Book Review: Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of Books of the Usurper
Publisher: Orbit (November 8, 2022)
Length: 448 pages
Twenty-seven years ago, there lived a ruthless duke who led a coup against the Empire of Semilla. Thousands died in the four-year rebellion, but in the end the duke was vanquished and put to death. A generation later, his overthrow attempt is still in the memories of many, but for the most part the people of the empire have put the conflict all behind them. Today, a young apprentice scribe named Quill arrives at the capital city to help collect and catalogue old artifacts for his supervisor at the Imperial Archive, not knowing what his findings will ultimately reveal.
Most of the artifacts Quill has been tasked to work with turn out to be instruments of the duke’s rebellion, though nothing stands out as too significant to begin with. But not long after he begins his work, a shocking murder leads Quill to examine the artifacts a little closer, as the secrets to a forgotten weapon may have been uncovered. Being young and inexperienced, Quill fears his witness testimony will not be taken seriously, leading him join forces with more seasoned archivists Amadea and Yinii as well as a detective named Richa. Quill also has a personal stake in this quest, as the killer implicated in the crime was a friend whom he believes was innocent. Something very strange is happening, and Quill and his new allies are determined to find out what it is.
I make it no secret I am a big fan of mysteries set in fantasy worlds, and for that reason I had thought Empire of Exiles would be right up my alley. Unpopular opinion time though, as it seems this novel has been very received by most readers, but I just struggled to form any kind of connection with it at all, despite it having a lot going for it.
My troubles began early, as I had several false starts. Simply put, I found it difficult to concentrate with the combination of info-dumping and the awkward writing style. The book introduces a large number of characters right off the bat, and the world-building was confusing. Not a great way to kick off a mystery plot, even if I understood why all this set up was required, but I definitely felt like the intro could have been better executed.
Things improved slightly once the murder took place, but it would take a lot to overcome the rough start. And while I thought the mystery was intriguing, the way it laboriously unfolded by splitting its focus into the past and present became too much of a drag on the pacing, which is a shame because I probably would have enjoyed the story a lot more if it hadn’t been so slow. In fact, I was truly quite interested in finding out more about Amadea’s secretive past of romance and scandal, but once again the details were revealed too slowly with so many interruptions by meandering POVs that it’s almost as if the book was actively sabotaging itself.
In a similar way, I found the world-building fascinating but somewhat difficult to envision in my mind. Compounding the issue was that certain parts of the novel were too wordy when it came to descriptions while other parts were aggravatingly sparse when I wanted more detail. Based on the descriptions of the different characters’ features and social habits, many different races populate the Empire of Semilla, and there apparently several magic systems involved as well. And yet, all of this meshes together rather poorly, like only having a few random pieces of a bigger jigsaw puzzle and trying to jam them together to make them fit without knowing the full picture. The result doesn’t feel like a fully realized setting or a true living and breathing ecosystem.
Unsurprisingly, I also felt little connection to no to the characters. For the most part, they were bland and unrelatable. Which pretty much sums up how I felt about this book—I didn’t love it, but I also didn’t hate it. It was a decent read if slightly unpolished, which made it a middle of the road fantasy for me. I wish I had enjoyed it more, I wanted to enjoy it more, but despite the ambitious mystery plot and the ostensibly epic scope of the world, I just didn’t feel the magic.
Perhaps other readers will have better luck with Empire of Exiles than I did, and judging by some of its rave reviews, many others have. There’s no denying its merits, and to be honest, even though I had my issues with the book, admittedly almost all of them had to do with the technical aspects of the way the book was written and put together, and I actually found the overall story to be quite good. Something was just missing for me though, and who knows, should I decided to continue the series, maybe I’ll find it in the sequel.