Friday 7 February 2014

Review: Banished by Liz de Jager

Kit is proud to be a Blackhart, now she's living with her unorthodox cousins and sharing their strange lives. Especially since their home-schooling includes spells, fighting enemy fae and using ancient weapons.

But it's not until she rescues a rather handsome fae prince, fighting for his life on the edge of Blackhart Manor, that her training really kicks in. With her family away on various missions, Kit must protect Prince Thorn, rely on new friends and use her own unfamiliar magic to stay ahead of Thorn's enemies.

As things go from bad to apocalyptic, fae battle fae in a war that threatens to spill into the human world. Then Kit pits herself against the Elder Gods themselves - it's that or lose everyone she's learnt to love.

Kit is a Blackhart, a family of enforcers and monster hunters who protect the humans from the many supernatural creatures that somehow stumble through the barrier that exists between our world and the magical world of the Fae. In comparison with her extended family though, Kit is relatively new to the whole monster-slaying-is-this-family's-way-of-life kind of thing, and the book opens with her first solo mission. 

Until recently Kit has been living with her grandmother, who had taken away from the Blackharts at a young age and kept their existence and work secret from Kit. The learning curve Kit has faced since her grandmother passed away is a steep one. The Blackharts do not work in complete secrecy. The government is fully aware of their work, and as such they are treated almost as a department of the secret service, with special dispensation for all kinds of otherwise illicit activities (like carrying a sword, fighting goblin-dog-mutant-things and so on).

Home alone recovering from the exertions of her first solo mission, Kit wakes in the night to find the air full of a static and she is already experienced enough to equate this with potential trouble. Venturing out into the neighbouring forest, beyond the protective boundaries of Blackhart Manor, she discovers a highborn Sidhe Fae male being attacked by a group of redcap goblins. With sword swinging Kit leaps into the fray, and in doing so saves Prince Thorn of the House of Alba from death. Her actions have severe repercussions, as the Manor is soon assailed by magical forces, causing Kit and Thorn to flee for their lives. Their flight takes them to London and beyond, as they face various nasties, make new friends and enemies, and friends who turn out to be enemies. Yes, there's enough cross and double-cross to keep everyone guessing.

First a disclosure: as long time readers will know, Liz de Jager is a good friend of mine, and Liz acted as a kind of mentor for me when I was first started blogging. I've chatted with Liz on countless occasions as she wrote (and then completely rewrote) the book that has become Banished, and I am incredibly proud of her and delighted that Banished will be out in the wild at the end of February. However, all of this means that this is a very difficult review to write as I need to make sure I retain objectivity, and please believe me when I say I am not a sycophant, for the main reason that Liz was string me up and subject me to every kind of pain possible if she thought I was writing a positive review just because I am a friend. Seriously though, I am writing a positive review because I really enjoyed Banished.

Should I continue by saying that I was pleasantly surprised (and more than a little relieved) that I enjoyed this book? Banished is not the kind of thing I normally read, and the world of the Fae holds little interest for me. My relative inexperience with this kind of urban fantasy is easily demonstrated by the fact that I was more than half way through before I bothered to look up the actual pronunciation of the word Sidhe, even though it probably makes an appearance several times in each chapter. As I read, in my mind I had tried various possible ways of pronouncing it, and sad to say not one of them was correct (not that I'm going to tell you how to pronounce it - either share my pain or go and look it up for yourself). However, this did not affect my enjoyment of the story (too much) as I was pulled in right from the start by the action. And boy, is there action in this book!

Liz de Jager can really write action scenes, and there are a hell of a lot of them in Banished. Think Matthew Reilly's Scarecrow novels, but applied to a kick-ass girl fighting fantasy creatures, rather than a member of the US special forces battling human bad guys, and you'll have a good idea what to expect from this. I know that Liz watches a huge amount of over-the-top action films, full of car chases, explosions and ninja fight sequences and uses these for inspiration as she choreographs her own fight scenes, and somehow she manages to translate that hi-octane, big screen experience into words on pages. 

As far as characters are concerned, Kit is another great female lead, in the tradition of Buffy (of vampire slaying fame) and Max from Dark Angel. She is impulsive, has a minor rebellious streak at times, and kicks ass big time, but also lacks self-confidence, especially when she stops to think about the scale of the work her family has carried out through history. I'll mention Thorn later in this review, but another character that I am sure will become a reader favourite is Aidan. He is the youngest member of a clan of 'werewolves of London' (sorry - couldn't resist), and I found him a much more believable and likable character than that of Thorn. The extended Blackhart family are also great fun, although they do not appear as much as I would have liked, so I am hoping for more from them in the next two books in the trilogy.

Another aspect of the book that I really liked are the short pieces that appear at the beginning of some of the chapters. Some of these are taken from The Blackhart Bestiarum, and give short descriptions of the creatures that Kit encounters. Others are excerpts from official government reports, and tend to pertain more to the Blackhart Family, or various seemingly supernatural phenomena like time slips, magic and so on. The first of these appears at the beginning of the book and lets us no from the off that the Blackharts are rumoured to have descended from the original Hansel and Gretel of Brothers Grim fame.

The book is not perfect though, as there were a couple of aspects that grated with me. First up, the book is written in first person, present tense but there are several short passages which change to third person in order to show the reader events that are taking place in Otherwhere. I personally felt that these didn't quite work, and that a more experienced writer might have been able to work this into her story without the change to third person. I wonder whether this criticism would be more suitably leveled at the editor than the writer though?

Secondly, although the writer has created a host of wonderful supporting characters, I just didn't 'believe' the character of Prince Thorn, the son of the King of Alba and Kit's main lover interest. I think, more than anything, it was his dialogue I didn't find believable as he uses human vernacular  far too readily (and comfortably?) for someone who is high born Fae. I appreciate that mentions are made regarding the time he has spent in Canada and elsewhere as part of his education on the human world, but I would have expected him to be far more aloof instead of down-to-earth.

These minor gripes aside, Banished is a thoroughly entertaining, well-paced, action-packed read that has a natural conclusion to the story within, but also leaves us with a cliffhanger that is part of the wider story arc. Although this one book will not convert me to being an avid reader of all things Fae, I will definitely be singing up to read the next book, Vowed, due out in November 2014. Banished, meanwhile, is scheduled to be published at the end of this month, and has possibly one of the most striking covers you are likely to see in a YA book this year. Come back at the beginning of March when Liz will be stopping off at The Book Zone has part of her blog tour, when she intends to tell us about her favourite action films (you really won't want to miss this one).


  1. Fab review of a book I cannot wait to read - I'm not usually a fan of fae books but I can't resist with this one!

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