Exile: The First Book of Ever by James Cormier
|Book Name:||Exile: The First Book of Ever|
|Publisher(s):||Evil Toad Press|
|Formatt:||Paperback / Ebook|
|Release Date:||August 8, 2014|
I read this book as part of Mark Lawrence’s Self Published Challenge.
James Cormier’s Exile pleasantly surprised me. I’ve never had any luck with reading self-published work, although I know there’s some good stuff out there, so my expectations were low. Fortunately, Cormier’s story grabbed my attention right away, and within a chapter I realized that I’d be reading the whole thing without putting it down.
The story begins with Ever Oaks, a young woman of eighteen. She is a member of a little village called Bountiful, filled with a people called the Blessed. She is a Saint, which in her case means she has the ability to heal people with her mind. Within the first chapter we get an idea of the setting – a post-apocalyptic world in which society as we know it ended, and groups of people banded together to survive in various ways. The Blessed retreated from the rest of humanity and set up closed enclaves to protect themselves, believing that they are God’s chosen and kept safe by his will. In addition to the Blessed there are horribly deformed creatures called the Damned. The Blessed fear and hate them because they are often malformed and aggressive, but Ever pities a turkey she finds on the beach, dying because it was attacked and couldn’t get away due to its lame leg and blindness.
This scene of Christian pity is destroyed by Jared, who is a master archer and tracker, and shoots the turkey before Ever can do anything for it. The plot arrives quickly after that, as Ever and Jared bicker their way to visit an old hermit. He’s been murdered by Marmacks, the barbarian tribes who live in the wilderness and live with the Damned. They capture Ever, Jared rescues her, and they make it back to Bountiful alive, with the news that the Marmacks are clearly massing for some kind of serious attack.
I was immediately intrigued by the structure of the social society. We get the entire book from Ever and Jared’s perspectives, and the Blessed are presented as healthy, happy, and definitely the Good Guys™. At the same time though, Ever has been promised to a man she doesn’t like, there are rigid social rules for men and women that Ever accepts but which chafe at her, and it’s clear that their entire society is sanctimonious and insular to the point of ignorance. They have a very skewed view of the world and how it works, a limited knowledge of history, and a complete inability to see the Marmacks or the Damned as actual people. As soon as Ever, Jared, and a few others set out from their walled enclave they realize that they know almost nothing about the world outside.
The adventure part of the story begins when they set out on a desperate mission to find a new home for the people of Bountiful. The Marmacks are too powerful, too aggressive, and too numerous to fight off. There are rumors of a man called The Prophet, who has been organizing the many fighting groups of barbarians and uniting them under his control. Their only realistic option is to flee north toward The Maine and hope to find a new and better place there.
Almost at once Ever’s powers start to change. As they sail through a creepy, sunken city she sees a Damned creature like nothing she’s encountered before. It appears to be able to move on land and in the water equally well, and follows them with great curiosity. She feels a pressure in her head, and just before they make it out of the sunken city she thinks she hears it ask who they are. One of her traveling companions tells her it is a dolphin.
James Cormier does a good job of keeping the reader in the dark about what’s really going on. Ever has a limited perspective on the world because of her sheltered upbringing, but she learns fast and is an introspective person. She has no frame of reference other than her intense pseudo-Christian mythology, but she’s willing to accept new information as it comes and assimilate it into her worldview. I also liked that as her powers unfold and continue to strengthen, change, and grow, it becomes clear that they are fueled by anger. When the Big Bad shows up she gets a crash course on mental manipulation in a literal sense, and manages to fight him off only when she gets so furious that she knocks him on his mental bum with a blast of pure rage. He’s creepy, powerful, precognizant, and insane, and makes a great villain. He’s also a good foil for Ever’s own character development, simultaneously setting her in firm opposition and teaching her some of the mental gymnastics she is capable of.
The story becomes retrospective quickly when they run into a group of people who have electricity, technology, and a much larger knowledge of history than anyone else in the book. They have their own prophecies about Ever, but they also know about what the people of Bountiful call The Fall. A lot of foreshadowing gets explained, and some of the previously conflicting blends of science and mysticism get resolved. This is also where it becomes clear that this is the first book in a series. Everything gets explained, loose ends get tied up, and the larger perspective comes crashing home as a new, ambitious quest presents itself.
I liked the book overall, though the end threw me a little. I think it could have worked well without the final quest reveal as a standalone novel. On the other hand, there were a few cool pieces of foreshadowing that make me look forward to the other two books – I definitely want to see more of the dolphins! The writing was solid and the characters had distinct voices and personalities. I loved the post-apocalyptic setting in particular; it was well thought out and well executed. I hope that in future books we learn more about the history of what actually caused the collapse of the world, because the bits of knowledge we got were extremely cool.