Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Draken vae Khellian, bastard cousin of the Monoean King, had risen far from his ignominious origins, becoming both a Bowrank Commander and a member of the Crown’s Black Guard. But when he is falsely condemned for the grisly murder of his beloved wife, he is banished from the kingdom and cast upon the distant shore of Akrasia, at the arse-end of the world.
Compared to civilized Monoea, Akrasia is a forbidding land of Moonlings, magic, and restless spirits. It is also a realm on the brink of a bloody revolution, as a sinister conspiracy plots against Akrasia’s embattled young queen–and malevolent banes possess the bodies of the living.
Consumed by grief, and branded a murderer, Draken lives only to clear his name and avenge his wife’s murder. But the fates may have bigger plans for him. Alone in a strange land, he soon finds himself sharing the bed of an enigmatic necromancer and a half-breed servant girl, while pressed into the service of a foreign queen whose life and land may well depend on the divided loyalties of an exiled warrior…
Thoughts: Exile tells the story of Draken, illegitimate child of royalty and cousin to the King of Monoea, framed for the murder of his wife and exiled from his homeland. Hence the name of the novel. He gets caught up in a plot between the lands of Akrasia and Brin, a plot involving the gods, ancient weapons, and necromancy, and it seems up to Drake to get to the bottom of not only the threat hanging over multiple countries, but also the truth behind the murder of his wife.
Exile is full of tropes and commonly-used ideas for fantasy fiction, but what’s interesting is that it often doesn’t feel that way as the story progresses. You’ve got the illegitimate child of royalty who has a great manipulated destiny unfolding before him, a magic sword, multiple kingdoms who all believe in the same gods and all hate halfbloods. The list goes on. But you tend to get so caught up in the story that a lot of it goes unnoticed for a long time, until you’re invested in what’s happening and you want to keep reading. It doesn’t feel cheesy or overdone. It feels familiar and comfortable while still being new, something good to read for a fantasy fan looking for some solid comfort reading but also something that haven’t read before. It fits the bill quite nicely.
The book fell down in two main areas for me, things that I couldn’t overlook or that stood out so glaringly at the end that it was difficult to reconcile them with the rest of the story. The first is the transparency of the characters, particularly when it comes to their opinion of Draken. People either immediately dislike him, which isn’t that notable given the few examples in the text, or else like him and trust him right from the get-go, often for reasons that make little sense and seem largely contrived. It made sense with a few people, like Osias and Setia, and Tyrolean once he got to know Draken, but Elena? Va Khlar? A few tenuous reasons are provided, but they don’t hold up well to close examination.
Which leads right into my second problem, the idea of all the events surrounding Draken being orchestrated. Yes, orchestrated by someone who has a fair bit of power and influence, the idea that the whole plan went off essentially without a hitch? It could have all been undone by Draken drowning before he made it to shore after being kicked off the prison ship. It could have been undone by him getting pneumonia and dying on the prison ship! So many things lined up so perfectly to have Draken exactly where someone else needed him to be, not just with time and place but also people’s reactions to him, that it stretches credulity. So, a very detailed tapestry of events, but just don’t poke too hard at the image or else you’ll find that many of the threads are pretty weak.
The world-building was sufficient, though not particularly detailed. There’s the usual feuding over borders, politics, some cultural difference between nations, but most of it goes unaddressed, and what I noticed most was the similarities between them all. The biggest difference between most represented cultures in Exile are skin colour and general attitudes toward sex. Other than that, they all worship the same pantheon, all value pure blood and despise those of mixed race, and believe in similar fairy tales. Which isn’t outside the realm of possibility, given evidence of pervasive and widespread similar beliefs in the real world, but there didn’t even seem to be slight variations in myths or dialect. Not much is seen of the Monoeans, except to say that they have tanned skin and also don’t like those of mixed race, so perhaps this is something more related to the similarities between Akrasia and Brin and the reader’s perspective is simply too narrow to draw any broader conclusions.
Still, I have to applaud Dornbusch’s ability to take familiar and largely overused plot elements and turn them into something that feels original, to pad the bare bones of the story with enough unique elements that it stands out from the rest. I rated the book 3 cups, but really it’s more like 3.5, somewhere comfortably between a 3 and a 4. It may not have been perfect, but it was still quite good, and I’d be interested in continuing with Draken’s story if given half the chance. (And not just because I have a slightly unhealthy obsession with Osias. Seriously, he’s probably the most fascinating character in the whole book!)
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)