Archive for April 14th, 2014

Sherwood Smith – Banner Of The Damned

Monday, April 14th, 2014

If there is one thing to be said about female authors then that is that they can be categorized in very distinct different ways than male authors. This is certainly the case as well in the fantasy genre, where most male authors can be put in the same category. The female authors however are able to write like male authors as well quite differently. In my experience there are pretty much two other categories. The first is the romantic/erotic fantasy, which I pretty much avoid, and second is the, for the lack of a better word for it, woman’s fantasy. The best way to explain this particular category is by my review of Banner Of The Damned (2012) by Sherwood Smith, who, despite the possibly misleading name, is a woman.

Banner Of The Damned is set in the Sartorias-deles universe in which Smith has written a collection of novels. Banner Of The Damned is however a standalone novel, as far as I know. The world is medieval in setup and magic is a common part of daily life. The novel is partially about a clash of cultures. Between those who have shed the mantle of barbaric violence for civilized diplomacy. Both have their complex arrays of behavioral patterns in which hidden communication is performed. As long as both cultures live alongside each other they require each other to maintain a balance.

Smith tells her story from the civilized perspective albeit from a relatively neutral stance. There is one main protagonist who tells the story mainly from a first person narrative. Unusual is that she aims to be an observer. Her world revolves around others whom she considers more important than herself. Nevertheless she plays a slowly increasingly important role.

The first quarter of the novel is all about this observer position. The narrator sees and hears but is not involved. It is a display of courtly life where gossip and simple desires play an important role. As I had no idea where the story was going I was all but thinking this fantasy novel would be a romance with perhaps some fantastical elements. The novel changes when the clash of cultures, as mentioned earlier, diminishes the romantic element. The story collects some drive before suddenly settling again in a new environment where threats and dangers are great. The reader sees very little of it. The main characters stays away from most of it and is again hardly involved. Much is about daily life and how to cope with minor events that trouble the peace. The story is like a gentle stream that provides a calming reading flow. There is sufficient excitement to prevent boredom (for me at least), although in my case it helped that I only read a few chapters each day while traveling to work. The climax is sudden, but not completely unexpected. A few moments of fireworks bring closure to the lingering threads that, like real life, do not always lead to something. This time they did.

What is typical about a woman’s fantasy novel is that it is about people and social interactions. There is a bit of a fantastical elements to provide a different kind of setting and possibilities for events. The women are feminine. While they may have an external weakness they have an internal strength. Similarly, in contrast, the men have external strength and internal weakness. It is for the women to guide them to the right path. Smith writes all this in a very subtle way and she takes her time. Banner Of The Damned is a big book. It is the story of a life and the lives of others. The plot is not complex, but subtle and Smith takes her time to tell it. She sets the pace. Although the general flow is not fast, it is not too slow either, and there are sequences that run faster to capture more tension.

While there is plenty of space for character development there are few real changes. There is movement and some building. Oddly enough characters often fall back into their previous selves after a crisis has passed. There is some truth in that so I am not sure how to give a clear opinion on it.

In my conclusion I have to say that Banned Of The Damned is a nice read. There is little to complain about except for the lack of a truly exciting plot that could have happened if Smith had chosen to write a story in the mold of the common type of fantasy. She did not. She wrote a story about characters and choices and that not all is that obvious. The world she created is intriguing and original in its setup. On the other hand, after one visit, it does not interest me that much to visit it again. I have a pretty good guess about the nature of the other novels set in this world. They will probably also be nice and provide just enough excitement to keep me going while not giving me the gratification and true pleasure that I usually seek in a well created fantasy novel. Plenty of female readers will probably think otherwise and enjoy this kind of novel much more. It is, after all, a woman’s fantasy.