Exile is one of those novels which I find extremely hard to make a concrete opinion of. Some aspects I really enjoyed whilst others I found detracted from the experience. I’ll start with the positives first;
To begin with the main point of view character, Aron of Darien, is sat in an inn when a thug picks a fight with him. A sort of ‘Two swords, two pricks’ situation for anyone who’s played The Witcher 3. After quickly dispatching the thug he is escorted up to Castle Nandor where he is told he’s killed a guardsman. Instead of being clapped in irons he is given the opportunity to redeem himself by rescuing Earl Baldwin’s son Maldwyn from the city of Sarazan. Who has been captured and taken hostage after a border skirmish, Aron agrees and is sent on his way after a few days with a rescue party.
Aron isn’t the most likable of characters. A skilled swordsman trained at the famous Academy, yes Owton is playing the pronoun game here, who in a straight fight is untouchable. Unlike other brilliant swordsman in fantasy he has no qualms with methodically killing anyone who looks even slightly aggressive. Take Hadrian Blackwater from Michael Sullivan’s books who can take ten men in a swordfight, but suffers from a conscience. Stopping him on many occasions from slaughtering his way through a pack of disgruntled opponents. Aron quite often is shown to be a pure pragmatic when it comes to a threat, if it’s not breathing it’s no longer a threat. Aron is evidently fuelled by something tangible, something that is only revealed later in the novel.
Along with Aron the cast of characters including Earl Baldwin’s wife, Lady Alice a beautiful and cunning woman who’s character is reminiscent of Cersei Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire. But unfortunately comes out as a very one dimensional character. Even when Owton attempts to flesh her out it feels like an after-thought. Unfortunately, most of the characters fall either into the blissful stereotype character or the character who appears to be an after-thought.
One of the aspects which I enjoyed was the old-fashioned style adventure novels so reminiscent of older fantasy novels. Gemmel is a definite inspiration here. With the amount of time spent travelling a near peaceful state is almost relaxing. If it weren’t for the constant arrogant thoughts of Aron interrupting the flow, I’d feel almost like I was reading segments from the King Killer trilogy.
Another aspect I enjoyed was the magic system. Evidently inspired by Celtic themes such as a female priesthood dedicated to the God Iduna, God of women and fertility. Who dedicate themselves to her by always loving the deity. Their magical ability allowing them to heal the sick and wounded by bringing them to the God’s attention. Along with that on several occasions characters go Mist Walking where they pass into the spirit world. Being able to communicate over vast distances and several other impressive feats. Although the magic system is never shown to have any clear boundaries it doesn’t feel as if the world is ruined by this fact. Even if it does appear that wizards pop out of nowhere with no evident training from somewhere like an ‘Academy’.
I do have some major problems with this novel though. Some big blaring issues I find it’s hard to overlook almost bring this novel to ruin. When I was reading this last night and my sister came and sat next to me to ask what I was doing. I replied with an off-hand ‘reading’. She asked me how I felt about the novel with which I replied with; ‘I feel as if the book is trying to be four different books at one time. As if it’s trying to be a Gemmel, Martin, Gwynne and Sullivan novel all at one time.’ This is the problem it suffers from the most. The simple adventure style novel interspersed with Martin style sex scenes just upset the flow of what could be a relaxing adventure novel.
I hate to give such negative reviews as I know authors spend vast amounts of time and effort to write. I know from experience that just getting five thousand words down is a huge mountain to climb. Getting one hundred and two thousand words must be like climbing the mountain to find an entire range of mountains that wasn’t on the original map. So, I applaud Owton on being able to write a full length novel, I know I couldn’t do it.