The fight for peace is often a war.
To end nearly a century of war plaguing Ennea, a clan of nomads plans to bring leaders from the four nations together. They task a young water dancer named Isála to deliver a missive to a northern general, her estranged mother, and convince her to join the conclave. However, there are those who would do anything to defend their war from the threat of peace. After living a life sheltered from the violence, Isála will have to choose between her principles and shedding blood for the good of her people.
Don’t Bloody the Black Flag is a novella set in the world of the Malitu series. It takes place more than 200 years before the events of No Heart for a Thief.
“Peace isn’t passive. How could it be? When violence cuts through the hearts of our people, how could peace have a chance waiting for them to come with bended knee and abandoned blade?”
These are the first lines of the book and those are all it took for me to fall in love with James Lloyd Dulin’s writing style. I sincerely wish all Indie authors would do prequel novellas because I’ve read a good number and almost all of them have been bangers. This one’s biggest highlight seems to be that it’s a thought provoking one. There are discussions around war and peace and it is beautifully portrayed across a messenger carrying an important missive to a military general. There are internal and external struggles for this character and we are able to see her thought process grow and change through the journey as well. It can be seen that care and effort has been taken by the author to show the nuances around the use of violence to achieve peace. He makes sure to address the positives and negatives of both sides.
“The words stopped meaning anything at some point. People who convinced themselves they understood how the world worked didn’t hear anything that ran contrary.”
The author’s character work deserves special mention. Novellas have the limitations of page count yet some of my most favorite fictional characters have come from novellas (Ryan Cahill, Joao F. Silva, Tatiana Obey) and I’m left perpetually wishing those authors revisit those characters in some future books. It speaks to how skilled the writers are, to be able to invest the readers so well, in so few pages. Don’t Bloody the Black Flag is no different and I would love to read more about all of the characters: Isála, Laiken, Kaiut, and especially Teshun & Rione. Some of them are not even good characters and I still wish we get to see more of their story.
Coming to the world and the magic system, they are interconnected actually and definitely feels unique. Even though shown only in glimpses, a lot of emphasis seems to be on the land itself-Ennea and that is refreshing and enjoyable to read. It is also an elemental magic system (Avatar TLAB-esque) and the way they access it and what they are able to do with it is done really well.
Now, with the sensitivity to land and nature, gorgeous writing, discussions around colonialism, militarism, touching on language & communication, and the different cultures and different social & political stuff- I cannot help being reminded of another one of my favorite novellas, The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin. Now, there are many differences in plot, magic, and one is fantasy and the other sci-fi, but there are a lot of similar vibes and discussions and I love that. Both of them are marvelous works. Also I have read this book without starting Book 1 first and it still stands alone really well.