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Banner Of Souls
Liz Williams
Tor UK paperback £6.99

review by Duncan Lawie

Banner Of Souls is a first class piece of world building. It is set within our Solar system at least a thousand years in the future, where catastrophes and advances of every sort have transformed worlds and humanity. Earth has become an ocean world, ruled at a distance by the warriors of Mars, who believe they colonised the third planet. The male sex has almost completely disappeared - devolved to wild animals in the Martian wilderness, or the subject of genetic experiment at Nightshade, on the outer edge of the Solar system. Williams does an excellent job of describing this vastly different place to the reader whilst making it clear that the book's inhabitants recognise its mundanity. There is a significant change in the world apparent to the protagonists though - the introduction of haunt-tech a century before. This technology uses the powers of the Eldritch Realm, drawing back the souls of the dead into machines and weaponry, and the impact of the changes it has wrought is still reverberating through the worlds.

The tension builds through the course of the book, towards grand revelations in the last 50 pages. The protagonists are as na�ve as the setting is fabulous. Dreams-of-War is a Martian warrior, whose fierceness is edited to give her an element of maternal instinct, a change to the structure of her mind, which her Matriarch has decided is essential in assigning her to protect Lunae. Lunae is a fast-growing child who is known as "the one who will hold back the flood," though neither she nor Dreams-of-War have any idea what this might mean, despite their repeated questioning of those apparently in authority. Equally uninformed is Yskaterina, who is given the duty of killing Lunae by her Aunt Elaki, the ruler of Nightshade. This is apparently a power struggle between Nightshade and the Martian Matriarchy, but to what end is as unclear to the reader as to the actors.

Liz Williams appears to enjoy playing with the sympathies of the reader, making it difficult to guess even what a happy ending to the book might be. This makes it difficult to feel much empathy for any of the characters; the one most likely the master of her own destiny is also most likely to be a 'baddie'. Both Yskaterina and Dreams-of-War take on their duties resentfully, and the exploration of their growing understanding of themselves and the worlds they inhabit is a major part of the story. With all the pieces manoeuvred into place, the hide-and-seek game between author and reader over, the end of the book explodes into a display of pyrotechnic writing. Having taken so long to get here, the book is over too soon.
Banner of Souls

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