Exile (Bloodforge Book 1) by Tom Stacey

Exile (Bloodforge Book 1) by Tom StaceyExile (Bloodforge Book 1) by Tom Stacey is an epic fantasy novel that heralds the beginning of an exciting new series. The Verian Empire is in shambles – on the edge of war, in the past and on the horizon – a land where heroes no longer remain. Out of this chaos, new heroes emerge to fight the Echoes, demons in a human facade, who want to claim this land for their own.

Stacey is a born fantasy writer. Exile has all the elements of a strong epic fantasy: a detailed world that feels like a real place, complete with maps (which you’ll need), a varied list of characters from different backgrounds, and a terrifying antagonist. Stacey is at his best when he’s describing hunting and battle scenes – there’s a realism to these scenes that takes the novel from the realm of fantasy into grimly realistic war novel.

If the book has a weakness is that it is a bit slow-going at times. When it’s electric, it’s fully electric, but the pacing of the novel is a bit uneven, and goes from fight scene to fight scene without fully establishing characters’ motives. The villains – the Echoes – for example, do not have a clearly-defined narrative arc: they seem evil for evil’s sake. The book certainly has a lot to set up, as it’s the first in a series, but there needed to be a better balance between action and character development.

Make no mistake, Stacey is a great writer and these are minor flaws in what is already an ambitious and impressive new fantasy series. If you love battle-driven fantasy, you won’t do a lot better than Exile.