An absorbing, page turning read with a likeable down-to-earth heroine and a sweet romance that just felt…right from the get go. Check out our Q&A interviews with authors Nicola Marsh and Deborah Blake.
This post is part of the Banish blog tour. Click here for the tour schedule and participants.
After her ex-boyfriend commits suicide and her mum’s alcoholism sparks yet another psychotic episode, seventeen-year-old Alyssa Wood flees her small hometown of Broadwater and heads to New York City to stay with her bohemian aunt—a Wicca High Priestess.
Alyssa revels in the anonymity of a big city and her new life. Her grades climb, she has a new best friend, and a new guy: the sexy geek Ronan—a saxophone player who prefers jazz to pop.
But her newfound peace is soon shattered when she sees a dead body in one of Ronan’s music clips—and she’s the only one who can see it. Worse still, Alyssa recognises the body that has been murdered a week forward!
Alyssa doesn’t believe in the supernatural…despite her family’s Wicca background. So how will she overcome evil when it’s closer than she thinks?
Welcome to the final stop on the Banish blog tour! The novel begins a week prior to a thrilling cliff hanger of a prologue. It was so engrossing I actually forgot about the prologue until the plot arrived at that exact scene. Nicola Marsh does a brilliant job of simply cutting to the chase through Alyssa’s wry and charming point of view.
Speaking of Alyssa, she is such a breath of fresh air. She’s not scarily co-dependent and unappealingly insecure. Like any normal teenage girl she has some body image hang-ups but it’s a fleeting mention, told more by way of droll self-mockery, and we never hear of it again.
What else I enjoyed was that Ronan, the hot older man at the advanced age of 21 years, is introduced at the same time Alyssa is. I was already excited at the thought of not having to deal with yet another one of those implausible young adult love triangles. Besides, the budding romance between Alyssa and Ronan is actually integral to the plot and solving the whodunit. Who put that video of the dead girl in the music clip her new boyfriend sent her? The thing is, despite growing up with a Wiccan mother and now living with her high-priestess aunt, Alyssa doesn’t believe in the whole supernatural thing.
Q&A with Nicola Marsh
I haven’t read a good witchy YA since Cate Tiernan’s Sweep (Wicca in the UK/Aus) series, and Banish rekindled my curiosity about modern paganism, so I asked the lovely Nicola Marsh 3 questions in 3 minutes.
I noticed that author Deborah Blake is mentioned in the acknowledgements for Banish. What, if any, further research did you undertake to learn more about modern witchcraft?
I took one of Deborah’s* online courses, Witchcraft for the Paranormal Author, and found it invaluable. I learned so much about witchcraft that helped clarify plot points for me in Banish, as well as being able to ask Deborah questions directly. Great course! I also purchased Deborah’s book after the course, Everyday Witch A to Z, which is a fabulous resource packed with useful information and presented in a humorous way. Highly recommend!
* Scroll down for a Q&A with Deborah Blake.
Did you know anything about Wicca/Paganism prior to writing Banish? Were you a skeptic?
Honestly? I knew next to nothing about the Wiccan religion prior to writing Banish. I think witches get a bad rap, especially when Hollywood portrays them as the ‘baddies’ usually. So I found it enlightening to broaden my way of thinking.
As far as skepticism goes, I don’t judge people for what they believe in.
Lastly, do you believe in Magick? If not, do you now?
I like to think there are a lot of religions that have their own special brand of magick. Do some people have supernatural/psychic gifts? Yes. I was a skeptic until I came in contact with a woman many years ago who knew nothing about me but told me specifics, like my dead grandparents’ names, how I used to work on my grandfather’s left shoulder when he was alive (I was a physio in those days) and many other things that were so accurate I was astounded.
Does magick exist? If there was a spell to sell a zillion copies of Banish, that would be a huge, resounding yes!
Being Wiccan — a guest post by Deborah Blake
Deborah Blake is the author of seven books on modern witchcraft from Llewellyn Worldwide, including Everyday Witch Book of Rituals, and her debut novel will be out from Berkley in 2014.
What are some of the cornerstones of the Wiccan religion?
