Vowed is the second book in The Blackhart Legacy and reunites us with kick-ass hero Kit Blackhart. I was impressed by Kit the first time around and I’m pleased to say that this subsequent adventure impressed me even more.
Vowed has the feel of a detective story, which contrasts nicely with Banished’s straight-up action adventure. De Jager thus demonstrates her ability to inhabit different modes of storytelling and her pacy but measured exposition is a successful example of this particular narrative structure. We have a juicy mystery, elusive leads, scattered clues and no little excitement as Kit and Dante venture ever nearer to the truth.
On a deprived London estate, children are going missing. Suola, the Unseelie Queen, tasks Kit and – to her initial irritation – government agent Dante Alexander with tracking down the culprit. What sounds like a clear-cut objective swiftly becomes murky and Kit and Dante find themselves under pressure to solve the mystery before people start dying. They encounter a colourful array of characters both hostile and benign, get beaten up enough to make the reader wince, and drink more coffee than is good for them.
All this is told with de Jager’s trademark wit; Banished was infamous for its devastating food p0rn and Vowed is no less so. Kit and Dante eat their way through a menagerie of breakfasts after each night’s detective work and there is an especially memorable scene in which the hot werewolf Aiden teams up with the equally hot Dante to flip pancakes in Kit’s kitchen. No, that’s not a euphemism.
Joking aside, Liz de Jager is on top form here. Banished was a solid YA debut and Vowed takes the elements that worked in its favour and builds on them. We have good character development, great world-building and a new, intriguing addition to the cast in the form of Dante Alexander, who finds himself solving the mystery of his parentage alongside the greater mystery of the missing children. Dante is likable (silence, Kit), undeniably sexy and fascinating. The truth of his identity eventually interweaves with the wider narrative and ties in nicely with backstory explored in Banished.
I’m not a Londoner, but I thought de Jager’s depiction of the impoverished estate was uncomfortably good, from its teenage inhabitants to the concrete stairwells and graffitied garages. It sets the benchmark for the rest of Vowed’s landscapes, which are varied and well-realised. We have the Blackhart family town house, a memorable demon-run night club aptly called Milton’s, the Dark Forest, which readers will remember from Banished, and the eerie, labyrinthine ruin where the story culminates.
But it’s character that drives this novel and Vowed sees Kit undergo some changes of the growing-up variety. Everything matures, from her vocabulary to her emotional responses, and de Jager handles each development with tact. This is a Kit who must assume a greater level of responsibility, a Kit whose mission requires her to be independent, resourceful and clever. She is not so much swept up by events, as she was in Banished. Rather she takes the initiative and deals with the consequences in a way that shows her to be far less naïve. This is not to say that she doesn’t make mistakes. Kit is impulsive and headstrong – two innate aspects of her personality. She has a tendency to act before thinking and takes unnecessary risks. It’s interesting therefore that she struggles to disobey the rule that forbids a relationship between mortal and fae when Thorn is so ready to do so.
This brings me neatly to the prince, a major character from Banished who has a lot less airtime in Vowed. It will disappoint some fans, no doubt, but Dante is a good distraction and Thorn has an important reason for being away. He’s learning to be the guardian of the realm and this involves a deal of magical training. Now I love a good sorcerer, especially when that sorcerer happens to be a hot fae prince, so Thorn growing more powerful is a big yes in my book. (Let’s not forget he can also turn into a dragon).
Thorn knows why the children are disappearing and attempts to communicate this to Kit in her dreams – it’s not until the climax of the story that we see them reunited in the physical world. The resolution of the mystery is in danger of being a little far-fetched, an accusation that is probably levelled fairly frequently at fantasy. But the way in which it throws a morally ambiguous light over the whole proceedings is excellent and a real departure from the norm.
This theme runs throughout the novel and is yet another feature that elevates Vowed, setting it apart from Banished – a much more traditional story of good versus evil. Skirting spoilers, there is an ethically complex, but valid reason for the missing children, which completely throws Kit off her usual game. It’s a situation that complements her growing maturity and she’s well-aware of it, frequently wishing someone more experienced would take over the case. Interestingly, de Jager offers us an outsider’s view of Kit and Dante in the form of the missing children’s parents, who struggle to see the pair as capable. It’s a touch of realism in a fantastical world and helps to put things in perspective for the reader who is all too easily swept up in events.
When reviewing Banished, I remember commenting on two intrinsic parts of Kit’s character, the first being her magic and the short leash on which she keeps it. Vowed sees that leash considerably lengthened – Kit no longer fears her abilities and is far more willing to use them in any given situation. The second was her response to violence. This is one of the reasons why de Jager’s a great writer. A protagonist’s emotional response to violence, particularly the violence they themselves inflict, is too often neglected and perhaps that’s part of a larger problem inherent in the genre. Rightly de Jager never lets us forget that Kit is seventeen and although her life is often a violent one, that doesn’t mean she has to like it or enjoy dishing out her trademark punches. Kit may be more kick-ass than us, but, in her kindness and decency, we’re able to see ourselves.
Liz de Jager has upped her game with Vowed. We have a tighter story, extensive character development and subtler themes. And, despite the slightly abrupt ending, the book is a whole lot of fun. It’s a page-turner that leaves you flustered and anxious by turns but, most importantly, it leaves you craving more.