Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans
Publication Date: November 8th, 2022
Paperback. 432 pages.
About Empire of Exiles:
"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 starts out when Quill, a new apprentice scribe, travels to the capital city on yet another errand for the nobles that he assumes will be just like the previous ones. His job is to assist the Primate in retrieving ancient artifacts from the Imperial Archives at the request of various nobles. Unbeknownst to Quill, things are about to get much more interesting with his latest request, and things takes an even bigger turn when he stumbles upon a murder that just may have something to do with this latest artifact request...
First, I have to say that I loved what we got to know of this setting so far, and I thought it had so many cool elements about it. For instance, there is a Salt wall encompassing the entire kingdom to safeguard against beings known as Changelings that roam outside of the kingdom. Changelings are pretty intense-sounding creatures that can essentially infiltrate a person's body and/or take their form and use them at their will, which I'm sure you can understand the dangers with that. I'm a little unclear on all of the details about them, but from what we see of them in Empire of Exiles, I, too, would create a wall of Salt if needed to keep them out.
I found that the setting itself and the names used seemed to have a nice mix of different cultural inspirations and it made for a really beautiful experience. I loved how absolutely vibrant and detailed this world's backstories and descriptions of different lands, cultures, and peoples were. The only possible downside or negative I can mention is that if felt like the majority of this book really took place in only one or two main areas and we didn't get to explore this world all that much. However, I feel like I can safely (?) assume that future books in this series will be exploring more and I look forward to that. Additionally at this point in time it makes sense that you can't explore more of the world because the whole idea is that everyone is essentially trapped within the Kingdom because of the Salt wall and Changelings.
There’s a fairly large array of characters that we are introduced to, and fortunately there is also a very handy character list at the beginning of the book to help you keep track of all of them. Our main protagonist is Quill, but we also get some POV shifts within each chapter between some additional prominent characters, such as Amadea, Zoifia, Yinii, and Richa. I loved getting to know all of these characters and I think the author did a really good job of crafting their personalities in a way that really made them stand out from one another and also made me want to learn more about them and follow them in this story.
I liked Quill’s innocence and almost naïveté with both his job, the Imperial Archives, and some aspects of the world around him. He’s incredibly youthful and so eager to learn new things, which was a delight to be a part of on his journey. He has a very endearing wonder about the world around him, and particular the Imperial Archives, that made him a perfect protagonist.
And speaking of the Imperial Archives, once I learned what they were I was almost as excited as Quill was to explore them. We spend a lot of time visiting the Archives and the archivists working within, and it is a wondrous and fascinating place if you are at all interested in old artifact and history. There are ancient artifact from various kingdoms and families, and it basically sounds like chaos inside because it’s become nearly impossible for the archivists to keep up with cataloguing all of them, especially when they keep getting interrupted by requests from nobles and have to stop what they are doing to locate whatever artifact is requested.
The Imperial Archives also brings me to one of the most interesting parts of this book, and that is the archivists and their ‘specialties.’ Each archivist working in the Archives has some type of affinity for a specific material, such as Yinii’s affinity for ink or Zoifia’s for bronze. Because of these specialties, archivists can provide incredibly detailed information about objects with them, but they also have to be very careful not to get ‘lost’ within their affinity. It’s a little hard to describe in a review, so I’ll leave you to discover what exactly it means for an archivist to spiral or get out of alignment, but I promise it’s a really fascinating part of this book and I loved learning more about it.
Empire of Exiles is a very character-focused story, which worked well for the style of writing and the murder-mystery style plot as well–with a huge side of conspiracy to make things even more interesting. The pacing is on the slower side and it took me a while to get through this book, but I didn’t mind because I was enjoying every second of it. There’s a lot of information to take in and that slowed me down a bit, but fortunately it was always interesting information presented in an engaging manner and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Overall, I’ve given Empire of Exiles 4.75 stars! This was such a unique and exciting new fantasy story and it really took me back to those cozy, excited feelings I used to have reading a new fantasy while growing up, like you’re stumbling onto something new and special and can’t believe your luck. I truly cannot wait for the sequel!
*I received a copy of Empire of Exiles courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*