This is the final instalment in this intriguing series where McKenna decided to see what would happen if the downtrodden masses and squeezed middle men revolted. And, no, I’m not guessing about this – I happened to be at Bristolcon this year when McKenna gave a fascinating talk on her world. She is an articulate, intelligent speaker and if you get a chance to meet her, take it. You won’t be disappointed.
A few stones falling in the right place can set a landslide in motion. That’s what Lescari exiles told themselves in Vanam as they plotted to overthrow the warring dukes. But who can predict the chaos that follows such a cataclysm? Some will survive against all the odds; friends and foes alike. Hope and alliances will be shattered beyond repair. Unforeseen consequences bring undeserved grief as well as unexpected rewards. Necessity forces uneasy compromise as well as perilous defiance. Wreaking havoc is swift and easy. Building a lasting peace may yet prove an insuperable challenge.
And there you have the blurb – congratulations on whoever wrote it, by the way. It’s a relief to read a back-of-the-book taster that doesn’t feel obligated to give away half the plot… So, the question has to be – after the tumult of the pitched battles, does McKenna manage to convincingly tie up the host of loose ends still waving in the wind along with those banners? Well for my money, this book is the best of the trilogy. This was always an astoundingly ambitious project – to depict a full blown revolution through the viewpoints of six characters. McKenna succeeded so well because she is an experienced, skilled writer whose epic Fantasy has always been character-driven.
However, this series is not something a reader can skim through. McKenna has taken care to ensure all six characters are widely differing, but several of them are constantly on the move – as would be the case in a war. So that means, with a couple of exceptions, the backdrop to much of the action, especially the battles, is also changing. In addition, there is a host of other characters constantly processing through the story. It really took me until halfway through Blood in the Water, the second book in the series, to slow up my reading pace sufficiently to ensure I was able to fully absorb what was happening. The advantage of immediately picking up Banners in the Wind straight afterwards was that I was already in Lescari mode from the start and fully in touch with all the characters.
This is the book where the stakes are at their highest. As the death toll has steadily mounted, I really cared whether the revolutionaries managed to bring about any peace in Lescar. Because if they haven’t managed to do so, then a lot of lives have been ruined and lost in vain. It wasn’t a surprise to learn that McKenna studied history – the political powerplays and unintended consequences of apparently good ideas rang all too true. And her depiction of the damage to all those involved in the revolution also feels very realistic – this is no romp where everyone gets to swash their buckles with a witty chortle on their lips. This is a gritted, desperate business brought about by a group of individuals who simply felt they had no choice.
The themes that were started in Irons in the Fire are still being played out here – the nature of power, who has it and who is desperate to hold onto it; as the struggle continues, what rules of engagement get broken – this particularly applies to magic. The Archmage has expressly forbidden the use of magic in warfare – however, the speed and convenience that magic can provide proves to be far too tempting for this edict to be obeyed by either side. And it is this aspect of her world that McKenna continues to explore in her latest trilogy.
Meantime, she manages to bring this trilogy to a satisfactory, if not wholly tidy conclusion – which is just fine. Revolution is a messy, bloodsoaked business that hurts both the innocent and guilty, and it is a measure of McKenna’s writing skill that this final book is such a gripping, engrossing read.