Monday, 23 February 2015

Review: Vowed by Liz de Jager

A Blackhart can see the supernatural behind everyday crimes. But some crimes hide even greater evils . . .

Kit Blackhart must investigate why children are disappearing from a London estate. Their parents, the police and Kit's fae allies claim to know nothing. And as more children disappear, the pressure mounts. Luckily, or unluckily, government trainee Dante Alexander is helping Kit with the case. Yet just as her feelings towards him begin to thaw, his life falls apart. As Kit struggles to unravel Dante's problems and solve their case, she meets fae Prince Thorn in her dreams - but their relationship is utterly forbidden.

Then Kit digs too deep, uncovering a mystery that's been hidden for one thousand years. It's a secret that could just tear down our world.

Time is tight at the moment due to my involvement in getting the Middle Grade Strikes Back project up and running, so please forgive me for copying/pasting the following disclosure from my review of Banished, the first book in Liz de Jager's Blackhart Legacy trilogy: "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. 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."

Over the past few months I have mainly been reading middle grade fiction, but Vowed has been sitting on my TBR pile glaring at me, demanding to be read. Truth be told, I finally picked it up because of my friendship with Liz as although I enjoyed Banished, all these months on I did not feel invested enough in the story to promote Vowed straight to the top of my TBR pile. This is no reflection on the quality of Banished or its story, but more my general feelings towards YA at this moment in time. And now I'm regretting my lateness to the Vowed party - I bloody loved it and I just couldn't put it down.

One of my issues with Banished was the character of Prince Thorn, and in my review I mentioned that I didn't find him particularly believable. Thorn takes very much of a back seat in Vowed, and I do wonder whether this contributed to my enjoying this installment more than the first. In his place, as the potential 'will they?/won't they?' love interest for Kit is new boy Dante Alexander, a young member of the government's 'spook squad'. Even though he starts off as a bit of an arrogant shit at the beginning of the book, as the story progresses Dante becomes gradually more likeable, and there is more than a hint of mystery surrounding Dante's background and character. In fact, I would even go as far as to say that Vowed is as much Dante's story as it is Kit's. Fortunately, Aiden is still on the scene, and Kit's continued platonic friendship (a rare thing in a YA urban fantasy story) with the werewolf, a high point of the first book, is developed even further.

Liz de Jager's considerable knowledge of British and European mythology and folk tales is even more evident in Vowed than it was in Banished, as is her love for her adopted city of London. These elements of folklore are so well woven into the story that it is nigh on impossible to determine which are from legend and which are the fruits of the writer's considerable imagination. At times I found myself having to resist from picking up my phone to access Wikipedia to look up a particular reference, and instead had to make a note to check things later. The author also teases her readers with her characters making off hand remarks about previous undocumented events, and also other aspects of the world she has created' leaving us with a feeling that she has so much more to offer beyond this planned trilogy.

Like its predecessor, Vowed has some cracking adrenaline-fuelled action sequences, although they take something of a backseat in this episode. In fact that where I felt that Banished was very much an action urban fantasy story, Vowed is more of a detective/crime story rooted in the author's urban fantasy world.

I gave Banished four stars on Goodreads, and as I enjoyed this book even more I just ahd to give it five. However, it is not without fault and so the rating is actually a rounded up 4.5 stars. There were a handful of plot threads that were left dangling, which is understandable given that this is the second book in a trilogy, but for me a few of them felt that their lack of resolution felt unnatural and not in keeping with Kit's character. My other issue comes about more because of my friendship with Liz de Jager: at times Kit's voice (and occasionally that of some of the other characters) just seemed far too much like that of the real life author (both spoken and her 'twitter voice'). Liz is a self-confessed and proud geek, and in my opinion there were a few too many references to geek culture inserted into the dialogue of Kit and some of the other characters, and at times these jarred with me as I didn't feel that they were necessary or added to the humour in the dialogue in any great way.

Vowed has a little something for everyone - fantasy, action, mystery and plenty of thrills. I just hope that when Judged, the concluding part of the trilogy, is released in November someone will point me back at this review so that I don't leave it unread for quite as long. Looking at my middle grade heavy TBR pile it might be one of the few YA books I read in 2015.

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