Island of Exiles (The Ryogan Chronicles #1) by Erica Cameron
Island of Exiles was a very enjoyable read set in a well crafted world where survival is a fight in itself. I was very pleasantly surprised with this one. Well, to be fair, this was a recommendation that I picked up from Danya over at Fine Print and so to say it was a pleasant surprise is not entirely what I mean because I expected to like it after reading such a strong recommendation from a fellow blogger who I trust, but, I tend to be a little wary when it comes to YA – and I’m always pleased to be won over. This is a high fantasy world, a different world where magic dictates the class system, set in a harsh landscape where the inhabitants have to battle with the elements on a regular basis simply to stay alive.
At the start of the story we are introduced to Khya, out on a mission beyond the city walls with the rest of her team, her magical abilities enable her to detect a forthcoming storm. Now, when I say storm let me be clear, this is a next level storm with dark storm clouds that send a deluge of rain at such speed that without the safety of the city walls anyone left out in the open will certainly meet a quick and watery death. Khya and her team, with the help of her protective wards, manage to make it to safety although there are some casualties. From there, Khya seeks out her younger brother Yorri. Yorri has not yet manifested any magical ability and this is a source of constant worry to Khya. As a result she comes up with a plan to help persuade Yorri’s magical ability to manifest (under duress). And Yorri’s magic does indeed explode into action quite decisively leaving his place amongst society perfectly laid out. Of course, from hereon in everything goes wrong for Yorri and the main thrust of the plot becomes a search to uncover the mystery surrounding not only her brother’s fate but the history of the island on which they live.
So, what did I like about Island of Exiles.
Firstly the world building is really well done. Shira is a difficult place to live – the city itself is protected by high walls but beyond the walls the city is flanked by furious seas and uninhabitable desert. The City of Shira has adapted though. The people have used the roofs to grow food and they even use their dead to eventually feed those rooftop gardens. In a landscape such as this nothing goes to waste. The constant threat of the stormy seasons, voracious crop eating bugs and then unbearable hot weather coupled with the possibility of starvation keep most of the people active and alert, if not long lived.
The City itself has an eastern type feel which is accentuated not only by the setting but also by the style of clothing and food. On top of that the author has created layers of depth. Names, magical abilities and specially created words. The City is governed by the Miresah, a small group of seemingly immortal beings. From there we have different levels of control that are chiefly arranged by the power of a person’s magic, mainly as those with the most powerful ability are few and far between, then ending with the Yonin. The Yonin have (seemingly) no magical ability and are basically the workers of the city. They don’t go beyond the walls and they spend a good deal of their time traversing the underground tunnels of the city where they are out of sight and mind. The underground tunnels are a fascinating place, filled with abandoned and long lost places, stairs that seem to go ever and ever deeper, huge dark caverns and hidden history. On top of this the author has created a city with it’s own sense of being, they have their religion and belief in the afterlife, ceremonies of rites throughout their existence, unusual names for rank and magic and a strong sense of ‘clan before self’.
The characters. Well, I have to say that Tessen was probably my favourite. He doesn’t play a lead role but he’s one of those characters that plays a great secondary role having the right sense when to dip out of the limelight or step back into it. Khya. She’s a great character for YA I must admit. A talented magician, a well honed warrior and full of naked ambition. At the same time – she’s undoubtedly flawed and at the start of the read this is much more apparent – probably because at the start, unaware of the betrayal involved in the life she leads, she still holds her values up on the highest shelf – which undoubtedly makes her a little unbearable at times. She treads a very fine line between wanting to ‘mother’ her younger brother or completely stifle him and create a ‘mini me’ version of herself with Yorri’s own wishes playing little role in the whole affair. And, she’s got some rather narrow opinions in some respects. She certainly looks down a little on the Yonin, she even at one point scoffs at somebody else’s magical ability simply because they’re getting a little more senior in years (or at least that’s how it came across). But, she’s young, idealistic and opinionated and as the book progresses those things are gradually broken down – not, thankfully, some overnight ‘eureka’ moment but a gradual acceptance that she has, on more than one occasion been wrong. Khya is certainly a character with a lot of development throughout the book and it’s good to read about as the story progresses. Yorri – although he doesn’t have a lot of page time the love between Yorri and Khya is really well portrayed and is one of the key motivations for most of Khya’s actions.
Now, the romance. Yes, there is an underlying romance in this book. It’s not the central focus and as this is YA there’s nothing steamy going on here so stand easy on that front. But the slow building romance between Khya and Tessen certainly does make for good reading, I can’t deny it, and I also can’t deny that I would have been more than happy if they had thrown caution to the wind and got down to the nasty – but restraint people, restraint is the key to the chemistry and I’m happy to say that the chemistry is in abundance here.
All told this is a well written, carefully thought out story with a wealth of possibility yet to be explored. A wonderfully diverse bunch of characters, plenty of action, betrayal and a good deal of tension. The only criticism I have is probably that some of the names, etc, can be a bit convoluted and a bit tongue twisting which could have broken the flow – but frankly didn’t for me.
The one remaining question I have is when is the next book due out?