A set of coeds find themselves drawn into the battle of a gifted witch named Travis, who’s at war with his coven in THE BANISHED. Harry Potter he’s not. While we do meet him as a young witch just coming into his powers, Travis quickly grows up to possess “sculpted musculature” (which he likes) and “charcoal stubble on his square jaw” (which everyone likes)—because everyone just falls over for Travis, becoming a drooling, swooning slave. At one point he’s even described as having “a superhero body.” We get it. He’s a hot witch, not a neutered school chum like our Harry.
In author Ron Gabriel’s magical world, witches are a lot like vampires: Travis and his not-long-for-this-world parents are the kind of witches who don’t like to kill people, which is unfortunately the only way witches gain their power. Naturally, the big corporate overlord—er, coven—has turned against these system-busters, killing mom and dad and going after the rebellious but obedient son Travis, even as he escapes from Bucharest to America. In Bucharest, we’re privy to lots of spell casting and witch rules before Travis flees to America and runs into a clique of college coeds and here the book finally frees itself from the dark, Gothic, educational fog and springs to life. But Travis is no saint. While trying not to kill anyone (he’s not always successful), he does perform some pretty nasty sorcery to scare his victims, feeding his hunger by feasting on their fear.
That’s when you realize that this all-witch set-up has been…well, boring. It’s too insular, too self-involved, too charmed by its own mythology. It’s more creaky than creepy. Yes, we get the 411 on spells, wraithes, mind control, etc. but it’s all just textbook until we see it played out with real human subjects one cares about. But with genuine suspense, crackling sexuality, clever personalities, and genuine surprises, care you do. Sure, the coeds are a little expected in their movements and dialogue, but that doesn’t make them altogether uninteresting. Once we leave Bucharest and hit the states, the trip really becomes one worth taking. Gabriel suddenly kills a major character and after that, all bets are off and the stakes are raised considerably and it is at this point that THE BANISHED turns into a compulsive page-turner.
A minor quibble: self-published books are notorious for their lousy covers and THE BANISHED, sadly, is no exception to the rule. The ghostly black-on-black face on the cover reads more petrified zombie than seductive studly witch and hot little college kids, and fails to convey any of the wit and wizardry waiting inside. And that’s a shame. As designed by the author, Gabriel’s strengths are much more evident between the covers than the front of them.
After a less-than-spellbinding beginning, THE BANISHED proves itself to be a fun and surprising thriller.
~Steven Foster for IndieReader