Empire of Exiles – Shapeshifting Salty Mysteries

Happy New Year everyone and welcome to another year of The Quill to Live. Our first review of the year is of a fabulous book I read over the holidays that greatly impressed me. Empire of Exiles, by Erin M. Evans, is a hit-the-ground-running mystery about four POVs in a giant society locked in a time vault trying to unravel what is happening around them. This is the kind of story that requires some initial discomfort to ease into because it does not hold your hand at all. Yet, in the end, it was completely worth it and I found myself more invested in the cast’s lives than I have been with characters in a while.

There are two main things to know about the plot going into Empire of Exiles. The first is that the story takes place in a location isolated from the rest of the continent. Many years ago, evil shapeshifters started instigating chaos, discord, and war among all nations for unknown reasons. Things got so bad that the leadership from each of the areas packed up and fled to a remote part of the continent that was surrounded by an enormous salt wall—the only known way to repel shapeshifters. Since then, the different countries have lived in exile, hence the title. On top of this, the story follows in the wake of a recent disastrous coup from a cunning general. He attempted to overthrow the emperor of the empire in exile and led it in a new direction. Although his coup failed, he did significant damage to the governing body of the empire and things are very unsettled. Now, years later, we followed a scribe, a detective, an archivist, and a magician who are all pulling at strings and discovering new information about the historic rebellion. Information that is likely to get them killed.

Empire is an epic fantasy, but I feel it is more of a mystery at heart. You are thrown into this story and have to figure out a lot right off the bat. You will discover strange bureaucratic agencies, complicated political figures, a complex history that bears extreme importance to current events, and an interesting magic system that ties it all together. The front of the book has a two-layered giant map of both the inside and outside of the salt wall—neither of which is even relevant to this book because we spend the entirety of the first book in one city. That is totally fine though, as Empire of Exile feels less like a false promise and more like the tantalizing tip of an iceberg. At every turn, this book stokes your curiosity and encourages you to dig further.

On top of the burning secrets locked in its pages, Empire has a fantastic cast of protagonists. The quartet includes memorable individuals with a lot of personalities. They feel like small people in big circumstances, not heroes. There is a clerk just trying to go about his job who falls into an overwhelming conspiracy. A magician who struggles with control is forced to suddenly resolve her lifelong personal struggles in order to save the day. A detective who is in way over their jurisdiction and doesn’t have a rule book to inform his choices. At the same time, the chemistry and mixture of their personalities mean you are left with a very diverse set of lenses to see into the story that adds greatly to the mysteries.

The magic system is super cool. Rare individuals are born with powerful affinities for different materials like brass, ink, bone, glass, gems, etc. It makes them powerful historians and researchers as they use their magic to commune with their materials of choice in a number of different ways. Magic strength is also tied to celestial cycles and magicians enter a dangerous period at the height of their cycle. Their materials can overwhelm them and they can become a mindless cyclone of glass, ink, or bone that is extremely dangerous. It feels like a blue-collar/workman’s take on magic and I absolutely love it. The magic feels practical, whimsical, and fun.

Empire of Exiles was a fabulous way to start off the year. It is an overwhelming and explosive journey with a surefire cast of delightful protagonists. The story is just getting started and I only expect it to get bigger and better as it progresses.

Rating: Empire of Exiles – 9.0/10

Buy this book on Bookshop.org

An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.

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