Elinor and Con are about to be reminded that corruption is a way of life in the Marches. Already in disgrace, Elinor will have to choose between risking the lives of her engineers or leaving another Reaper’s squad in the hands of a murderous upstart. When honour is for sale, how can she determine what is right?
My main criticism of A Reaper of Stone was that there wasn’t enough of it. It had the impossible task of defining a world, a heroine, her allies and enemies and pulling together a story in a very limited page count. Broken Banners – its direct sequel, continuing Elinor’s tale – has a simpler task, and builds on the excellent foundations to deliver a strong follow-up.
Once again, we get to enjoy Elinor and Con’s friendship; this time, we also get a glimpse of their command in the shape of foreman Edmur and engineer Petnar. Edmur is particularly engaging, a sharp-tongued commoner who says what he thinks (and persuaded me I need to get on and read Best Left in Shadows as soon as possible).
Regardless of the political fall-out from Timberline, Elinor continues to ride high in the esteem of the men and women under her command (this is my only real gripe, in fact – I found the cover blurb slightly misleading. Elinor may be disgraced and required to hand over her command to another Reaper, but Edmur and Petnar barely hesitate to follow her).
We also get to meet another Reaper, Aldis Janen. An old flame from the Academy, Elinor may still harbour feelings for him. Thankfully, we’re talking about Elinor here – so when it becomes evident that Janen is as upright a man as Con has always suspected (that is to say not very), she doesn’t let her feelings get in the way, nor do we find ourselves mired in a tedious three-way love tangle (phew).
Much of the first half of the novella rests on the question of what Elinor will do (rescue Janen’s squad or get her own to safety). While it comes as no surprise that she’s willing to take the risk to rescue the hostages – this is an Elinor story, so unlikely to be resolved by political intrigue – the buoyant scene in which she announces her plan begs for a gleeful air punch. The second half of the novella delivers the action in a well-scripted battle sequence that was highly visual and properly tense.
Much as I enjoyed the world-building of A Reaper of Stone, I feel Gelineau & King deliver a more satisfying story in Broken Banners. The plot is kept even tighter, and while there’s still plenty of detail to bring the immediate environment to life, there’s less world-building required.
As a result, the characters feel better defined, working their page time hard to give us people who feel more fleshed out than the thin villains of the first instalment. It’s an inspired choice to have the villain here presented almost entirely second-hand and I’m glad Gelineau & King resisted the urge to pop in any scenes from his perspective; by replacing him with Aldis Janen, we get an interesting character who is deeply flawed (and who I’m pretty sure we’ll be seeing more of).
I thought A Reaper of Stone showed promise, and after Broken Banners, I’m pleased to say I’m a committed convert. I shall be setting out to meet the other Echoes (Ferran, Alys, Roan and Kay) and reporting back in due course. This experiment in serialized short-form fantasy is a delightful and unusual way to enjoy the genre.
Broken Banners (Echoes of the Ascended | Elinor #2), will be published on 15th February.
A Reaper of Stone (Echoes of the Ascended | Elinor) is available now in the UK, as are the other 3 first instalments in the Echoes of the Ascended collection (Rend the Dark, Best Left in the Shadows, Faith and Moonlight).
I received a copy of Broken Banners from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.