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Fantasy Review: ‘Exile’ by Betsy Dornbusch

I gladly took this submission when the author suggested it.  The blurb offered me a hope for a unique setting, and I was hoping the book offered something a little different as well.  I also fully admit I was intrigued knowing the author was from my home state, which shouldn’t affect which books I pick but did.

A strong hook pulled me in early.  Protagonist Draken is wrongly accused of the murder of his wife, and we first meet him on a ship “walking the plank” into a new land; a forced exile because his homeland of Monoea believe in letting the god’s decide criminals fate.  Akrasia is a land of magic, and Draken quickly finds himself in trouble.  Saved by a Mance (necromancer) who has plans of his own, Draken finds himself entangled in politics and a possible war.

The book was fairly strong through the first third.  The magic shown has a since of wonder, a touch of the unknown rather than being explained in detail.  After accidentally saving the queen from an assignation attempt, Draken is placed in charge of the investigation despite being a stranger in the land.  And working with the Mance and his female companion as investigators showed the protagonist has the potential to be a smart and able character.  Osais, the Mance, is intriguing as well; is he helping or using Draken?

Sadly, after the first third I struggled through the rest of the book.  It is hard to explain, but it basically comes down to this;  too much in this book happens because the author decided to make it happen, rather than letting the narrative work to make it happen.  For example, you know that trope in which a character in major peril is knocked unconscious, and when he wakes he is safe and has friends explain what happened?  This happened multiple times in ‘Exile.”

Draken can’t even be described as Gary Stu, as he doesn’t really have control of what is happening.  Despite that the entire world starts revolving around him.  He can’t sleep so he gets lucky and stops an assassination.  Despite being a complete stranger to the land, he becomes the queen’s most trusted adviser and is given an army.  Despite not doing much of anything he quickly becomes the best known person in all the land, and beloved by all the people in the land (more so than the queen even!)

The plot becomes a travelogue where the world continues to revolve around Draken.  The bad guys entirely unbelievable plan comes to fruition, but of course fails to take into account Draken finding his secret ability (which is tied to a famous, highly desired magic sword that was just given to him).  A fairly confusing, and entirely uninteresting, final battle puts Draken in a position to have even more power.  Every new passage found Draken gaining power and prestige in this land, without it ever really making sense.

I hate to pile on, but going through my notes I have to add a few things.  Draken acts like a horny teenager for most the book, mentally lusting after every female he meets.  Lucky for him he is apparently irresistible, and the girls throw themselves at him.  The only interesting character in the book was Osais, but for all the mystery behind him he turns out pretty unremarkable.

2 stars.  A shame, because the beginning of the book had some real promise. 

Review copy of this book was provided by the author.

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