Holly's Reviews > Island of Exiles

Island of Exiles by Erica Cameron
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I’d been eager to read this book since I’d seen a post from Erica on Twitter about it and chatted with her briefly. I am a huge fan of fantasy, and this book sounded right up my alley. I also loved the idea that Erica would be exploring the idea of asexuality in the book, as I have never read about that in any book (at least not where it’s explicitly named, although it’s possible it was hinted at in some book and I missed it). So, I jumped a the chance to be on this tour with YA Reads, and let me tell you, this book did not disappoint! I don’t want to get too much into plot and what happens (I hate spoilers), but I will address the things I liked best about this book.

Island of Exiles had everything I love in a fantasy: excellent world-building; a world that is presented in a way we can easily visualize it; strong, complex characters; and a story that immediately draws you in. The structure of the society was pretty fascinating, mixing some more traditional fantasy (and real-life) elements with some new and intriguing twists. From the first page, I could really “see” Shiara, and I could imagine very well how the desert dust covered everything, how parched the warriors must get out on their patrols. The animals and plants (such as there were) were very cool; I mean, the teegras sounded like some crazy combination of big jungle cats and snakes - awesome! As different as they were, it was easy to visualize them, and they weren’t so unbelievable as to catapult us out of the story. Overall, the world-building was excellent.

In addition to the world-building, I think Erica did a great job with the characters. I love how Khya is such a tough warrior even though she’s only 17, but it’s totally believable because of how their society is structured, since children are raised learning to fight (and fight hard). I also liked that she was always watching out for and helping her younger brother, and that their bond was so close. Tessen captured me from the moment he appeared on the page; I was a little googly-eyed for him, I admit! Khya’s best friends Rai and Etaro are also fantastic characters.

I want to mention that Khya also captured my heart as soon as I realized she has a “thing” with touching, because I am similar in that respect. I could feel her squirming when her friend engulfs her in a big hug (not something they would normally do, but they’d been worried about her). I could feel her unease when Tessen would be too close, too much in her personal space (yes, even though I was smitten with him!). I have to say, I really liked seeing myself in that aspect of her character. It’s interesting how just that aspect of her character can make me like her even more. I guess what I’m saying is, it’s my firm belief that authors would do well to give their characters some “quirks” of personality that many of us have. None of us are “perfect,” and why should we want our book characters to be? I don’t, that’s for sure! This kind of reality in characters does two things: first, if we share that trait, we are happy to see ourselves reflected in the character; and second, if we don’t share that trait, we may gain some knowledge of, perhaps even empathy for, people who do. It’s a win-win, in my opinion!

Since I referred to this in the intro, I’ll touch on two aspects of this book that were mostly new to me: the inclusion of a third sex, and the inclusion of asexuality as an accepted, normal point on the sexual spectrum. First, I liked the fact that there was a third sex in Khya’s society, with those neither male nor female being called “ebet.” Although not exactly new to me - I’ve read (mainly science fiction) books with multiple and/or different sexes before - I really liked the way it was presented here. It took a bit of getting used to, which I’ll admit was uncomfortable at the beginning, but I think to some degree that is the idea. After all, we’re at a point in our society where people are choosing to live their true selves and choosing how they’d like to be referred to, eg, using the plural pronoun to avoid gendered pronouns. If we don’t confront the way it makes us feel uncomfortable at first - using plural pronoun to refer to a single person - then we won’t be able to honor their wishes. Erica has a riff on this idea, using “ey” where you might use “they,” “eir” for “their,” and “emself” for “themself.” It took a few times for me to realize that when she’d start a sentence about Etaro, “Ey ran toward me…”, that “Ey” was not a nickname for Etaro, as I’d originally thought, but rather use of the non-gendered pronoun! But it didn’t take long for it to start to flowing from my tongue just as easily as seeing “he” in connection with Tessen and “she” in connection with Rai. I think that’s the great thing Erica has done here, which is to force us to read it and say it in our heads enough that it becomes second nature and doesn’t seem so “weird” anymore. At least, I hope that will be others’ experience as well!

Second, I really appreciated how Erica put the issue of asexuality before us with one of her characters. It is a concept that a lot of us (at least older folks like myself, if not those who would actually be considered YA themselves!) don’t know much about. That is, we may in fact have *lived it*, but we’ve not necessarily put a name to it before. Asexuality in Khya’s world is not so unusual, and there is a word for it, “ushimo.” (As a side note, there are also homosexual relationships.) I appreciate that it was even talked about, in a way that I’ve never read in a book. It’s just nice to know that not every person thinks about sex all the time - or ever - and, again, it’s an aspect of a character with which those readers who identify as asexual can identify. It helps them to see themselves represented, and it helps the rest of the readers get a better sense of what asexuality means. As I said before, it’s a win-win!

Well, that ended up being a much longer review than I’d anticipated, but there you go! I really loved this book, and I can’t wait to read more by Erica. I would highly recommend Island of Exiles to any fantasy fan, even if you’re not someone who normally reads YA. It’s an excellent addition to the fantasy genre, and I can’t wait to read the next installment!
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Reading Progress

February 9, 2017 – Started Reading
February 12, 2017 – Finished Reading
February 19, 2017 – Shelved
February 19, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
February 19, 2017 – Shelved as: 1-blogtour-yareads
February 19, 2017 – Shelved as: 1-i-was-part-of-blog-tour
February 19, 2017 – Shelved as: 2017
February 19, 2017 – Shelved as: 2017-most-wanted
February 19, 2017 – Shelved as: arc
February 19, 2017 – Shelved as: cover-love
February 19, 2017 – Shelved as: diversity-author
February 19, 2017 – Shelved as: diversity
February 19, 2017 – Shelved as: ebook
February 19, 2017 – Shelved as: entangled-teen
February 19, 2017 – Shelved as: feels-like-i-won-a-million-bucks
February 19, 2017 – Shelved as: given-for-review
February 19, 2017 – Shelved as: oh-hell-yes
February 19, 2017 – Shelved as: series
February 19, 2017 – Shelved as: absolutely-loved

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