At its heart, Wicca is a nature-based religion which centers around an appreciation and respect for the planet we live on and all the gifts it gives us. Most Wiccans worship both a god and a goddess, although there some who worship the goddess alone. There is a great importance placed on our connection with the natural elements, the gods, and each other, and the gods are seen as being both separate from us and within us at the same time. Wiccan is an accepting religion, which has no rules about things like sexual orientation or lifestyle choices as many other religions do. We also believe in personal responsibility (no blaming your own actions on the devil, for instance). And we believe that magic is real, and can be used to create positive change in our lives. Confused yet?
What are some common preconceptions about being Wiccan?
Well, first there is that obvious ‘Witches worship the devil’ thing. Uh, no. For one thing, the devil is a Christian concept, not a Pagan one. It is hard to worship someone you don’t believe in. I think a lot of people perceive Wiccans as being flaky New Age weirdoes, which I find rather ironic, since many of the Wiccans I know are pragmatic, practical people doing quite conventional jobs. For instance, at one point in time, my coven, Blue Moon Circle, included a nurse, a college professor, a librarian, and a shop manager. Truth be told, we’re mostly just like everyone else; we just follow a different spiritual path.
How does being a contemporary Wiccan differ from days gone by?
Aha—trick question! (Okay, you probably didn’t mean it to be, but still, it is.) All Wiccans are more or less contemporary. The earliest Wiccan practice started in about the 1940’s (depending on whom you ask), so the ‘days gone by’ aren’t all that long ago. There are some differences, but I suspect that what you were really asking was ‘How does being a Witch today differ from being a Witch in days gone by?’ Which is a whole ‘nother question. (And just for clarification—or more confusion, maybe—some Pagans call themselves Witches, some Witches call themselves Wiccans, and many of these folks have completely different practices from each other, although they still have a lot in common. NOW are you confused?)
Today’s Witch is both different and the same as the Witch of, say, old European times. They both connect with nature and the elements (earth, air, fire, and water) and worship a goddess (with or without a god). Both practise magic, tapping into their own natural abilities and the powers of the gods/the universe. In part, the difference is that today’s Witch, while often stigmatised by society (sometimes even to the point of losing a job or having a child taken away by the courts in custody battles), is not likely to be burned at the stake. We have the right to practice our religion openly, although that isn’t always a real option for everyone. It is also easier for us to find information, connect with others, and worship as we choose. Also, there are cool statues on the internet.
What are your favorite aspects of being Wiccan?
That’s a great question! (Seriously, I get interviewed a lot, and no one has ever asked me that one before.) I love the way the spiritual path is based on free will and is nonjudgmental. (I’m a ‘live and let live’ kinda gal.) I feel a connection with the Pagan gods that I never felt in any of the other religious paths I pursued. That doesn’t mean they aren’t great paths for some people; they just weren’t great for me. I love the connection to nature. When I walk outside and see the full moon hanging in the sky overhead, it is as if I can feel the goddess reaching down and touching my heart. Mostly, I love the way it resonates with my spirit in positive and life-affirming ways.
I’m sure Banish will have no problems in the selling department—it’s only the start of a fabulous new series! Although the bad guy didn’t come as too much of a surprise, the reasons behind their motives was certainly an interesting one. My only criticism really was the anti-climactic (and still confusing) reveal of Alyssa’s power as a soul retriever and its link to her mother’s ability to hear spirits . Hopefully this will be further explained and not glossed over in the sequel.
Last but not least, I know it differs from reader to reader (and if you’ve read it, please, I would love to see your suggestions!) and, ultimately, no one will ever match the image we have of any given fictional character … but here’s my fantasy cast for a Banish film.
For the adorable and witty Alyssa, I think Aussie Bella Heathcote (aka that chick from Dark Shadows) would be a great choice. To play the part of part-time music tutor and sax player Ronan, for your viewing pleasure I present the hottest student to have come out of Hogwarts and he didn’t date Kristen Stewart: Freddie Stroma.
Yay or nay?
It’s always a very good thing when the one criticism I have about a book feels like I’m being nitpicky. Banish is an absorbing, page turning read with a likeable down-to-earth heroine and a sweet romance that just felt…right from the get go.
Who might enjoy it: Fans of Sabrina The Teenage Witch who like a dash of suspense and a delicious sprinkling of romance
Who might not enjoy it: Sceptics
An advance reading copy of this book was generously provided by the publisher. The book will be released tomorrow.