Banished by Liz de Jager (Book Review)
Posted by Abhinav Jain
I haven’t had much of a chance to read debut novels this year, but I have read a few since this is sort of an unofficial challenge for me, to see how many debuts I can read in a year alongside all my other reading. Debut novels offer something very interesting and part of that is finding out a new voice, a new style, a new character, and a new story and world to go along with all of that. Of course, some debuts are good, some are bad. Some are really awesome, some are really terrible. It really runs the entire slider scale. And when a good friend and (former) fellow blogger makes it as a debut, then I have even more of a reason to read his/her book.
Banished is Liz de Jager’s first novel, and it is a superbly-crafted urban fantasy tale that takes some baseline genre concepts and then does quite an interesting twist on all of it, something that really works out well by the end. Kit Blackhart has become one of my favourite characters of the year, by far, and a lot of that is owing to how well she is characterized by Liz and the sorts of adventures that she gets dragged along into. And I really loved the whole “two minutes to midnight” feel of the story as well, which provided ample stakes and tension for the reader to latch on to.
Banished is based on the premise that the protagonist Kit Blackhart must protect and safeguard the fae Prince Thorn from whoever wants to kill him in the midst of an abrupt civil war that has erupted in the world hidden from our own. Kit belongs to a family of monster hunters and keepers of the peace between our world and the other world where all sorts of magical creatures dwell, two worlds linked together yet separate from each other in all sorts of different ways. The novel primarily focuses on Kit and thus Thorn and the other characters are more in a supporting role than anything else, and I loved who and what Kit was.
Often times I read debuts that are really good and Liz’s Banished happens to be solidly in that category. The mark of any good novel is in the quality of its characters, the story, the world, and so on. However, the mark of a really good novel is in how all of these different elements come together to make for a much strong singular package made up of all these elements. And this is why I loved Banished so much. It balances all the different elements very well and it comes close to being one of my absolute best reads of the last three years. Frankly, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say that this isn’t Liz’s first novel! She has certainly crafted the novel to near-perfection and the results are there to be seen and to be read.
Sure, Kit happens to be a great character. She has recently come into her unusual inheritance and fortunately she has taken to it like fish to water. She has made great strides already and the novel starts us off in the middle of one of her missions, quite a challenging one at that. This allows us to see just how capable Kit is in a “regular” situation where she is in control of things around her. Liz later flips the switch on her to present some really important challenges and this all works in concert with each other so that the Kit we part with at the end of the novel is a different Kit, the one we start off with. She has a clear arc before her, simply put.
Kit isn’t the only character of course, and we get to see the entire gamut of Liz’s fantasy-world in Banished. Whether we talk about Princes and Kings, the Seelie and the Unseelie, dragons and other monsters of legend, trolls and wizards, or what have you, the first novel in the Blackhart Legacy series packs in a serious lore punch for urban fantasy enthusiasts. This is a bit unique of course, and also enjoyable because beholding such a rich world gives rise to all sorts of desires to see particular combinations of characters and storylines and the potential really is limitless. At times it can feel a bit overwhelming but Liz’s writing is pretty smooth all the way so any moments of disorientation such as this are extremely few indeed.
Best thing is that by going in with such a large scope right in the beginning, Liz makes clear that her intentions are to go big, really big. After all, any novel that focuses on ancient evils and the like, and one as good as Banished, is most fascinating indeed, and I’m reminded of some parallels that this novel shares with J. A. Pitts’ Sarah Beauhall series, which has a similar focus in that regard. And the first novel Black Blade Blues is certainly something that I would recommend to everyone. A most fantastic example of urban fantasy, but with a Norse mythology twist to it.
Something else that presents a draw here is that Liz’s writing, which focused on the end-game and the characters, is also very technically focused. The chapters are all of relatively medium-length and she moves the story along at a very good, comfortable clip. I never felt as if the story was moving too fast or too slow or anything of the kind. Liz knows how to pace herself and her writing reflects that, given the murder-mystery style nature of the novel. Or even all the fun action-adventure bits that can be found throughout the novel.
Another thing to mention is that while most of the novel is quite uplifting and positive, there are also some genuine moments of horror that really make you cry out. Liz isn’t always gentle to her characters, that’s for sure, and it is fun to see how she twists those expectations on the reader’s head. She does that a couple times in the novel and each instance made for some really great reading in the end, once the shock and awe factor had toned down.
And before I forget, there’s also a bit of romance in this novel. What’s an urban fantasy without a little bit of romance in it? Jaye Wells’ latest, Dirty Magic, didn’t have any romance in it and was an excellent novel, but still, urban fantasy novels almost always have some kind of romance and I loved the fact that there is only a little bit of romance in Banished, and that this restraint applies almost all the way till the end. It is just another element of the story rather than being something major, by far.
Oftentimes Banished hardly reads like a debut novel, which just goes to say how good Liz is, and I was taken in by the fact that it felt like such a polished read, considering I had an advance copy of the novel.
Sure, I’ve known Liz for almost two years, probably more, but I attempted to be as objective as I could while reading the novel and writing this review. Often times a great deal is made out of such things and just to set the record straight, nothing I’ve said here has been dishonest in the least. I genuinely loved Banished as a novel, and I really hope that the sequel arrives soon for I badly want to know what happens next with Kit and Thorn.
Posted on July 19, 2014, in Book Reviews, Review Central and tagged 2014 Debut, Banished, Black Magic, Blackhart Legacy, Book Review, Debut Author, Debut Novel, Dragons, Espionage, Fae, Fantasy, Kit Blackhart, Liz de Jager, magic, Monsters, novel, Novel Review, Prince Thorn, Review, Review Central, Seelie, Sidhe, Spy, Tor Books, Tor UK, Trolls, Unseelie, Urban Fantasy, Werewolves. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.