Have you ever been to a party where everyone seems to know each other but nobody knows you? You meet a few people, glean a few tidbits of information about them, but end up realizing you’ve just wasted time at a boring event. If so, you have already lived through reading The Exiles.
This is Nita Abrams’ second book in a series, and it seems as though it might have helped my comprehension of this book a lot if I had read the first one, A Question of Honor. Unfortunately, I have no desire to pick up the first one because this one is such a clunker, even though it received DIK status from one of my AAR colleagues.
Elizabeth DeQuincey is living in Vienna with her sadistic uncle. She decides she must run away, and, since she has little to no money, that she will masquerade as a boy. Matters get worse when what little funds she does have are stolen, and she is rescued by fencing master Michael Sommers. She knows within a few hours of being in his company that he is not what he appears to be, and she suspects he is a spy. He has no clue she is not what she appears (i.e. a boy), and hires her as his assistant. The two share quarters, but no confidences, and it is clear, mostly because this is purportedly a romance, that Elizabeth is falling in love with him.
Meanwhile, Michael is being hunted by a French officer whom he had bested in a past experience (one of the myriad references to what I can only assume is the first book, since Abrams does not elucidate). Elizabeth manages to save his life a few times, and eventually her secret is out. A few hundred pages later, they are finally able to be together, and return to England, the home from which they both were exiled.
About a quarter of the way through the book, the title started to haunt me. Exiled, sure, but from what? A clear, compelling plot? Two characters believably in love? Careful editing? Meaningful introduction of secondary characters? Yes on all counts.
Abrams’ research and desire to tell a good story are clearly in evidence here, but she attempts far too much with far too little exposition. For example, we know that Elizabeth loved her brother, was a devoted niece to her sick aunt, and likes to play music. How does that explain her devotion to a man whom she admits she does not truly know, even down to his real hair color? Why is every character (with the exception of the majority of the servants and one hypochondriac mother) a spy? And why, and this is probably the most glaring gaffe, does every spy admit freely to anyone who crosses their path – that he or she is a spy? Isn’t that punishable by death or something? Not to mention that all the spies do very little spying, they just attend parties and overreact to the presence of their fellow spies.
The Exiles had very little romance, and there were even fewer romantic sparks between the hero and heroine – two kisses only, neither of which were particularly compelling, making even the straightest of traditional Regency Romances seem racy by comparison. Its many plotlines are whisked away into nothingness before the reader can even get a vague grasp on them, and even if you could figure them out, it’s hard to care about people you barely even know. Skip The Exiles, go to that party with all the strangers instead and try to find one good story there, because you won’t find one here.