Serena’s Review: “Empire of Exiles”

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Book: “Empire of Exiles” by Erin M. Evans

Publishing Info: Orbit, November 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: Twenty-seven years ago, a Duke with a grudge led a ruthless coup against the empire of Semilla, killing thousands. He failed. The Duke was executed, a terrifyingly powerful sorcerer was imprisoned, and an unwilling princess disappeared. 

The empire moved on. 

Now, when Quill, an apprentice scribe, arrives in the capital city, he believes he’s on a simple errand for another pompous noble: fetch ancient artifacts from the magical Imperial Archives. He’s always found his apprenticeship to a lawman to be dull work. But these aren’t just any artifacts — these are the instruments of revolution, the banners under which the Duke lead his coup. 

Just as the artifacts are unearthed, the city is shaken by a brutal murder that seems to have been caused by a weapon not seen since the days of rebellion. With Quill being the main witness to the murder, and no one in power believing his story, he must join the Archivists — a young mage, a seasoned archivist, and a disillusioned detective — to solve the truth of the attack. And what they uncover will be the key to saving the empire – or destroying it again.

Review: I always love some good, old-fashioned political intrigue in my fantasy novels. On top of that, a “seasoned archivist” sounds like a fancy name for a fantasy librarian, so you know I’m going to be all over anything that references librarians. What can I say, we’re easy to please. It’s kind of like how the Oscar nominations always favor movies about Hollywood. Publishers and authors know what us librarians like to read about. Ourselves! But in all seriousness, this sounded like an intriguing book, so I was happy to receive a copy to review from Orbit.

It has been decades since the Duke lead his failed coup, attempting to set up a young princess as the next ruler. He was executed and the world seemed to move on, life going about as usual behind the wall of Salt that surrounds the land to protect those within from the powerful Changelings that linger, ever present beyond. But now, the artifacts of the Duke’s rebellion are being brought out of storage. What possible use could they serve but to reignite that old spark? On top of that, a shocking murder takes place and a group of seemingly disconnected individuals all work to uncover the many secrets that are slowly, slowly creeping back into the light.

This is definitely a book made for true fantasy lovers. By that I mean that it can be intimidating as heck to those who might just pick it up on a whim. You open the book and there you see detailed and complex maps. Then you see a huge cast of characters. And then you start reading and it becomes very apparent that not only do these main characters not understand the full scope of their world, but that the author isn’t about to clue you, the reader, in any time soon either. But this is not a critique! Indeed, all of these things are exactly the kind of meaty aspects that I think many fantasy readers are looking for in a book. We want to be thrown into the deep end and feel as if we’re truly in a new world, one that would in fact be filled with huge casts of characters, need a detailed map to understand, and contain a magic system that goes beyond wand-waving. And this book delivers on all of these things!

Some of it will also be familiar to fantasy fans, which can be a plus and a minus. I didn’t think there was anything truly shocking here, though I may make an exception for the Changelings themselves, as I thought they were a particularly interesting threat. But the magic system, while interesting, will read as familiar to many fantasy readers. Basically, practitioners will have an affinity to certain things (wood, bone, stone) etc. which will influence they way they can perform magic. Hence, the salt wall that surrounds the city gains a certain mystique as it could only be created by a very unique sort of person.

The characters were all good as well, though I can’t say that I was overly attached to any one of them over another. This is probably a good and a bad thing, ultimately. I wasn’t dreading any particular character’s chapter, but I also wasn’t incredibly invested in one of them either. All told, I think the characters themselves served more as aspects of the world and story that were being created than as the driving force of the story itself.

The writing was quite effective right from the start. It felt sure-handed and well-practiced at balancing the myriad of aspects that must go into creating a complicated world and story such as this one. Indeed, on top of setting up an epic-feeling fantasy world, the author adds in a murder mystery. For me, as a fan of mysteries as well, I really enjoyed this combination of genres, and I think it added an extra zest to the overall story.

It did take me a bit to really get into the book. Because we’re thrown in right away, it takes a bit to orient oneself with the players and world at large. This might also be where my lack of immediate attachment to the characters put me at a bit of a disadvantage. Even now, though, I can’t point to exactly why I struggled with this. I have very clear memories of some of the first scenes with certain characters and laughing internally at some of the great dialogue right off the bat. Either way, I think this book will definitely appeal to epic fantasy fans looking for a new world to explore, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for the next one!

Rating 8: The pinnacle of what one looks for in epic fantasy: a sprawling world, a rich history, a detailed magic system, and an intriguing cast of characters to travel alongside.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Empire of Exiles” can be found on this Goodreads list: Best books of November, 2022

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