The Tattered Banner by Duncan M. Hamilton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
[DISCLAIMER: I RECEIVED AN E-COPY OF THIS BOOK FROM THE AUTHOR IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW]
**There are some spoilery parts in this review**
The Tattered Banner is an almost-book. It almost gets deep into magic, almost has action and adventure, and almost has a conclusion. Instead it felt like the author was trying to tackle too many concepts at once, and they didn't quite connect in the right way. There's a sweet spot that authors try to hit, where everything works and the story comes together; this almost made it.
Soren is a poor street urchin who barely gets by day to day. He doesn't expect to live past his teens, but he still struggles on, all the while enjoying watching his hero, Amero, fight in the arenas. He practices his swordfighting by emulating Amero, and after Amero sees Soren fighting off a merchant from whom he'd stolen bread, Amero takes Soren into his service and sets him up at the swordfighting academy.
At first Soren is an outcast, and poor at his craft, but he learns and grows in his studies and soon bests all of his classmates. He has magic to thank for all of his talent, but magic has been outlawed for centuries. No one gives him information so he just bumbles around blindly, bit by bit learning a little more about his "powers." The Gift and the Moment are both explained in different ways, but the Gift is the most prevalent apparition.
On top of all of that, he falls in love, visits distant lands, is betrayed, and ends up not really having a path in life to follow. His directionless ambling through life has not prepared him for a career, and he seems unready for just about every challenge put in front of him, despite his Gift. His arrogance gets the best of him, and he realizes he can't control the one thing that gives him an advantage against others.
The time spent in Ruripathia becomes almost an afterthought once it's over, which is a shame because if Soren had spent more time reflecting on what happened there he may have discovered the direction in which he was heading sooner. He also ignores a lot of warning signs around himself and often gets himself into trouble with his irrational charging-in.
The ending of the novel was a stock villain-explains-all-while-believing-hero-will-die scenario, which kind of left me rolling my eyes, mostly as it had already been inferred throughout the rest of the book and revealing everything in a dramatic monologue defeats the purpose of foreshadowing.
While it seemed more like a series of vignettes in the life of a swordsman, the concept was well thought-out and could have been made more solid with a lot more exploration of the magic aspect, as well as the relationship with Ruripathia. The barbarian raids towards the middle-end of the book seem to not have done anything for the story except to propel Soren into a position of desirability for clandestine work. This could easily have been achieved, possibly better, by turning him into an assassin-for-hire as he had initially worked out with the illicit trader, as opposed to for the "government." Then again, I'm not the author - perhaps the barbarian hordes did serve a purpose, but they needed to be worked out a little more.
Overall I enjoyed the story, found it hard to keep track of some names, and felt that not enough detail was used with many aspects of Soren's abilities. It appears that this is only book 1, though, unless the ending truly was an ending, so maybe there will be opportunity for expansion in book 2. Recommended with reservations, if you can get past some missing details and recognize a good attempt at a first novel. It shows promise for future writings if any are forthcoming.
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