In Khya’s world, every breath is a battle.
On the isolated desert island of Shiara, dying young is inevitable. The clan comes before self, and protecting her home means Khya is a warrior above all else.
But when following the clan and obeying their leaders could cost her brother his life, Khya’s home becomes a deadly trap. The only person who can help is Tessen, her lifelong rival and the boy who challenges her at every turn. The council she hoped to join has betrayed her, and their secrets, hundreds of years deep, reach around a world she’s never seen.
To save her brother’s life and her island home, her only choice is to trust Tessen, turn against her clan, and go on the run—a betrayal and a death sentence.
Island of Exiles is a wholly unique fantasy created on a desert world with a city that is a warrior community and ruled by immortals. At the start, the world takes some time to sink into, because there is a lot we are not explained, and terms that were created for the novel specifically. What we know is that magic users are a big part of the population here, and being adept at using it gives them a higher place in society. Khya, a user of rare skill magic (she can create wards, and shields – basically barrier magic, but also sense the flow of energy in the world), naturally wants her younger brother Yorri to also be placed as a warrior or higher. But when he dies, and she finds out everything is not right in her world, she and her rival, Tensen, set out with her brother’s love interest, Sani, to figure out what shadiness is their council upto?
The main reason I would recommend this book is for its diverse world-building. Shiara is a desert island, and its population is heavily POC. Even the immortals who rule it are East-Asian coded. They do not have a traditional family structure in Shiara – there are terms like blood-parents and blood-siblings to indicate biological relationships, but true family is with their warrior cohorts as they are around the kids of their own age from when they are young, and later on live in barracks or alone (if they have high enough status). Also, the attitude towards sexual relationships and preferences is pretty relaxed – in fact, the society as a whole presents mostly as bi/pansexual, with some prominent ace characters thrown in. There is also a third gender (ebet/eir/ey) and a pronounced awareness of physical space (even among familial relationships), and boundaries. On the magical side, there is wide range of abilities – from controlling the elements, to telekinesis, to super speed and strength – and they are all classified, so make sure to refer to the glossary at the end of the book. The unskilled magic users or those who can’t use magic, are like the untouchables of this world, so they have some class boundaries to consider dismantling in future installments. (It is so wrong that they aren’t considered good enough to marry/bond with)
Onto the plot – there is an undercurrent of shadiness established from the beginning, when the religion on the land has a believe-or-be-cast-into-hell sort of attitude. It is so extreme that Khya fears to even investigate at the start, thinking she will doom herself and her companions to eternal damnation or something. Obviously, that’s a cover to whatever those immortals are cooking up, which is never made clear actually. The reason for them being on the island, I get, but why that particular rock in the middle of the ocean was made for its purpose, that I’ve yet to understand. Perhaps it will be explained in sequels, but as of now, it doesn’t fit with the backstory given. Also, I was low-key amused by the fact that no one on the island has even heard of the concept of a boat.
Overall, an interesting start to a unique fantasy series, and I’m looking forward to reading its sequel soon.
Received an advance reader copy in exchange for a fair review from Entangled Teen LLC, via Netgalley.