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Sunday, October 23, 2022

Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans - Review

 


OFFICIAL AUTHOR WEBSITE
Buy Empire of Exiles HERE


OFFICIAL AUTHOR BIO: Erin M. Evans is the author of seven Forgotten Realms novels for Wizards of the Coast, including the 2011 Scribe Award winner Brimstone Angels. She is a content designer for Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms and a cast member of the D&D actual play Dungeon Scrawlers. Erin lives in the Seattle area with her husband and sons.

FORMAT/INFO: Empire of Exiles was published on November 8th, 2022 by Orbit Books. It is 378 pages split across 18 chapters and 6 interludes. It is told in third person from four POVs, including Quill, Yinni, Amadea, and Richa. It is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Brother Quill’s job was simply to be part of a team helping to process paperwork to retrieve a noble family’s heirlooms from the Imperial Archives. But when he stumbles across a murder, Quill finds himself entangled in an investigation where all roads seem to lead back to those very same archives. And Quill isn’t the only one investigating the murder. Archivist Amadea, town guard vigilant Richa, and ink specialist Yinni all have their own reasons for wanting to find the murderer – especially when evidence begins to tie motives to a failed coup that happened twenty years earlier. 

Empire of Exiles is a captivating murder mystery set in a fascinating epic fantasy world, one that will have you flying through the pages to find out everyone’s secrets and motivations. Four different characters are investigating the murder that occurs in the opening chapters of the book, coming at the case from different angles and for different reasons. Empire of Exiles is one of those fun reads where you know more about character motivations than the other characters, and can see them make some reasonable misinterpretations about each other’s motives. Sometimes this means they work at cross purposes, as paranoia leads some to a reasonable “Trust no one” approach, until time proves who their real allies are. 

If you are the kind of person daunted by world-building, you might want to take a pause before jumping into Empire of Exiles. This is the kind of book that throws you into the deep end from page one, expecting the reader to pick up inferences about cultures and history from passing remarks as the story goes on. I fully believe the author has a tome of a reference notebook somewhere, breaking down the full history of this entire continent, with only a fraction of the information making into the story as necessary. 

While the author has provided a dramatis personae list and a handy map, I could have used a quick reference page matching the physical attributes of the different races to their country – telling me someone is Orozhandi doesn’t help me picture them if I can’t remember if that’s the race of squid people or the race that’s got horns, three eyes, and can see in the dark. Still, I applaud creating fresh races with fresh cultures – honestly my complaint here is mostly that I just wanted to see more of that lore in the book! 

As for the characters, they do a pretty good job of carrying the story. Amadea, the archivist whom everyone turns to in a crisis, is probably the stand out character, trying to protect the archives while managing complications from her past. Quill and Yinni are both on their own journeys of understanding what they want out of their futures, while at the same time investigating events that are waaaay above their paygrade. The weak link here is the detective character Richa, if only because we get to learn so little about his past. We learn he had a different career before he joined the guard, but why he made the change isn’t particularly addressed; while he’s handy in the plot, I didn’t connect with him too much. 

Lastly, a quick shout out to the soft magic system in this world, which revolves around “worked” materials (ink, glass, bone, wool, bronze, etc.). Basically if you can craft it, someone can have an affinity for it. With a weak affinity, a person can tell about a material’s origins, age, etc. simply by touching the material. A strong affinity, however, gives a person the ability to not only manipulate the material, but to manipulate the circumstances that creates that material to begin with. Ink for instance, is partially created from burning materials, giving a high powered magic-user at peak moments the ability to burn objects. 

If that all sounds a bit loosey goosey, it is, with a person’s magic abilities varying wildly, to a degree I admit I don’t fully track. What makes it interesting, however, is that a person with an affinity is in danger of becoming too “aligned” with their material, of wanting to just let that material completely take them over and destroy them. For this reason, the higher powered magic users are constantly watched for signs of “spiraling” and losing control of themselves. In the acknowledgement, the author discusses wanting to create a magic system that felt like an anxiety disorder, and on that front, the author succeeded. “I’m fine” is a constant refrain from magic users in this book who are on the verge of a complete breakdown – that denial of how much you DON’T have everything under control is incredibly relatable. 

CONCLUSION: Empire of Exiles' biggest weakness is that it left me wanting more. More world-building, more explanation of what’s beyond the wall, more details of how the magic system works. Thankfully, this is only book one in a series (the exact length of which seems to be TBD?), so there are plenty of future books to continue fleshing out the world, which it is very clear we are only getting a peak at. In the meantime, Empire of Exiles is a satisfying contained murder mystery that will have readers guessing at suspects and motivations throughout the story, right up until the stunning conclusion.

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