition, and the author might care to look up the difference between `discrete' and `discreet'. The latter part of the book becomes a little episodic and the fights rather perfunctory, but Soren's investigations into his abilities were still intriguing. The big reveal at the end is hardly a surprise, and the ending somewhat glib, but these are minor issues.
I really enjoyed this book and found it seductively easy to keep turning the pages - that just-one-more-chapter syndrome. It's the first time I've read a story focused on the rapier as the weapon of choice, and I found it a refreshing change from the more usual broadswords and bows. I would have liked to know more about Soren's abilities and the mage wars, but perhaps that will come in a later book. This is a somewhat flawed effort in many ways - the choppy ending, the not-quite-convincing romance and the sometimes too wordy style - but I found it a great read. A good four stars. And the belek was awesome.
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After reading the blurb you're probably thinking this is your standard fantasy book in which the hero goes through the usual dramas of school, and you wouldn't necessarily be wrong with this one, as there are the usual cliches, but not as expansive as you might think.
The story is based on a young man called Soren. At the start of the book he's a homeless street urchin, who relies on stealing to live. Soren is quick, agile and has a natural affinity to sword fighting. His raw talent with a sword is spotted by an influential nobleman and sponsors him to go to a special academy, which trains young men to become capable swordsmen.
As main characters go, I liked Soren. He wasn't your typical hero in that he had indomitable sense of justice, and he wasn't an anti-hero either. He was just himself and made good and bad decisions.
The story moved from arc to arc at a quick pace. Perhaps, a little too fast for my preference, as I felt that there wasn't enough depth in the storyline for me to digest. The author introduced some heavy topics into the book, but due to the blistering pace of the book it didn't really evoke any critical emotions in me and it felt like just words on a page.
The book is told throughout in Soren POV and whilst it did help in developing his character, it left the other characters sitting on the fence. The result was that the secondary characters felt... well, secondary and I felt indifferent to whether or not they lived.
One last positive...
I liked the fact that the author didn't spend the whole book on the monotonous day to day routines of school and drama associated with it.
One last negative...
The beginning of the book felt a bit stilted. Some of the sentences were awkward to read and didn't flow well. However, as the book progressed, the writing improved remarkably and it was a clear case of the author growing in confidence.
An enjoyable book with a very likeable character in Soren. He was the type of main character that I like to read - pragmatic and intelligent.
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Not a bad series of books at all, not great but certainly good. Over the past few week I've read all of Duncan M Hamilton's works and like the fact that they're all in the same 'universe'. There's plenty of sword play and a little bit of magic but not enough to spoil it if that's not your thing. I would say that a few of the books seem to have a slightly rushed ending which is a bit of a shame but all are worth reading.
I don't know about you but every now and then I crave a slab of enjoyable fantasy romp, and The Tattered Banner fits neatly into that particular niche.
It's a tale of a beggar-boy making good in a high-society school where dueling ability is prized above all other things. It reels out all the beautiful women, teenage drama and arrogant aristocratic bullies you would expect to feature, as well as a chunk of magical intrigue over the (inevitable) miraculous fighting abilities of our plucky young protagonist.
The story inevitably spills out of the schoolyard, however, and into a wider fantasy world that is - if a little generic - at least believable and well-realised. The fight scenes remain as sharp as out hero's rapier and keep the pages turning, but after a while it feels like they're the only reason the book exists. Key scenes fly fast in a blur until someone whips out a sword and the focus returns.
Still, I didn't come here for War & Peace and I expect neither did you. The characters are likable (except those that aren't meant to be) and the action is more than enough to liven up your morning commute.
One of the best fantasy books of the year? Maybe not.
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