ARC Review: Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans

Book:  Empire of Exiles

Author:  Erin M. Evans

Pages:  432

Source:  Orbit

Publisher:  Orbit

Genre:  Fantasy, Mystery

Publication Date:  November 8, 2022

Goodreads Summary

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.

My Review:

I received an advanced reader copy of Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans courtesy of Orbit books in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you Orbit! 

Empire of Exiles takes place primarily in a city called Arlabecca in the Empire of Semillan Protectorates.  Semillan is only a small part of the continent, but it is where the ten peoples of this world have fled in the hopes of escaping the Changelings.  Semillan is a located on a peninsula, and it is protected from the Changlings by a giant salt wall running along the isthmus of the peninsula.  Changelings can’t come in contact with salt or iron, so the people of Semillan have been safe from them for centuries. 

Changelings in this book are more closely related to shapeshifters than changelings in fairy stories.  They can take on the shape, voice, and memories of anyone, and they have used this power to cause chaos and war across the continent.  Naturally, this can cause a lot of problems even without the threat of war since it’s difficult to trust anyone when you aren’t sure if they are really that person or a Changeling.  Thus, all ten peoples of the world are now refugees from their homelands in Semillan. 

In addition to the Changeling threat, the Empire of Semillan has recently dealt with conflict and war from within.  The Brother’s War between the Emperor and his brother caused a change of power after the Emperor and his family were assassinated.   Then, there was an attempted coup by the Usurper known as Rodolfo Kirazzi.  More than 20 years ago he attempted to overthrow the sitting Emperor and replace him with the resurrected daughter of the previous Emperor as the legitimate heir.  Luckily, this coup failed, and peace was brokered through political marriage between the Imperial family and the Kirazzi family.   

Now, the Kirazzi family are making requests from the Imperial Archives that house artifacts from all the nations living in Semillan.  The items requested are unusual in that they all belonged to the Usurper Rodolfo, and the archivists are nervous about releasing them from the archives.  Quill, a Paremi scribe, is left at the archives to ensure the requests are fulfilled.  The archives are vast, and the request takes some time.  When Quill leaves that evening to join his fellow scribe and their master, he witnesses a brutal assault and murder that leaves him devastated. 

As Quill seeks to unravel the mystery of the murder with the help of Archive Generalist Amadea and Vigilant Richa, he discovers this murder is similar to events in the past.  Things like this have happened before, during the attempted coup, and now Quill wonders if the request from the archives has anything to do with them.  Quill’s search for the truth will lead him on a dangerous journey through the past that has come back to haunt the Semillan Empire. 

As you can probably tell, Empire of Exiles manages to pack a lot into its 432 pages.  The book offers a rich and detailed world for its setting in Semillan, and the forced proximity of so many cultures creates a melting pot of fantasy themed beliefs and traditions.  There are ten different peoples in Semillan, and while all of them are humanoid, they are not all human.  Some of them have horns like the Orozhandi people while others have tentacles or feathers.  Amazingly, many people seem to get along and appreciate the cultures of others.  The core belief holding them all together is the salt wall holding back the Changeling horde.   

I will say this though.  All of this world-building and mix of cultures and characters and backgrounds made getting into the book a little tough for me.  It was almost like learning another language to understand the context behind what was going on in the story and why it mattered.  Once I got past the first 50 to 100 pages, though, I was able to feel more invested in the characters, and I was drawn in by the murder mystery enough to keep reading. 

Speaking of which, the mystery part of this book is fantastic.  It kept me guessing all the way until the end of the book.  Erin M. Evans does an amazing job of weaving all the details in the world into the importance of clues and the twists the story takes.  The ending feels satisfying, and it left me wanting more.  This is the first book in a planned trilogy, but this book didn’t end on a cliff hanger.  It just left me with exciting questions and made me want to learn more about the world as a whole. 

One of my favorite bits of world-building involves the magic system in this book.  It’s different from anything else I’ve read about, and while it’s complex in its own way, I would still consider it a soft magic system.  Basically, certain people regardless of origin can have affinities.  These affinities can be for various materials like bronze, gold, bones, and ink.  People with strong affinities are able to manipulate these materials, but it comes with a risk.  They can spiral, and their need for their materials can become so strong they transmute themselves into the material and die.   

In order to prevent this fate, people with strong affinities are often sent to the Imperial Archives to become specialists in their materials.  This is where people like Amadea come in.  Part of her job at the Archives is talking specialists down or sequestering them when they are in danger of a spiral.  It reminded me a bit of how a therapist may help their patients with mental illness, and I thought it was an interesting perspective for a magic system.   

In addition to the world and magic system, I truly loved the characters in this book – even the villains.  All of the characters are complex and realistic.  They may be in a fantasy setting, but it doesn’t stop them from having real issues, pasts, and motives.  All of the main characters were especially interesting, but I think my favorite was Yinii.  She is an Orozhandi specialist of ink, and she has more power than anyone realizes.  It was really nice to see her come into her own and break out of her shell a bit by the end of the book, and I really hope the next book expands on her experience. 

Obviously by the length of this review, I really loved this book.  It’s filled with mystery and intrigue, and the twists and turns the plot takes are nothing I expected.  It has action and beautiful characters that I can’t wait to read more about.  I may have explained a lot of the context and background of the setting, but I didn’t even scratch the surface.  After all, the entire story takes place in a country barely one tenth the size of the entire continent that hasn’t been shown to readers yet.  I have definitely added this series to my list of books to watch out for in the coming years! 

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I gave Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans five out of five stars.  It has all of the elements and makings of a great story.  Plus, it’s a wonderful beginning to a series.  The rich and detailed world with a melting pot of fantasy themed cultures, interesting magic systems, and complex characters that feel like real people are some of the best I’ve ever read about.  How I felt by the end of the book and my excitement for coming installments cancelled out any apprehension I had during the beginning of the book.  If you’re looking for an exciting murder mystery in a fantasy setting, then this is the book for you! 

Have you read this book yet? Do you want to? Let me know in the comments!

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