Voices in the Dark by Catherine Banner

Rating 8.6/10
Ideal for those who like their fantasy gritty and their characters realistic.

Asking for the truth can be as painful as telling it... Anselm Andros has clearly defined roles in his family and they are roles he plays very well—he is confidante to his mother, Maria. He is the confessor to his stepfather, Leo, a man haunted by the secrets of his past. And Anselm is also the patient, caring brother to his precocious sister, Jasmine. When the political landscape of Malonia starts to shift, this unassuming family begins to unravel. Even though they’ve spent the past fifteen years leading a quiet life, Maria and Leo’s actions are forever linked to the turbulent history of Malonia and its parallel world, modern-day England. With so much uncertainty at home and in his world, it is more important than ever for Anselm to put all the pieces of the past together. He must listen to his own voice and acknowledge his fears and desires—whatever the cost.

In 2008, already saddled with unhelpful comparisons to JK Rowling, Catherine Banner published The Eyes of a King to a rather mixed response. Yet all reviews - both negative and positive - had one thing in common; they all saw something in Banner's writing that was a little bit special; a certain something that hinted of great things to come. 2010 sees the publication of the second book in the Last Descendants series, Voices in the Dark, and many will be looking for yet more signs of the undoubted talent that this author possesses.

Anselm Andros has always thought he had a normal life - confidante to his mother, Maria, confessor to his stepfather, Leo, a man haunted by the secrets of his past, and support to his sister Jasmine. But when the political landscape of Malonia starts to shift, this unassuming family begin to unravel. Even though they have spent the past fifteen years leading a quiet life, Maria and Leo's actions are forever linked to the turbulent history of Malonia and its parallel world, modern-day England. The voices from the past still echo in the present and Anselm must pull all the pieces together - whatever the cost.

In Voices in the Dark Catherine Banner has improved over her debut novel in all areas - most notably in the world-building, narrative and dialogue departments (not that there was a great deal wrong there to begin with). In The Eyes of a King she showed a rich imagination, but many found the teenage angst overbearing and the dialogue rather stilted. This is not the case with Voices in the Dark and it is a damn fine, if somewhat cheerless read.  

Readers always encounter a few difficulties with the first book in a trilogy, especially when it is by an author they have not previously read. It takes time to become accustomed to the new characters, worlds and the author’s writing style. This was perhaps the case with The Eyes of a King but it is now unlikely that anyone who reads Voices in the Dark will not have previously read its predecessor so most will now be comfortable with the author, her characters and worlds and the way that she tells her story. Once the author/reader relationship has been established the reading experience improves drastically. This is what happened for me and I’m sure many others will have the same experience.

Banner has written a realistic and gritty tale. As previously mentioned, cheer is in short supply and there is a great deal of unhappiness, suffering and loss within. Those who have read Robin Hobb’s Soldier Son Trilogy should know what I mean by this – there is no questioning the skill with which the tale is told but many will ask, “Does it need to be so dark?” and “Will there never be any happiness for these people?” I guess this is the price that is paid for making events as true to real life as possible. I was OK with this as I am not a fan of happily-ever-afters but others may struggle (as was the case with the Soldier Son books). In the book’s defence, the main setting for the second book is a city descending into civil war whilst also being threatened by invasion so it is understandable that life is hard and walks in meadows and picnics are not the order of the day. I think this is healthy for the fantasy genre as it needs this type of writing to keep it balanced and to offer something different.

Other than Robin Hobb I found that Banner’s writing also put me in mind of William Horwood, and this is a compliment indeed, coming from me as he is one of my favourite authors.

In summary, Voices in the Dark is a very good book; a book that has increased its strengths and reduced its weaknesses. If you like your fantasy gritty, realistic and imaginative then I would heartily recommend Voices in the Dark and The Last Descendents series as it is just getting better and better.

Catherine Banner began writing The Eyes of a King when she was fourteen, after school and on summer holidays. In 2006 her portrait was displayed in the Exceptional Youth Exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, which showcased talented and inspiring young Britons. Catherine was also featured in the Observer's 2008 'Cool List'. She is currently in her first year at Cambridge University, studying English.

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