Book name: Royal Exile
Author: Fiona McIntosh
Publisher: Harper Collins
Format: ebook, print
Publication Date: 2008
Star Rating: 4/5
Royal Exile is the first book in the Valisar trilogy, an epic fantasy series from Fiona McIntosh.
The Valisars have ruled Penraven for centuries. However, when Royal Exile opens, they and their neighbours are on the cusp of defeat.
The adult Valisars will soon die at the hands of Loethar, an eastern barbarian lord about to proclaim himself emperor.
Young Leo is now king. Piven, who is a severely disabled orphan adopted by the late king and queen, is safe by virtue of being no threat to anyone.
Then there’s the tiny daughter who apparently died just a few hours after being born, where all is not what it seems.
The palace servants are also adjusting to the new emperor, his mother Negev and fiancée Valya. They worry about their own safety and about how to get Piven and Leo away into exile.
Gavriel is tasked by his father, a noble, with getting Leo out of the city. They plan to take Leo into exile to keep him safe until a fight back can be arranged to reclaim the throne.
Freath poses as a traitor to the Valisars by offering to serve Loethar. He is able to substitute the body of another young boy for Leo when the search for the Valisar heir scours the countryside, murdering boy after boy.
Freath also recruits several sorcerers to help with the resistance. While some are too scared to stay loyal to the Valisars, others find their courage. There is plenty of optimism for the future, even if the struggle will be long and hard.
There is very little actual fighting beyond the first few pages. As fantasy goes, Royal Exile isn’t really about the battle so much as the aftermath of its carnage.
The focus instead is on the ruling family’s children. Leo displays every sign of being fit to reign as king if the future fight back succeeds.
Piven is too severely disabled to truly engage with the world, but I was intrigued by him and felt that he had plenty of scope to become more central later in the series.
The young daughter remains a mystery left for the next two books in the trilogy.
I liked Royal Exile very much. It was less a complete story in its own right so much as an introduction to an array of characters in the midst of rapidly changing circumstances.
Fiona McIntosh then propelled each group forward into their own narrative (Leo’s escape, Piven’s existence in the castle, Freath’s attempts to weaken the new emperor from within the system).
Royal Exile felt very dynamic indeed. Fiona McIntosh wasn’t afraid to leave some characters’ arcs for the next two books, and I liked that about the story.
The baby Valisar princess and Gavriel’s brother, who disappears at the beginning, don’t have their narratives explained in this book, but the reader knows that the second and third books will come back to them. That takes a lot of confidence in an author, but Fiona McIntosh carried it off.
Without a lot of battle action, yet almost no romance to speak of, it felt difficult to categorise Royal Exile within the fantasy genre. There was a certain amount of magic involved, and the fictional universe was firmly fantasy in a Medieval European way.
Royal Exile’s focus was mostly on character, which I admired. It was very well done.
Thank you for reading my review of Royal Exile by Fiona McIntosh.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my review of Tyrant’s Blood by Fiona McIntosh. This is the second book in the Valisar trilogy.
Or you might like to take a look at my review of The Forge in the Forest by Michael Scott Rohan.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of The Trebizon books by Anne Digby.