The Tattered Banner by Duncan M. Hamilton is not your typical rags-to-riches fantasy story, but it does start out as one.
The hero, Soren, is plucked from a starving street urchin’s life by a famous nobleman to attend Ostia’s prestigious Academy of Swordsmanship. Magic is outlawed in Ostia, so the Duchy’s best and brightest become master swordsmen to move up in society.
It’s an opportunity that’s too good to be true, and Soren recognizes this. He becomes the hardest working student at the Academy because he knows that one failure could throw him back on the streets; something his rich, noble classmates don’t have to worry about. It soon becomes clear that Soren has a magical “Gift” with a blade that enables him to defeat almost anyone he faces despite his limited training.
That’s where the story turns away from the typical hero’s journey.
The Tattered Banner is not about undertaking quests or vanquishing dark lords, but how one young man survives from day to day with only his wits and his Gift. Soren’s journey throughout the book is like a series of random encounters—something happens to him, he makes a choice, and then he blasts off into a totally new direction. His adventures are certainly thrilling and had me turning the pages. I suppose random encounters are what real life is like.
Which leads to my one criticism. The Tattered Banner is well told, but I felt like there was something missing: an overall goal for Soren to work towards that ties everything together. Soren simply tries to survive from one unrelated situation to the next. He has an intriguing magical skill with the sword, but that doesn’t seem to be at the top of his “to do list” to investigate. I was hoping the book would make that Soren’s overall goal, and show how it conflicted with Ostia’s anti-magic laws. But it never happened.
Though Soren makes some poor decisions, I still rooted for him, nonetheless. He never forgets that he was once a starving orphan on the streets, which makes you understand his actions when he does things that are, at best, morally questionable.
The Tattered Banner is book one of a series, so I hope future volumes will explore the mystery of Soren’s magical Gift with the sword. I did enjoy the book very much because of its action and interesting characters, despite my reservations about the plot structure.