Book Review : Empire of Exiles

I received this book for free from Orbit Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : Empire of ExilesEmpire of Exiles (Books of the Usurper, #1) by Erin M. Evans
Published by Orbit on November 8th 2022
Pages: 432
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Source: Orbit Books

Magic, mystery, and revolution collide in this fantasy epic where an unlikely team of mages, scribes, and archivists must band together to unearth a conspiracy that might topple their empire.
"What makes this book special, even by Erin’s lofty goalposts, is the world she weaves around the characters. Detailed and mysterious, a place to explore and relish. Empire of Exiles is highly recommended!” – R.A. Salvatore, author or “The Legend of Drizzt” and the DemonWars novels
“The beginning of a truly epic tale. Deft worldbuilding and wonderful verbal fencing that is a delight to read. In these pages, you are in the hands of a master.” - Ed Greenwood, creator of the Forgotten Realms and internationally bestselling author

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.
Empire of Exiles has it all: characters I love, intertwined compelling mysteries in the past and present, plot twists that keep coming, and a unique and fascinating world and magic system!" – Melissa Caruso, author of The Obsidian Tower
“Beautifully wrought and equally ensnaring, this book lived up to and then surpassed all my expectations.” – Cat Rambo, author of You Sexy Thing

Empire of Exiles is a truly unique reading experience, with this novel managing to be a fantasy novel, murder-mystery, and a novel of political intrigue all-in-one.  Though the pacing of the novel was often a bit of a struggle for me, I was very intrigued by the mystery surrounding the cast of characters, the exceptionally unique magic system, and the world-building at large. 


“‘Those who sow deception,’ Karimo called tearfully, ‘must reap only death.’”


The novel had barely started before a recently introduced friend and colleague of a main character and apprentice scribe, Quill, inexplicably attacks and murders several important people at a fundraising party and then tuns his blade upon himself, uttering a phrase about changelings before dying. Refusing to believe his friend capable of committing such atrocities, Quill sets out to get to the bottom of what happened, with help from archivists Amaeda Gintanas and Yinii, as well as a cynical detective named Richa. 


Though Empire of Exiles starts out with this shocking beginning, I found that the rest of the novel stalled out a lot during the subsequent investigation. Though Quill, Amadea, and Richa strive to get to the bottom of what is going on, the novel flounders. Instead of leaving tantalizing bread crumbs for these characters and readers to follow, Empire of Exiles meanders away from the purpose of its main mystery, getting lost in Quill and Yinii’s burgeoning feelings for one another, side characters falling prey to their magical affinities, and alarming questions surrounding the true nature of Amadea’s past.


Though I was truly interested in how Amadea’s murky and mysterious past related to the previous coup that almost destroyed the empire and the murder mystery they were trying to solve, I was dismayed by how long it took for this and for other mysteries to come to light. With Quill running around trying to question powerful families, I found myself struggling to keep the cast of characters and their relations to each other and the murder mystery, related. I felt like I never truly grasped the depth and connections of the murder mystery or the key players and powerful families that had the most to lose. This is despite the fact that there is a dramatis personae in the beginning of the novel.


And quite honestly, I truly struggled to connect with any of the characters except Yinii, the archivist with an ink affinity. Though each of the characters have an interesting and unique perspective, upbringing, religion, or identity to offer in Empire of Exiles, Yinii was the one whom I cared for the most. I related to her need to please her family and her saints, her unwillingness to leave her new life at the Archives, her fear of losing control of her Ink affinity, and her hesitant crush on Quill. I found her to just be such a dear character and Yinii will undoubtedly be the main reason I read the sequel. 


“Yinii bit her tongue. Her family understood traditional alignments, but not ink. Not the way that when she spiraled it was like a maw opening in her chest, like she had to write the whole world into being before it was swallowed up, but she just needed ink to do it. And making ink meant burning things, meant gathering water and oils and alcohols to her. Meant destruction.”


Besides Yinii, my favorite part of Empire of Exiles was the absolutely one-of-a-kind magic system. In this world, characters have an affinity for certain elements, so to speak. So some characters have specialties in bronze, ink, or glass. At times this pull from the characters’ affinities can be too strong, causing these specialists to lose themselves in the call of their element. This can lead to terrible incidents, like these people being physically consumed by their element, self-mutilation, or even the destruction of the people and things around them in their quest to make or to get to more of their affinity. In the author’s note at the end of the book, Erin M. Evans states that the idea for her magic system stemmed from the idea of having a magic similar to anxiety, which I think is such an original and fascinating idea. 


“Whatever the truth, wherever they’d come from, everyone agreed on what the changelings did: they took your shape, they replaced you, they made you turn against one another, then they destroyed everything you’d built.”


Similarly, I found the world-building to be incredibly intriguing as well. Though less is expounded upon about the actual world of Empire of Exiles, there are references to a salt wall swaddling the city in a layer of protection. Before this wall was created by one who is now revered as a saint, the changelings wreaked complete and total havoc over the world. But as these creatures with superhuman powers cannot stand salt, people remain safe behind this indispensable wall. Though I found the idea of changelings slightly less original as they are so reminiscent of the fey to me, I really liked not only the idea of the salt wall, but the implications of what would happen were it to fall that lingered behind its very existence. 


And then the Salt Wall was sealed and the changelings were held back. What lay beyond the Wall now was only stories—no one alive remembered the old world, no one alive knew how it felt to truly fear your loved ones, your neighbors; your sovereigns weren’t what they said they were. People knew the stories, knew that what their ancestors had fled was something terrible, even in the terror was remote and polished smooth by so many years. They knew the changelings persisted—the soldiers on the Salt Wall spotted scouts or travelers now and again—and given the chance, they might tear down this last bastion of civilization.”


Though I struggled with connecting to most of the characters and the pacing of Empire of Exiles, overall, there is really so much to love about the novel. With its original world-building and magic system, murder mystery, characters with diverse backgrounds and even more diverse secrets, and looming threat of both political strife and the rise of the deadly changelings, I am definitely planning on reading future installments in this series and other works by this imaginative author. I recommend Empire of Exiles for fans of both the Rook & Rose and A Chorus of Dragons series. 


Book Review : Empire of Exiles - Blogging with Dragons

Posted November 4, 2022 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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