The scribes have three rules.

First Rule: Do not interfere.

Second Rule: Keep The Peace.

Third Rule: Tell the truth as we see it.

I can see your ironic faces, those of my judges who know that I began life as a scribe. This, my defense testimony, shall show how I tried not to interfere, that I meant to keep The Peace, and I will reveal the means that enables me to tell the absolute truth.

I will begin with the first important day of my life, just before the Hour of Daybreak, the spring I turned fourteen.


That's the opening of Sherwood Smith's latest novel, Banner of the Damned, in which the young scribe Emras learns her craft and becomes wise in the ways of her own extremely complex and refined culture... but not wise at all in some other, very important ways.

I excerpted the opening paragraphs because they suggest one of the most interesting and unusual features of the novel, its narrator of uncertain reliability and its use of her narrative as both the main story and a frame story. As the story continues, Emras recounts not only events for which she was not present, but, like the author of a work of fiction, becomes a semi-omniscient narrator who can convey exactly what other people were thinking and feeling. How could she possibly know? She'll explain, she assures us. In good time...

The novel takes place several hundred years post-Inda. You don't have to have read those books - it stands on its own - but some things have extra resonance if you know what came before. The worldbuilding is some of the best I've seen in fantasy, from the elegant intricacy of Colend to the warrior culture of Marloven Hesea, and the depictions of culture clashes and culture shock are dead-on. There's great characterization of a large ensemble cast, romance, heartbreak, magic, war, women being badass with a bow on the battlefield or with the devastating tilt of a fan at court, and and lots and lots of political intrigue.

Emras is asexual in a culture in which that is accepted as normal, like any other sexual orientation. While she has troubles and angst involving her orientation and how it affects her relationships, they're the same sort of troubles and angst any young person might have as they discover and grow into their identity. It's very well-done.

Please consider this a recommendation, not a review. I beta-read this novel. So take it as you will, given my bias, when I tell you that it's awesome and you should run out and read it.

Banner of the Damned

Sherwood is signing at Mysterious Galaxy in Redondo Beach, Los Angeles, at 2:30 on April 15th. I'll be there if anyone wants to get coffee or something afterward. (Not before; I'll be driving straight in from a trauma workshop at Antioch.)
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