Book Reviews, Dystopia, Magic Fantasy

Island of Exiles by Erica Cameron

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2.5 stars rounded up to 3 stars due to Tessen & Sanii!

Khya is a clan warrior whose home is an isolated desert island. She’s closest to her brother, Yorri and is constantly pestered by her rival, Tessen. As a rare fykina who can make wards to protect from magic and physical dangers she is important to her team and her ambition in life is to become a leader of her clan. When her brother’s body mysteriously disappears she goes on a quest to learn what really happened even if it means betraying her clan and everything she’s ever known.

My favorite sort of genre is young adult dystopian of any sort – apocalyptic or fantasy based it doesn’t matter to me. It’s all about survival baby! So this should fall right in line with my favorite sort of books…

The magic with the wards and how Khya adapted it was quite well done. Loved the inclusion of the crystals. Yorri’s and Tessen’s magicks were quite cool as well though we lose Yorri early on. Tessen’s were really convenient for the plot of sneaking around and I wish they were diversified in use a little better but I understand that overlistening was important to the plot.

I really loved the city complex Khya and the other characters lived in. Loved the underground part of the city, the gardens on the roof, the bathing halls, the servant paths, the mulch area for the dead, the pyramid for the city leaders. Also the location on the coast was cool as a spot for her and her brother. I could envision the characters moving around the complex and the different areas they explored.

Tessen. Yeah one word – loved him! In today’s world a man who can take the backseat is important. I liked that Tessen felt like his own man but that he also respected Khya even when Khya didn’t deserve that respect. Slow burn romances make a lot more sense to me as we tend to fall in love as we experience life with another person. This romance really worked well. I loved when she realized he always backed off when she told him to go away!

The idea of Yorri and Khya’s sibling relationship being a strong motivator was a good one. I liked the idea of Khya being almost a mother to Yorri… Older sisters do that to their siblings and I loved how true to siblings these two were with each other. In the end though the relationship played out rather selfishly as if to just make Khya a special warrior instead of just one of the rank and file. I did adore Yorri and how he makes Khya a better person for her loving him. It’s only Yorri thinking differently that caused Khya to rebel. I just wish instead of Khya making their relationship all about her she’d have thought of Yorri more.

Sanii had a lot of wasted potential. I liked the part ey played in the mystery of finding Yorri but there was so much more that could have been done…

The Miresah were not a bad idea. They do smack a little of overly simplified vampires but this sort of book needs a major villain and nothing else talked about in the book felt hefty enough for me to believe they were the main conflict. This wasn’t exactly a secret and the government such as it is tends to be the villain in a dystopian. So I’m on the fence with this one, but at least the villain was not a wimpy one.

Yet I struggled to enjoy this book and it mainly had to do with Khya. A lot of ideas were crammed into the book without much forethought of what would be used in the course of the story and what would be best to leave out or only lightly touch upon. This is okay with me if I have a MC that I love and will follow into anything… Khya was not that character to me and Tessen was not a sufficiently equal enough character for relating to him to be enough.

Khya stands as an extremely selfish woman to me. She dominated her brother and then was surprised when he made choices without sharing his reasoning with her. You go Yorri! Overthrow the man (uh, woman)!! She really has a lot of nerve complaining about her government when she’s not that much different from them and if it hadn’t been for her brother being one of the ones locked away probably would have gone along with it like her parents had before her.

Not only did I find Khya not a character I want to root for but she was also very inconsistently written with her romance with Tessen. His actions toward Khya felt like a part of his character and who he is as a person but Khya an extremely loyal person was all over the place. People who tend to be loyal do not tend to change at the drop of a hat, in fact they are pretty fanatical in believing in whatever they are loyal to. Tessen though was outside of this. Supposedly they were thick as thieves when they were young but that changed when he got promoted? Even if this is believable to you, its still hard to believe that she suddenly didn’t understand Tessen’s motivations. She at least knew the guy, growing up with him. She wouldn’t have known him growing up and been close and then suddenly not understand him one bit. I especially don’t believe someone who has had sex and been in relationships multiple times with multiple sexes (a female and a 3rd-gender?) before they were 19 wouldn’t suspect that he likes her.

What makes more sense to Khya’s character is that Khya always knew Tessen liked her but blew him off for taking her promotions (and that rot) and only after losing her brother allowed him close enough for her to realize she was attracted to him back. Now that I believe could happen in the inbetween period of adolescence and all the emotions riled up by young love/sex.

The language used to describe the world was very heavy. I noticed it right off as I didn’t even know if Khya was a girl or a boy at first. The language does lighten up the farther into the book you go but that tends to happen as the writer falls back into their more normal language to get the book written. I wish some effort had been made to go back to the beginning and lighten the load there so to speak. Clarify who is who and what is what. The heavy language did not add to the world building in the slightest.

I like the idea of a desert island and that the storms are a major problem for them. I thought with the magic and how much was made of the people’s different ranks that it would play a huge part of the story. In reality a lot of time was spent in the city complex looking for a secret hiding place that was too obvious to be believed (i.e. you can guess it easily once Sanii comes to Khya.) While the magic, specifically Khya’s magic, was useful in the course of the plot there was I was disappointed it was not used in a more diversified way. I liked that the steps of them solving the mystery were shown very well but I wish that I had been surprised more.

While I applaud a desire to create a 3rd gender I felt it very odd that it is what lead the story. Khya is female and not of this asexual gender so it became very confusing. Rule #1 – Don’t lead with something that has nothing to do with the main character. To try to alert you of the difference between the secondary characters fancy words were put in place:

“Etaro’s smile dims and ey shakes eir head, narrow eyes lined with concern.”

I actually thought this a great way to show what sex the characters around Khya were if it hadn’t happened so early in the book, because it creates this kind of confusion (my comment about it!) “Why would you randomly insert ‘ey’ and ‘eir’ instead of he and him? And does it apply to both sexes or just the male?”

Etaro seemed like a male name to me. not a sexless one. In fact I only understood about the ‘ey’ and ‘eir’ after I looked up an article by the author explaining it. I’ve read several books and stories with a 3rd gender as this was popular in 60s and 70s sci-fi – I can’t even tell you the names of the books or short stories at this point – but I didn’t find this a successful rendition of it.

I would have liked the main character (or one of the main characters) to be this gender. Sanii was an incredible character. Of the 2 or 3 characters of this 3rd-gender Sanii was the one I thought the most successful even if eir’s name felt feminine to me. I would have LOVED to read from ey’s POV. With both Khya and Sanii as POV characters it takes the pressure off of Sanii being such a unique character while still using the 3rd gender idea plus we learn of eir’s feelings and angst over Yorri who is a major motivation for all of the plot in the book.

BOTTOM LINE: A dystopian world filled with many diverse ideas worth exploring.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Note: Changed my rating from 3.5 stars to 2.5 stars after writing my review.


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