Liz de Jager
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.