Exile is the first book in a new fantasy series by Betsy Dornbusch, The Seven Eyes. It was released in hardcover and ebook earlier this month, and Emissary, the second book, is scheduled for release in 2014.
Born into slavery as a bastard relative of the royal family, Draken gained the king’s esteem and rose to become one of the more important officers in the Black Guard—until the day he was accused of murdering his wife. Draken came home to find his wife gutted, and when he was found with her dead body, he was blamed for the crime. His punishment was exile to the island of Akrasia, where his survival would be left to fate.
Since Draken’s wife was killed in a manner commonly associated with Akrasian magic, Draken is hoping to find the killer and vengeance for his deceased spouse. Soon after arriving, he instead finds Osias, a necromancer who saves him from suicide by spirit possession. Osias is searching for the missing Mance king and also warning people about the banes, the same type of spirit that took control of Draken. Osias forces Draken to accompany himself and his companion Setia on a visit to warn Queen Elena so he can personally testify about the dangers of possession by banes.
They are escorted to the queen and are able to warn her about the threat Osias fears. However, the queen is nearly struck by an arrow in front of them and is only saved by Osias. Osias and Draken remain in the castle, along with Setia, and plot to hide Draken’s true identity from the queen. Next time they see the queen, Draken offers to find the one who tried to assassinate her, and she accepts his offer. Draken sets out to find a potential killer but finds far more than he believed he would.
To be blunt, I was not a fan of Exile. It had an intriguing opening with Draken being exiled for a crime he didn’t commit, and I was interested in finding out what happened to him in the beginning. The book was decently paced with a lot of major occurrences and revelations, but I didn’t care about any of the characters enough to be concerned about what happened to them. The characters’ motivations often did not make sense to me, and there were some parts where the dialogue seemed awkward or cheesy. In addition, the main character suffered from a severe case of Special Snowflake Syndrome, and the whole book had far too many cases of Surprise! Identity for my taste (especially considering the way one of these was slipped into the conversation).
My biggest problem with Exile was that this was a book in which the main character was portrayed as someone extraordinarily special, and I never understood why the other characters seemed to be in awe of him. Draken certainly had admirable traits, such as respect for human life and reverence for the dead. Before the beginning of this book, he’d risen quite far to go from being a slave to a respected officer in the Black Guard, and once he gets to Akrasia, he also rises quickly to a powerful position. However, he didn’t strike me as being nearly as amazing as all the other characters seemed to think he was, and I felt like I was constantly hearing about how wonderful he was more than I was being shown how wonderful he was.
For instance, when Draken looks upon Osias, he sees great beauty. This is important since those who look upon Osias simply see a reflection of their own character (for reasons I never quite understood other than that it seemed like a convenient way of telling the reader how amazing Draken was without his actually exhibiting any sort of charisma through his dialogue and characterization). There were many conversations in which a character told Draken something along the lines of, “I see why you are held in such esteem by others,” and in my opinion, there was nothing to make him stand out more than any other character involved in these discussions. In fact, I thought Osias was far more impressive than Draken. He’s a necromancer who caught an arrow out of the air with his bare hands.
For much of this book, I kept thinking of Draken as a passive character, even though that wasn’t necessarily true when I stopped to consider his actions. He did act. Even as early as the first couple of chapters, he took the initiative and freed a slave from the men holding her captive. His quick rise on Akrasia was due to his actions (even if I did feel there was more luck than skill involved and that the reward was not entirely suitable, but I’ll talk about that in a bit with some spoiler tags). I believe the reason I kept thinking of him as passive was that he did seem to be swept along by events rather than instigating them and also because the regard others had for him seemed to be out of proportion with his actions. Also, Draken was a character who didn’t have a lot of obstacles. Early in the book, I had some sympathy for Draken since he’d just lost everything—his wife, his status, his home, and his respect. Yet he was barely even on this island before his life was looking up. He was found and rescued by a necromancer who put him in contact with the queen, and from there, his situation improved drastically. It seemed as though he didn’t even have to do a whole lot and people were ready to bow down at his feet!
This brings me to the spoiler discussion of Draken’s rise to prominence on Akrasia:
This isn’t the only instance in which a character’s actions made me wonder why they would ever do such a thing. Unfortunately, the other example I think best illustrates this was also late enough in the book that it should be hidden behind spoiler tags.
Osias had some potential as a character since he’s a necromancer who can do amazing feats, but all the characters were flat and bland, especially since they seemed so intent on how wonderful Draken was. The characters did not seem like people in their own right, but they seemed as though they existed solely to revolve around Draken whether it was to praise him, advance him, inform him, make not-so-subtle hints about him, help him, or be a foil to him.
The setting seemed fairly generic to me, even though it isn’t the common European-based fantasy world. It’s a world with 7 moons that are worshiped as gods with different attributes, and it’s composed of several different races of people, some of which are somewhat original. There is a history involving strife and wars among the different kingdoms, but none of it was particularly interesting or original. There’s a lot of magic, but it’s often used as a plot device, whether its Osias and his necromantic powers or the magic sword and its abilities. I prefer magic in my fantasy to be explored with all its advantages and disadvantages instead of used when there needs to be a convenient way of making the plot happen.
Exile did have an intriguing start, and there was a small part of me that was interested in reading to see what the next big revelation would be. Mostly, though, I was just bored with it and did not find it interesting.
My Rating: 3/10
Where I got my reading copy: From the author.