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Banner of the Damned    by Sherwood Smith order for
Banner of the Damned
by Sherwood Smith
Order:  USA  Can
Daw, 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I've long enjoyed Sherwood Smith's writing, from her excellent YA series to her brilliant Inda fantasy quartet (which in many ways reminds me of Elizabeth Moon's Legend of Paksenarrion). Now, Banner of the Damned opens another series set in Inda's complex world but much later in time, when Inda is himself a legend. It tells the tale of Emras, trained as a scribe, but destined to play a very different - and more active role - in her world's affairs.

Emras grows up in the sophisticated kingdom of Colend, where she is trained as a scribe and learns to follow her order's three rules - 'Do not interfere'; 'Keep the Peace'; and 'Tell the truth as we see it'. She tells her own story, retrospectively to her judges. Of what crime is she accused? We must read to the end to find out. A fellow scribe, Birdy, is her friend - and would like to be more. When her training is complete, Emras is chosen to be a royal scribe - to the genuine and charming Princess Lasva; they become friends.

There's a love triangle, involving Princess Lasva, Lord Kaidas Lassiter (heir to a ruined barony) and the manipulative and controlling Lady Carola Definian, who comes to court and immediately wants Lord Kaidas; she spreads poisonous gossip about the princess. There's an abduction - the King of Chwahirsland is determined to have Lasva as his queen - and a rescue by Marloven Prince Ivandred. When the queen agrees to Lasva's marriage to Ivandred she has no choice but to obey, though she loves Kaidas. But Lasva is attracted to Ivandred and makes the best of her fate.

Before Emras leaves with Lasva's entourage, she's summoned by the queen who orders her to look into the Mage Council's suspicion that the Marloven king's mage is employing dark magic and treating with Norsunder. To assist in her investigation, Emras begins secretly teaching herself magic, and discovers that she has a rare talent for it. Mentored by Ivandred's tutor Herskalt, she is gradually pulled in deeper and deeper as a magic user, as she tries to help Lasva and Ivandred control an unruly kingdom.

Ivandred fights wars, Lasva grows as a peacemaker, and Emras becomes an ever more powerful mage, addicted to certain aspects of her powers and exhautsing herself executing Ivandred's and Herskalt's demands as best she can. Then comes betrayal and Emras finally understands Norsunder's role in events and the peril that faces them all. She and Ivandred fight it together. They achieve a stalemate. There are intriguing loose ends and I assume that a sequel will tell us more - can't wait!

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