Exile (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.