May 07, 2014

What's That Coming Over The Hill? (Review: Banished by Liz de Jager)

Banished (The Blackhart Legacy, #1)Banished
Liz de Jager
Tor 2014

Kit Blackheart is a fighter. Trained since childhood by her grandmother, she now lives with her cousins in Blackheart Manor, a bastion of humanity standing against worlds far different from the human one while working with those other worlds to ensure that the majority of people remain blissfully unaware of the presence of faeries and werewolves and things that go bump in the night. It's a tough life but one that Kit was born for, imbued as she is with not only an inherent toughness but also a magical ability that she is yet to understand but is slowly learning to use. Supported by her cousins, watched over by uncle and generally happy, Kit's life is pretty good. Until, alone in Blackheart Manor, she finds herself under siege from dark forces and the carer of an injured Fae prince.  Also, there's a dragon. On the run, Kit and Prince Thorn struggle to unravel a tangle of jealousy, lies and illusion that threatens the safety of not only their nearest and dearest but of the world, human and otherwise.

Kit is a kick-ass heroine. Having grown up outwith the heart of the Blackheart clan, she's still finding her feet as defender of the realm but that doesn't stop her from being pretty amazing at what she does. Never a damsel in distress, when she finds herself alone and under attack, she swoops in to rescue to handsome prince, tucks him under her arm and generally takes control of the situation while not being averse to his lovely face (proving that, in addition to everything else, she is an amazing multi-tasker). She's funny without being over the top, smart without being insufferable and driven without seeming obsessive. Her increasingly inclination to somewhat impulsive actions is understandable rather than irritating and really there is not a bad word to be said about her. She's incredibly good fun while also being a generally touching character who readers will find themselves rooting for at every junction.

Thorn is rather refreshing. He's the youngest of a large family and carries all the insecurities that being bottom of the heap brings with it. Yet he is also extremely capable and smart. And hot. However, what is particularly lovely about him is that he immediately defers to Kit's knowledge and abilities, respecting her decisions and taking her advice. Not that he's at all subservient, he's just a nice bloke who realises that his companion knows exactly what she's doing. As a somewhat inevitable romance blossoms (no spoilers, it's not particularly unpredictable) it feels entirely organic, although the intensity it gains towards the end of the book verges on instalove. Still, that's a minor quibble with a relationship that feels a lot more real, not to mention more balanced, than many others on the YA shelves.  Aiden, the last of three main characters, is an adorable and slightly frightening rogue who one suspects will come into his own in the next book in this series. Initially, his presence screamed of a possible love triangle but de Jager is a clearly a wise woman and seems to have avoided this particular pitfall. 

The plot of Banished races along at breakneck speed. It's exciting, thrilling, intriguing and, above all, extremely well written. Particularly clever are the snippets of knowledge that head each chapter, taken from official documents, Blackheart family records and Fae books of lore, building a world around readers even as they are thrown head first into the major crisis that is shaking its very foundations. Liz de Jager has taken well-worn tropes and folklore and twisted them to her own means, bringing in the familiar and introducing the strange with such ease that it is hard to believe that Banished is her debut novel. Clearly knowledgeable when it comes to myth, her passion for the story and its inspirations jumps from every page, drawing readers effortlessly into a world that is both recognisable and yet entirely unique.  Not since Sarah Rees Brennan's Demon's Lexicon has YA urban fantasy been this much fun.  Also, dragons! Seriously, pick up a copy of Banished and buckle in - its quite a ride.  

This review was brought to you by Splendibird, who really likes a good dragon.  Banished is available now.

May 05, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday (on Monday): Top Ten Covers That I would Frame as Art

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme run by The Broke and The Bookish.  This week, it focusses on covers that you would happily frame and hang in your house to look at and adore.  I've added that last bit, but I assume that is sort of the point. I'm so excited that I'm posting this on Monday. One week I will actually manage TTT on T. Maybe. In no particular order, here are some of my favourite covers:

I bought this book years ago, at an airport, solely because of its cover.  Seriously, I didn't even read the back.  Luckily, it turned out to be a wonderful book - but I would have been happy just to own it for looks alone.

So I actually already sort of have this one framed as art.  I thought that the cover was a brave choice and one that suggested the publishers already realised that they might have at the least a cross-over title and at the most a classic on their hands. 

This is a fantastic cover.  Seriously, I don't know why I haven't already framed it.  The colours, the font, the relevance to the book.  Brilliant.  As is the story, so read it.

This reminds me of old woodcuts, something which I would like to own many of.  I haven't managed to read this yet, but sometimes I pull out the book and admire its artwork.

Another book that I bought because the cover caught my eye.  This is a new version but is as powerful and intriguing as the first.

I know, I know... this is technically two covers but I couldn't choose.  They are both superb and beautifully and eerie.  If pushed, I would choose to design this blog around the one on the left and frame the one on the right.

A beautiful cover for a stunning book, and one that is very evocative and, well, just gorgeous. 

While I wasn't blown away by the book (or at least not all of it), I think that this was one of the best covers of 2013 and would love to have it grace my walls.  Simple, yet haunting.

I wouldn't normally go for kissing on a cover but this image is just so very beautiful that I could happily look at it every day.  It is also an image that made me desperate to know the story that inspired it as while it is romantic, it is also a little frightening.

Much like Seraphina, Shadow and Bone was published with a ghastly cover in the UK.  Luckily (unlike Seraphina) the publisher came to their senses and republished with this utter beauty.  At least I think they did - possibly, I've just convinced myself of that because they SHOULD have.

And that's it.  BUT as an extra Brucie Bonus, here is a picture of my favourite painting which is just crying out for a story to be inspired by it.  It's called l'Empire de Lumieres and is by Magritte.  If you ever get a chance to see it, it hangs in the Peggy Guggenheim collection in Venice and is well worth a visit in person.

Isn't it beautiful?

I'd love to know what your favourite covers are or your favourite works of art in general, so please pop in and comment and discuss pretty things and where they take you.