The story of Aurelia and Robert continues in Exile. After Aurelia’s younger half-sister Melony tried to have her killed and their father refused to hold Melony accountable for her treachery, Aurelia flees both to escape assassins and to see the rest of the country she still hopes to rule someday.
I enjoyed this book and read it quite quickly. It’s exciting and romantic. Perhaps slightly on the graphic and angsty side for some, but I liked it. I appreciate that we see the story from Robert’s side as well, so there’s some balance to the relationship and we see Aurelia as he sees her, not just as she sees herself.
The character development and pacing in this book were better than in Aurelia—it feels like Anne Osterlund is really getting her bearings as a writer. The ending strongly implies that there’s another novel in the works, and I look forward to reading it.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Violence & Trauma
As the assassination attempts continue and they travel into hostile lands, there’s definitely some violence and near misses. Mostly, though, there’s struggling with the repercussions of violence, such as nightmares, fear of fire, and the continuing guilt over the deaths from the previous book. One thing I do appreciate about this book is that violence isn’t just background—if it happens, it matters.
There are fewer deaths in this book, but one of them is pretty rough—Aurelia’s prized mare is murdered by assassins who have also tried to kill Aurelia. Her throat is slit and it’s a little graphic, not only when it happens but also in the flashbacks Aurelia has for a while. Robert, still haunted by Chris’ death, tries hard (and succeeds) not to kill again, no matter how dire the situation.
Romance & Sex
There’s still all kinds of romantic tension between Robert and Aurelia, although they finally admit their feelings to each other. There’s some kissing and one night of passion (told mostly as a “fade to black” kind of thing), although it’s later made clear that they don’t have sex—Aurelia suddenly realized just what a complication pregnancy would be, so they stopped.
Race & Stereotypes
Skin tones continue to run the gamut, but this is only mentioned in passing as characters are described. Aurelia has cinnamon skin, brown hair, and brown eyes and she’s considered very beautiful, especially by Robert. She also rebels against society’s expectations of women, and that’s another thing he loves about her. Aurelia’s travels through her country are all about looking past expectations and assumptions—really seeing the people and what their struggles are.
Aurelia finds her mother, a broken and fearful soul. She realizes that, although they do connect again on some level, they will never have any kind of meaningful relationship. She also has to face her father’s faults, as a ruler, as a husband, and as a father. He hasn’t been particularly good at any of those roles. Robert’s parents offer a stark contrast—they’re loving and supportive, even as they have high expectations for him.
The guards convince Aurelia to open a crate of wine and they talk her into drinking with them. She doesn’t intend to, but she gets rather drunk thanks to their pressure to test every bottle they open. Unable to sleep, she seeks out Robert—who does not drink—and therefore she’s not passed out in her tent with the guards set it on fire. Later she’s offered wine again, and just having it nearby makes her kind of sick to her stomach.
This is a novel I would happily read for myself, yet it’s tame enough that it’s appropriate for a mature 11 or 12 and up. Any kid who could handle The Hunger Games won’t have any problems with the issues brought up in this book.