REVIEW: Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans

Erin M. Evans’ new book, Empire of Exiles, brings together an ensemble cast with varying motives and personalities in an appealingly bookish setting. As dangerous, historical items are unearthed and a puzzling crime is committed, our unlikely heroes are swept up in a political scheme threatening the very foundation of their society.

Empire of ExilesOnce there lived a duke armed with a grudge and a clever mind, a duke who orchestrated a coup against the Empire of Semilla and caused the death of thousands. But this duke failed and was put to death, so the empire moved on. Twenty-three years later, an apprentice scribe named Quill arrives in the city on a typical errand: collect old artifacts from the Imperial Archive. Nothing about these artifacts is insignificant, seeing as they were the very instruments the duke used to stage his attempted rebellion. As these objects are gathered, a brutal murder shakes loose one of the duke’s weapons long since lost, and the only reliable witness is Quill. With the appearance of too many coincidental apparitions, Quill must work alongside a group of specialists, an experienced archivist, and a jaded detective to uncover the truth before the empire’s past lays it to rest.

The narrative of Empire of Exiles is broken into two timelines: one focused in the past right after the failed coup, and one in the present, 23 years later. A dual timeline can be risky since there’s a high probability one timeline will warrant more investment than the other. However, Evans does a remarkable job of not only balancing reader investment in both timelines, but also weaving them together to show direct correlations between the past and present. The usage of multiple perspectives solidifies the narrative angle and acts as the spine for Evans’ strongest novel element: her characters. Each character is well-fleshed out, different, and realistic, especially with regard to their internal conflicts and motives. Evans spends almost an equal amount of time on each character in relation to the short page count.

Along with the characters in Empire of Exiles, Evans gives us a broad and epic world. Each place is carefully thought-out with regard to culture, religion, society, and food as well as interactions both political and casual. Arlabecca, the capital of the Imperial Federation of Semillan Protectorates, acts as a melting pot of these different cultures, paralleling the found family aspect between the characters. Where some readers might struggle with the book is in the presentation of the world-building. The narrative will often break off into blocks of important information as opposed to learning about the world through the eyes of a character.

Though it wouldn’t be filed under the grimdark label, fans of the subgenre will appreciate many parts of Empire of Exiles. Evans’ characters range in terms of their moral compass: some are righteous and true, others are burdened with secrets and must risk everything to keep them, but perhaps, the worst are the ones who will do terrible things for the greater good. There are also moments of unexpected darkness, specifically with the magic system. The thematic elements of identity, friendship, justice, and choice will feel familiar to readers, albeit explored in a different way. At the book’s center is a thread about morality and its cost:

“You can’t dress someone up in silks and shower them in gold, and then drive them insane for your own purposes
and still call yourself moral” (260).

Each character will pay a debt by the story’s end. The book wraps up most of the central plot elements while leaving some overarching aspects unanswered for the eventual sequel.

Thank you to Orbit for sending me an ARC of Empire of Exiles to review.

READ EMPIRE OF EXILES BY ERIN M. EVANS

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Angela Gualtieri

Angela Gualtieri is a former technical editor and project manager with a love of reading. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s traveling. You can find her at: https://www.instagram.com/agnovels/