Home Reviews Shorts Search

bannerofsoulsHere are my thoughts, rather delayed, on Banner of Souls, the 4th book by Liz Williams, which I found to play in a world/universe more intricate and interesting than the actual story; a world which notably reminded me of Dune, nevertheless.
And all of this in a good way, as I found the book to be a captivating read, and can recommend it.

Times are dark indeed in Liz William’s 4th effort, Banner of Souls.
Earth has gone through a phase of warming, and is flooded, with significantly fewer land masses left. It is governed, as a colony, by the Memnos Matriarchy on Mars. Lunae is a girl, supposedly the Hito-Bashira (‘the woman who holds back the flood’ – don’t she wish she knew what that meant!), who lives above Fragrant Harbor (built up on the flooded ruins of Hong Kong), under the stern gaze of the powerful ‘Grandmothers’. She is being looked after by Tersus Rhee, a frog-like being known as a Kappa, and by Dreams-of-War, a Warrior from Memnos.

Mars, under the rule of Memnos, is a planet of Warrior Clans (females only), but contains the remains of Nanotech experiments and old human-based races like the Vulpen and the Hyena. It also is the origin of the Changed (like the Kappa), which were created and bred here, before being released onto Earth. Memnos makes great use of Haunt Tech, supplied by Nightshade, especially for the armours that the Warrior Women wear.
Nightshade is a former remote colony, at the edge of the System, which a while back turned into a powerhouse after contact with the alien (?) Kami, which provided them with knowledge of advanced bio-engineering and genetic technology as well as the new Haunt Tech. Nightshade is being led by the Elder Elaki, who breeds her own niece Yskaterina Iye and her Animus (as Nightshade still believes in having two genders) to go to Earth, and kill Lunae.

Haunt Tech, as provided to Nightshade by the Kami, is antithesis to scientific belief of centuries – spirits are real, people can be called back from the ‘Eldritch Realm’ as ghosts through the use of the right technology, and can inhabit other bodies or pieces of Haunt Tech (haunted technology, geddit?) like Dreams-of-War’s armour, or spaceship computers.
Other technology which plays a major role in this world is bio-tech and genetic engineering. Humans are engineered and grown in Growing-Skins. Earth is generally, as befits a backwater, fairly low-tech (people travel by Junk, still!).
Memnos and Nightshade use the Blacklight Matrix, for everything from communications to surgery, body modifications, and the calling of spirits (Blacklight Engines are linked into the Eldritch Realm, you see). They also have the ‘Chain’, connecting all the planets, which enables FTL travel between the planets of the system by shifting the ships into the Eldritch Realm, and back out again at the end of the trip. You kinda die each time, before being re-born, or re-animated. Not everyone’s kettle of fish…

The book itself is breathless, full of surprises, and a captivating read. There are a lot of side stages in this complex world/universe, and a lot of things are thrown at the reader without explanation or introduction, which can be a bit abrupt and confusing at times. Just see my first paragraph above...

On the upshot this provides a mesmerizing world which very much comes to life, and which fascinated me endlessly – there is much more storytelling to be had in this world and its history, I hope Liz will make further use of the work she’s done here. Although, it doesn’t always feel like it is all her work. The setting, naming, and technology greatly remind me of the Dune universe – if nothing else then at least is strongly influenced and inspired by it I’d say.
Overall the world appears more interesting and engrossing than the actual storyline around Lunae, which is rather simple and minimal. In tune with this the characters appear very 2-dimensional (I guess with full purpose when it comes to Dreams-of-war), and are not developed much (which is a shame with Lunae, or Tersus Rhee, which could have loads of inner life and development I presume).
Also astonishing is the amount of praise, information, and other gumpf concerning Liz’ other books which clog up umpteen pages at the front and back – this is unnecessary, and, if nothing else, excessive. The book itself was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award – if she improves on plot and characterization in the future then she’s well under way to winning it!

Despite all the complaints above (they are not that serious) I can heartily recommend that you read the book – it’s an engrossing read, and the world it plays in is worth seeing. Here’s to more (and more worked out) stories in it!

More Liz Williams

Title: Banner of Souls
Author: Liz Williams
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL:
Publisher:  Bantam Books
Publication Date: Bantam Books
Review Date: 28/12/07
ISBN: 0553586769
Price: UKP 6.99 RRP
Pages: 464
Format: Paperback
Topic: SF
Topic: Necromancy


Doris Lessing – The Sirian Experiments


Sydney Padua - The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage


Tricia Sullivan – Occupy Me


Ken MacLeod - Cosmonaut Keep


Somtow Sucharitul – Starship & Haiku


Iain Sinclair - Radon Daughters


Liz Williams - Empire of Bones


Thomas Pynchon - Slow Learner


Ian Sales – Adrift on the Sea of Rains


Doris Lessing - Shikasta

Andy Weir - The Martian


Somtow Sucharitkul - The Throne of Madness


Charles Stross - The Atrocity Archives


Thomas Pynchon – Gravity’s Rainbow


S.P. Somtow – I Wake from a Dream of a Drowned Star City, Powered by Mambo!; free resources by SiteGround