I should not have to explain who best-selling fantasy author Mark Lawrence is, if you haven’t read his work then you should. He is also the guy behind the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off that has done so much to raise the profile of the very many great self published fantasy novels that are out there. So to have him say nice things about Exile is a huge thing for me.
Here is his review as posted on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2774668065?book_show_action=true&from_review_page=1
“This book was given to me in the bar outside Bristolcon, which is where you’ll find me on the one day a year that Bristolcon takes place. Author Paul Lavender gave it to me on behalf of the actual author Martin Owton.
I get given quite a few books at Bristolcon, most of them self-published (as I assumed this one was, though it turns out to have come from a small press). If I don’t like a book I either don’t review it or I focus on the nice things I can say about it. This book however is rugged enough for me to voice some of my issues with it as well as some of the things I enjoyed. The copy I got was a nice sturdy hardback with the cover art printed directly onto the cover (no dust jacket) as they do in some European countries. I like that style and this was a high quality binding. The story is also quite solid and sturdy.
The book was entered in the first Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) and went out without comment (I’m now told this was because it turned out not to be self published)- but it did feature in the same group that yielded the book that won the whole contest, The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids. So for all we know, if that book had had a nasty accident, this one might have won!
Owton has a clear and direct writing style that passes unnoticed. There’s no ornamentation. I don’t recall a seeing a single simile in the whole book. There must have been some … surely? That may sound like criticism but it really isn’t. To write a book that isn’t a chore to read is a rare skill. To write prose that let the reader glide through rather than labour across requires talent. The writing will probably not wow you but it is solid and lets the story take centre focus.
The setting is a kingdom in the land of Generica, which is my smart arse way of saying fantasy-everywhere, a medievalesque land of castles dukes, kings, taverns, farmers, the occasional wizard or wise-woman, a “standard” comfortable fantasy land where you’ll encounter no surprises and feel at home. Again, you could read this as a criticism, but the reason many authors rely on established fantasy common ground is so they can focus on story.
So, the story! Well, it’s a quite small scale tale. Small scale for fantasy that is. There are no wars, the fate of nations is not really at stake. There’s no evil other than the common or garden human variety. No magical cataclysm approaches. We are concerned with one point-of-view character. He wants revenge on a powerful man but gets sucked into the affairs of an impoverished duchy. The bulk of the book concerns his getting involved with the local minor nobility and mounting an attempt to rescue the duke’s son from a rival holding him hostage over some land dispute. Not high stakes stuff, but interesting in a small scale swords & sorcery way.
Exile is a “traditional” fantasy of the sort that wouldn’t raise any eyebrows twenty years ago but might now get readers asking “what about the women?”. The women largely feature in the form of the duke’s wife and two daughters (both husband hunting) and later a minor goddess, all four of whom sleep with or snog our hero. Other women are relegated to serving maids, whores and wise-women. I’ve written books in this style but it does seem that the tide may have turned toward fantasy equality of the style Robin Hobb championed 20+ years ago when the castle barracks turned out both male and female soldiers without remarking on the fact.
I’m poking at this book, but as I said, it’s sturdy enough to take it. I enjoyed the story. It was sword-swinging, castle climbing, hard drinking fun.
There were moments of very literal deus ex machina but it didn’t bother me. It is, in a good way, a simple undemanding story that offers amusing diversion, and that’s a good thing.”
I think his review is spot on, and I agree with the points of weakness he mentioned – the setting is fairly generic and the female characters play secondary roles. If you want to read about the ladies doing more then you have to read Nandor, where they get a lot more to do, particularly Lady Edith.
Thank you, Mr Lawrence.