Unique talent always attracts attention…
In a world where magic is outlawed, ability with a sword is prized above all else. For Soren this means the chance to live out his dreams.
Plucked from a life of privation, he is given a coveted place at Ostenheim’s Academy of Swordsmanship, an opportunity beyond belief.
Opportunity is not always what it seems however, and gifts rarely come without conditions. Soren becomes an unwitting pawn in a game of intrigue and treachery that could cost him not just his dreams, but also his life.
The book follows one character, Soren, through a pivotal slice of his life as he is plucked off the streets by a nobleman hoping to pull a diamond out of the rough. Though the book is in third person, for the most part, you experience the world from Soren out, with Hamilton's world growing as Soren becomes more worldly. This writing style offered readers the experience you can get from reading urban fantasy, but with a more classic fantasy feel. It fit well with the fast paced tale. We follow Soren from the streets, into the academy where he begins to learn swordsmanship, and then into a variety of adventures of ups and downs.
Soren's story in this first volume takes years to play out, so the pace stays brisk covering both major moments and character growth well. Where a story might normally take chapters, if not a whole book, to play out a battle or small war, The Tattered Banner often takes you directly to the heart of the matter, instead, finding it's suspense elsewhere. This works well to keep the reader on his or her toes, breaking up the usual manner a story flows and offering small surprises as one adventure wraps and another begins. It is not in the battles, the schooling, or other unique moments of his life that the plot is built on, but instead of the schemes going on behind the scenes that Soren is often oblivious to at his young age. It's not a great mystery to the reader, as I would suspect most would put together what is happening far before Soren's revelation. There is a certain knowing sadness as you watch Soren used as little more than a tool without realizing it until it's too late.
Soren, although physically powerful as he grows into his role, is a flawed young man. His decisions are almost always understandable given his lack of experience with the world and his own concerns. You feel a bond with the character that books told in first person narrative offer, without having to be told every single thought running through his mind, allowing you to figure that out simply because you know and understand the character.
As for the world the story is set in, it slowly grows with the character. Initially you know only the city, or even just a piece of the city and learn more about the neighboring kingdoms and conflicts as the story moves along. Magic is rare in the book, outright outlawed in the city of Ostenheim where much of the story takes place. Soren, however, possesses something called the Gift, an ability he barely understands even by the end of the book. This Gift is something that the swordsmen who used to work for the now-extinct mages generations ago possessed, giving them greater strength and speed when needed, but at a cost. Much like the hints you get of the world outside of Soren's knowledge, the history of magic and his abilities will probably continue to develop as the saga unfolds, but offers you a glimpse that there is a much more fleshed out world beyond what Soren knows and the reader initially sees.
As you begin to reach the end of this first volume, it hardly seems like there is enough book left to give you everything you want. Much of the bigger pieces of the plot and world will, of course, play out in future volumes, but Hamilton's jumps from one moment to the next offer much more story than the last handful of pages would make it seem. The tone the book ends on my be surprising compared to what we often see at the end of a first book, but it definitely leaves the reader hungry for more, while wrapping up an era of Soren's life. I look forward to the next volume and hope that Hamilton's story-telling style continues into the future of his Society of the Sword saga.
A reader looking for a good, fast-paced fantasy story should definitely pick this up, as well as anyone that reads urban fantasy that may be looking to stick their foot into more traditional fantasy novels. If you've read and enjoyed Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick or Brent Weeks' Night Angel trilogy, you should definitely give The Tattered Banner a try.