|Dear reader: Please do not hold the convoluted nature of this review against me. I enjoy fantasies very much, from Harry Potter and Tamora Pierce to Tanith Lee and Holly Black. To be fair to the author as well as to this writer, Heart of the Exiled is the second book of a series, following The Betrayal, which I have not read. Heart of the Exiled is well-written. It is descriptive (sometimes to a fault) and involved and richly woven. However, heed my warning not to read it first; that experience resembles what I imagine reading Tolkien's The Two Towers before The Fellowship of the Ring feels like.
Eliani and her newly-bonded mate, Turisan have become central to the aelven war effort because of their rare ability to mindspeak over a distance. Kobalen (zombie-like creatures) are massing in numbers not seen in five centuries, and they're not doing it for fun. Eliani is sent by the governors to see why the province of Fireshore has not responded to its country's call to war. She rides hell for leather with the Guardians (the aelven military, basically) while Turisan remains at his father's, the governor of Greenglen, side to relay the messages she sends to him.
What Eliani can't know until she's knee-deep in trouble is that Shalar, the leader of the vampires who had been exiled during the Bitter Wars, is planning something special for Fireshore and for Eliani.
In the midst of all of this, Eliani and Turisan, who haven't known one another for very long and haven't been separated since meeting are testing their new-found abilities. Turisan is consulting with a senior mage who is, for the first time perhaps since the last war, using his own mindspeaking talents. Eliani is coping with being treated differently now; before, she was just a Guardian like the rest, and now she's basically one of the Guarded.
Nagle treats the reader to flashes of life in Shalar's camp – and it's both brutal and insightful; Shalar is the kind of bad guy a person can relate to; after all, who wouldn't want to go back home? And revenge is a motive that most people can understand, even if secretly.
I'm over-simplifying, but Heart of the Exiled is rich in description and flooded with characters. This is not a light read; nor, can I imagine The Betrayal being such. Fans of old-school fantasy will love the series, romance novel cover aside. It is not a romance. Yes, there is romance, but it is not the heart of the story, or even integral to it. It is not just the lovers in Nagle's work that have complicated relationships, and she plays that up excellently. As mentioned before, don't, as I did, read Heart of the Exiled without the benefit of The Betrayal; there are entirely too many aspects and characters left up in the air when approached that way. But, if you love Michelle Sagara (West), Robert Jordan, or any other authors of epic fantasies, pick up Pati Nagle's books.