Pros: Fabulous characters; fascinating setup
Rating: 5 out of 5
Amazon publication date is 6/4/2019–I bought an early copy of this book distributed via StoryBundle.com.
Lisa M. Bradley’s Exile seems, at first glance, to be yet another post-apocalyptic, dystopian, violence-and-sex-filled escapade. But instead, it’s a crazed, riveting character drama that would not let me go. Exile is a city where a mysterious tanker truck spilled its hazardous load and the entire town was quarantined and cut off from the outside world. Many of the citizens are afflicted with “Spill-Induced Rage,” so rival gangs fight it out day-to-day on the streets. It isn’t a berserker sort of thing; the fighting is more of a release valve for most people, although some do seem to have gone a bit crazy. Heidi Palermo’s brother William is in one of these gangs, and Heidi’s the family medic. What she really wants is to get Outside and become a plastic surgeon, but when she takes the tests she keeps failing the “sanity” portion with a result of “inconclusive”. Her brother was just killed by an Outsider named Tank (some Outsiders are allowed to come in to work), and she happens to have the hots for Tank–not to mention she is seriously not going to miss her brother. But neither her family nor her brother’s crew are going to sit back and accept what’s happened–and to them, she’s a traitor. Soon Heidi, Tank, and two of Tank’s crew are trapped in his fortress-like house, and there seems to be no way out.
First, I do have to say that there’s a lot of sex and sex-talk in here, so, if you’re not okay with that, don’t read this book. One of the things I love about Exile is the fact that Heidi is not ashamed of her sexuality. She owns the fact that she likes sex, she likes sex a LOT, and she finds many men attractive. No matter how much shit other people give her, she doesn’t feel shame. She gets rightfully pissed at others’ judgment of her, but it in no way prevents her from going after what she wants. She initially goes after Tank because she’s attracted to him and doesn’t care what anyone else thinks about that. She continues to go after him because she thinks maybe he could help her get Outside. Then… things gradually change. She and the taciturn enigma that is Tank begin to slowly change each other, and he comes to mean more to her than just a ticket out. When she gets trapped in his house with him, Sweeney, and Paolo, all three of them get stripped down to their essentials under fire from her family and her brother’s crew. Sweeney despises Heidi but is loyal to Tank. Paolo seems to be a sweetheart, although maybe he has a bit of a thing for Heidi. Tank… he’s mysterious, although bit by bit Heidi yanks the truth out of him and his associates. When Tank wants to kill Heidi’s Mother–who is the ringleader of the attack against them–Heidi has to figure out just how far she’s willing to go. Even minor outside characters, mostly seen through Heidi’s memories and dreams and phone calls with the outside world, have an impressive amount of detail and depth to them.
It occurred to me that sane people didn’t reject matricide on purely pragmatic grounds.
While the world is insane, most of the initial story takes place inside of Tank’s house. It’s pure character gold. Eventually it ramps up to some serious action, however. The climactic battle is creative, detailed, bloody, incisive, and soul-baring. There is some gore; while it isn’t over-the-top, it also isn’t for the faint of heart. It leads to some very interesting events.
The worldbuilding intrigued me, but it was the characters, particularly Heidi, that riveted me. I just couldn’t get enough of them, and enjoyed this book way more than I would have expected from the setup!