Fantastic Beasts meets Assassin’s Creed in this epic, gripping fantasy romance from debut author Maxym M. Martineau.
Exiled beast charmer Leena Edenfrell is in deep trouble. Empty pockets forced her to sell her beloved magical beasts on the black market—an offense punishable by death—and now there’s a price on her head. With the realm’s most talented murderer-for-hire nipping at her heels, Leena makes him an offer he can’t refuse: powerful mythical creatures in exchange for her life.
If only it were that simple. Unbeknownst to Leena, the undying ones are bound by magic to complete their contracts, and Noc cannot risk his brotherhood of assassins…not even to save the woman he can no longer live without.
It’s hard to resist that sell: “Fantastic Beasts meets Assassin’s Creed…” *points to self* HUGE Harry Potter (world) fan. HUGE Assassin’s Creed fan. I should really know better than to listen to those types of comparisons. Yes, on the surface, I get it. She’s a beast charmer. He’s an assassin. Makes sense. But it doesn’t really feel like either one of these. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but expectations matter. I was talking to a friend this morning and it’s clear that Sourcebooks marketing team is on-point. They know how to pull me in and make me one-click a book. But – expectations matter.
I expected an amazing world, filled with incredible beasts, and an action-packed plot. Kingdom of Exiles delivered on most of it.
There is a world that seems absolutely amazing – one I’d like to visit actually. One that I’d like to get to know a lot better. The story takes place in the kingdom of Wilhelm, though we really only hear about it in passing. It’s clear that there’s a large world to explore and get to know. There are so many areas I want to visit. I’m not sure I fully see the land yet, but I’m hoping for a map in the final book. Yes, I’m a map geek. Sue me. It’s hard for me to picture the geography of the world. They travel for 3 or 4 days, but I’m unsure which way they travel, or how that relates to anything else.
While we’re traveling around with Leena and Noc, we get these tantalizing hints of things that have happened in the history of the world. These peeks into where the story is heading. I need more of that. I’d also love to know more about the politics and overarching history of the world. Just in-passing mentions of The First War, and some to-come doom left me dying for more information. It’s obvious that there’s a bigger picture plot that’s happening in that larger world. The set-up is there. I wish we’d gotten more of it.
Something else I wish we’d gotten more of: the beasts. I want more time with them, exploring them, their unique personalities and gifts. I feel like we heard about a dozen of them, saw maybe a half-dozen in their full glory, but I’m not confident I really understand the beasts, the relationship the Charmers have with them, or the history behind it all.
Unfortunately, the pacing is where things really fell apart for me. This book is long – 448 pages – much longer than most romances (fantasy or not) that are out there. And sometimes it feels every bit that length. I cut my teeth on epic fantasy, I’m used to long, detailed stories. But I caught myself skimming and my mind wandering more than once while reading.
It’s a bit frustrating, because by the end of the book Leena and Noc’s story isn’t over. There’s more to do there. I’d have appreciated if more time had been spent on world-building, tightening up the pacing, and less time on the romance. The romance could have solidified in book 2 and 3, which I assume will also follow Leena and Noc. I’d also love it if more people realized that there is nothing wrong with a slow build romance. In fact, I appreciate it more than an insta-love.
Characters are another area that I’m struggling with. I think the romance could have been less of a focus, and more time spent on really developing Leena and Noc. I’m honestly struggling to tell you much about them other than Leena’s a beast charmer that was betrayed, and Noc is an assassin that is cursed. This is probably why I’m having a hard time figuring out why they fell in love. Leena and Noc knew each other for a few days, didn’t trust each other for at least half of that, were adversaries and one was trying to kill the other for nearly the entirety of it….them falling in everlasting love by the end? Not realistic to me.
I get why they like each other; Sure. Something to build on; yep. But risk everything, be my mate, forever-and-ever, love? Not yet. And SO MUCH TIME was spent on the romance, the angst, the sex…*sigh*
There was also the cliche brotherhood of assassins, though thankfully it seemed more robust and inclusive – there were females AND those that weren’t really assassins in the group. I ended up really liking the dynamic and possibilities with the Cruor, but when I initially read about them I thought about every other paranormal romance I’ve read in the last 10 years. I wondered how long until we’d get stories about the other members of the Cruor. Maxym M. Martineau did a good job of pulling me past that and I stopped thinking of the cliche around half-way through the book.
Oh! Speaking of inclusivity – gay characters abound. Kingdom of Exiles shows that being in love with any gender is completely and totally normal. Noc had loved, and lost, a man before. It was completely casually mentioned, just like it would have been if he’d loved and lost a woman. There’s no stigma, no concern, no care. It’s just beautifully, wonderfully normal. God, I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the hell out of that.
Sidebar: I’m bi-sexual. I don’t talk about it a lot because my sexuality is my business – mine and my wife’s. My friends and family know, but it doesn’t define me. However, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with LGBTQ+ books in the past several years, to the point where I’ve mostly stopped reading them. I keep adding them to my to-be-read (TBR) because I’m sure there’s gotta be better representation of people like me sometime, but I rarely actually start them because I’ve been let down so much.
Bi- people are typically depicted as one of three things: (i) evil, and/or the antagonist that’s trying to steal the heart of the protagonist from the love interest; (ii) really just gay/straight and when they enter into a monogamous relationship they find out which; and/or (iii) MUST have both male and female love to be satisfied, cannot be monogamous. Rarely are we ever understood to just love and appreciate both males and females. I don’t need both a man and a woman to be satisfied. I just don’t care if it’s a man or a woman that I’m with. I’m not a lesbian because I’m married to a woman. I’m still bi. I still find men attractive. And I sure as hell am not here to ruin relationships. I’m not even beginning to touch on the depth of my appreciation for how Ms. Martineau handled love and sexuality in this novel. Especially if she follows through, like I think she will, with more gay relationships.
There’s so much here to appreciate and look forward to. I think a lot of my detractions are actually first book syndrome more than anything else. Some balance between the romance and everything else would have easily made this a 5 star read for me..
There’s so damn much potential here. I can see it, on the horizon. I want more in the world, I want more of the characters, I want tons more beasts. I’m happily adding book 2 to my to-read list. Because the set-up for the overarching plot, and the potential in the world? I’m intrigued as hell and am excited to see it all come to fruition.