Empire of Exiles (Books of the Usurper 1) by Erin M. Evans

Stars: 4 out of 5

Sometimes you pick up a book because you like the cover or the blurb and discover a hidden gem. This is what happened to me with Empire of Exiles. I haven’t read other books by this author, so this book was a surprise hit for me. Now I have a new series to look forward to and a new author to follow!

I loved how complex and “lived in” this world feels. There is history there. There is a past. The different races feel distinct but also plausible, with their own religions, philosophies and physical attributes that don’t feel shoehorned into the story just for the sake of diversity. I would love to explore Semilla more in future books. 

The empire itself is an interesting construct. Like the title of the book says, it’s an empire of exiles or of refugees, since all the races who call it home fled their native lands facing extermination by a common enemy – the changelings. Desperation and the threat of extermination are sure to force people to cooperate, but I love what they created out of the ashes. An empire that assimilated all these religions and philosophies and let them coexist. 

This world wouldn’t be as memorable if it wasn’t populated by such vivid characters. I loved all of the protagonists in this story. They felt real. Sure, they had their quirks and their moments of weakness, but they always felt like people. I couldn’t help but feel Quill’s pain and confusion when his best friend dies in front of him after committing a crime that was completely out of character for him. I rooted for Amadea the more I discovered the depth of horror her childhood has been. Seriously, how did she manage to piece herself together and remain a functional human being after everything she’d been subjected to? I loved all the specialists in the archives and was truly worried about them when their affinities seemed to overwhelm them.

Speaking of the Archives, what a wonderful concept! A central repository of all the knowledge those fleeing nations brought to Semilla when they arrived ahead of a horde of changellings. Where all scrolls, works of art, religious text and everything else is perfectly preserved for future generations.

The magical system is also rather unique. I would like to learn more about it in future books. Especially what differentiates a specialist from a sorcerer, and is that what Yinnii is now? How would that affect the rest of her life?

My only complaint about this book is that the budding love stories feel forced. I mean, there is way too much blushing and stuttering during conversations. I would understand that from teenagers like Quill and Yinnii, but Amadea is in her thirties, so why does she behave like a hormonal teenager who never had a crush? That read so false that it took me out of the story.

Other then that small complaint though, I absolutely loved this book. I can’t wait to explore this world more in the next installments. There are still a lot of questions left unanswered, after all. Like is the world behind the Salt Wall really as desolate as we are lead to believe? What really happened with the changellings? What was the Usurper’s endgame and why did he need Amadea for it? I’m definitely picking up the next book.

PS: I received an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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