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Voices in the Dark: The Last Descendants #2    by Catherine Banner order for
Voices in the Dark
by Catherine Banner
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Voices in the Dark is the second in Catherine Banner's Last Descendants trilogy, sequel to The Eyes of a King (which the young author began writing at age fourteen. Characters of the series move between a modern England and a medieval fantasy world, centered on the land of Malonia, a kingdom which seems to be perpetually on the cusp of revolution.

The Eyes of a King was primarily the story of Leo North, whose parents fled into exile when the king was assassinated in a rebellion. Infant prince Ryan survived (as was prophesied) and was sent to England. Leo and his brother Stirling lived with their grandmother and attended a military academy. Leo's growing powers gave him access to North family secrets and to visions of exiled Ryan and his growing relationship with Anna. Leo befriended - and eventually loved - a young neighbor, Maria Andros, a single soon-to-be mother. Then tragedy struck and Leo did something that would haunt him ever after.

This second book, Voices in the Dark opens fifteen years later and is told from the viewpoint of Maria's son (Leo's stepson) Anselm. In fact, we see Anselm confiding what has happened to a mysterious old man as they journey together in a coach to an unknown (to readers) destination. Anselm is close to (and protective of) his powerful six-year-old half-sister Jasmine, who was tutored by Uncle Aldebaran, the king's chief advisor. Now Aldebaran has died, leaving the kingdom vulnerable to threats from within (civil unrest fomented by its enemies and by supporters of the previous government) and from without (Alcyria's New Imperial Order). Also Maria is pregnant again.

As Malonia's problems escalate, Anselm's close friend Michael (whom he loves) departs for the south. Anselm notices watchers spying on his family, and wonders about the identity of his real father - when he learns the truth he is devastated. He also finds a story about Rigel, once head of the secret service. In it, Aldebaran sends Rigel to England to seek Ryan. Once there, Rigel (fearful for his daughter Juliette's life) cuts all ties with his old mentor. Juliette eventually encounters Ryan herself. Back in Malonia, Leo deserts his family, afraid that his presence (he's been marked as a resistance leader) will endanger them. When debts force the family to relocate, they decide to follow Leo, which is when Anselm is separated from the others.

None of these people seem to talk to each other. They revel in their angst and brood far too much, especially adult Leo whose actions and motivations show more of an adolescent's impulsiveness than the sense a grown man (and father of a young family) should have. Nevertheless I find The Last Descendants series absorbing. Late in this second episode, Jasmine and Leo find Aldebaran's last prophecy: 'I name my last descendant as your hope in times of trouble, a very certain help in the darkness of the road ... Have courage.' I expect that readers will be enlightened about the meaning of the prophecy in the conclusion to the trilogy, and look forward to reading it.

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