Review: “The Exiled,” William Meikle

Pros: Original take on faerie abduction myths
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

William Meikle’s The Exiled is a creative mélange of horror, thriller, and a sort of quasi-urban fantasy. Police officer John Grainger is called to the scene of a crime: a black swan has been torn to pieces, and a young girl is missing. When it happens again, and the girl disappears seemingly into thin air, people start to panic. Reporter Alan Grainger, John’s younger brother, finds a disturbing clue: six rare black swans have been stolen. If that indicates how many girls will go missing, John and Alan had better hurry and find out what’s going on before four more girls disappear! When John and Alan each have a disturbing, all-too-real vision of a mysterious land with crumbling stonework buildings and a terrifying, gigantic black bird-like creature, they start to realize that something much worse is going on than they suspected.

I love the blending of genres in this. It takes place in Edinburgh, Scotland. There’s the kidnapping mystery/thriller aspect of it; the brothers must race against time to save as many of the (theoretically six) girls as possible. There’s a touch of urban fantasy, as they end up delving into folk tales about faerie abductions. And of course there’s an undertone of cosmic horror running beneath the whole thing. The combination works surprisingly well in Meikle’s hands.

I do have to issue a content warning for child harm and animal harm. They’re confronted in retrospect rather than in real time, but some people might find them disturbing.

The brothers find some interesting resources and potential allies, but pretty much everyone seems to have their own agenda to follow or secrets to keep. The characters are all interesting and nicely individuated. The book isn’t a long one, yet there’s still enough difference in each character to make them worthwhile. It’s the small details that add up to a wonderful whole. I also have to make a note of something I’ve noticed after reading 13 books by Meikle: His stories tend to feature a lot of rather strong, masculine characters (often investigators, law enforcement, or military), and only a scattering of women. Normally when I see this I’d expect to see some amount of concomitant depiction of those women as weak or as victims. This is not at all the case here! Instead, those few women he includes tend to be strong and independent and easily hold their own with “the boys”. I really appreciate this.

Meikle takes the old tale of faerie abductions and puts a creative, harrowing spin on them. I really enjoyed the results!

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