Opening with some fiction, a disparate tale about strange killers (which would be improved with a clear font and a less-heavy background, a combination which makes it hard to read), this work deals with the Banishers, those who have Awakened but become twisted, turning against other mages and magic itself. They are a varied bunch, their hatred of what they are making it difficult to build up much of a body of tradition, indeed many turn against their magic soon after they Awaken and so are self-taught in what they use... for even whilst eager to rid the world of magic, or at least other mages, they continue to use their powers to their twisted ends. They tend towards violent ignorance, driven perhaps by a fear of powers they do not understand, a fear that turns to hatred.
Chapter 1: The Purpose looks at how Banishers arise in the first place. Known as the 'Timori' or fearful ones, their origins are unknown although a matter for some speculation by the other Traditions who'd quite like to see the back of them so study them closely... yet some accuse those who study them of being secret sympathisers to their views. Nobody knows their origins for sure - and this includes the authors of this book, who leave it up to each Storyteller to decide for themselves what is really going on! What is known is that they can turn up everywhere and anywhere. Some hide as cults, others study magic more openly, others appear not to study it at all, at least not in public. Some see it as almost a disease, some claim that people with particular attitudes towards matters mystical are predisposed to become Banishers if they Awaken. Lots of speculation, no real conclusions. Do Banishers choose their path? If they don't it changes them from villains to victims - it's up to you! Some Banishers only become such later on in their magical career, having previously developed as normal. There are, of course, many theories as to how that happens as well. This chapter also provides templates and rules for creating Banisher characters and the sorts of organisations they might join and beliefs they might hold. These are clearly intended for NPCs, but there's potential for a twisted chronicle that focusses on a group of Banishers if that's what you want.
In Chapter 2: Weapons, we get down to detail: spells used by Banishers when about their deadly (well, if you are a mage anyway) work. It's quite a copious collection, and reading through them spawns quite a few ideas about how Banishers could cause problems to your mages. There are also artefacts - including a neat 'Permit' which appears as if it gives appropriate authority to the Banisher wielding it (similar to Doctor Who's psychic paper), sonething any mage might find handy - and imbued items available for their use.
Next, Chapter 3: Cults and Cabals presents some sample organisations for Banishers to join, groups which may make trouble for your mages as they go about their normal business. They are all developed in considerable detail and one or more can easily be infiltrated into wherever your mages live, possibly innocuous-sounding until they make a move against them. This chapter includes fully-developed individual Banishers, complete with game statistics, ready for use or as examples when developing your own. Ideas for using them, possibly spawning an entire chronicle or just an adventure or two, are scattered throughout. Excellent reading if you are contemplating adding Banishers to the mix in your game.
Finally, Chapter 4: Wielding the Witch-Hammer looks in more detail at how you can use Banishers in your chronicles, based on their view that magic is a curse, and mages are the perpetrators. They are definitely not good guys, if only because of their unwillingness to accept that others hold different views from their own. But it also addresses the challenges of actually playing a Banisher, and goes into more detail about creating Banisher characters, this time with an eye towards player-characters rather than NPCs.
This book raises some interesting ethical questions, ones that can be used to make a group stop and think - Mage: The Awakening is quite a contemplative game anyway, but analysing this quirk of opposition from within is thought-provoking. It's interesting to speculate about the reasons why a Banisher is the way he is - even if you are running like the clappers to get away from his latest murderous assault at the time! For of course this is not a purely philosophical standpoint, it's an all-out war on mages fought from within their ranks, quite different from the squabbles that arise between more ordinary mages jockeying for position or defending a pet theory. There's scope for excitement, real danger... and above all, epic storytelling.
[5 of 5 Stars!]