Exile's Return (2005) is the third novel in the Conclave of Shadows series, following King of Foxes. In the previous volume, Tal Hawkins and others escaped from the Fortress of Despair. They crossed the strait to the mainland and traveled overland to Karesh'kaar. Once there, Tal contacted the Conclave and started recruiting a mercenary army.
Tal and Pug convinced the Kingdom of the Isles, Kesh, and Roldem to support an assault on the Citadel of Opardum. While these forces were diverting the Olaskan guards, Tal led his mercenary army through a hidden way into the Citadel and attacked from the rear. He and his troops forced their way into Leso Varen's quarters, killed the magician and broke the wards keeping out the Conclave. Then his troops attacked the throne room and captured Duke Kaspar of Olasko. Since Leso Varen had used magic to wield the duke as his tool, Pug convinced Tal to exile Kaspar rather than execute him.
In this novel, Magnus transports the former duke to the continent of Novindus and releases him there. Soon afterward, Kaspar is confronted by six heavily-armed Bentu horsemen and fights back, taking down five of them; he is stymied, however, by the bow and arrows of the sixth. Knocked unconscious, he is carried back to the nomad camp.
After regaining consciousness, Kaspar finds that his hands are bound behind him and these rawhide bindings are connected to a tent peg at the back of the tent. If he pulls up the peg, the tent will collapse and the nomads will know that he is trying to free himself.
Pretending to still be unconscious, Kaspar listens to the conversations held at the front of the tent, decides that the language is somewhat like Quegan, and begins to recognize a few words. After dark, he works his hands to the front and chews on the lashings until they fall apart. Stealing some food and water, he escapes from the camp and climbs up the nearby ridge.
The nomads break camp and move on without searching for him, probably because of a little message he left in the chief's tent. He travels along the old road on the ridge in the same direction as the nomads. After several days without water, he is very dehydrated. He moves down to the valley floor, looking for signs of water. Finally he finds a damp spot with grass growing around it. Digging down into the soil, he finds water beneath the surface and drinks his fill.
Afterward, Kaspar traps ground birds for meat. Seeing a boy wandering the hills, he tracks him to a small farm tucked away far from the road. Although he severely frightens the boy and his mother, Kaspar uses his small knowledge of Quegan to reassure them and soon starts performing chores that the woman and boy cannot manage. He learns that the woman's husband and their only horse have disappeared on a trip to town.
After a few months, Kaspar declares that he must leave and takes the woman, boy and two steers into town to acquire horses. Since suitable horses are unavailable, they settle on a mule to work on the farm, but Kaspar has to go down the river on foot. He works as a caravan guard for a while, but in Simarah he meets three traders from the Kingdom of the Isles and is forced by a geas to accompany them with a strange armored relic from a recently exposed cache.
The relic leads Kaspar on a weird journey, first to find a priest, then to the home of the gods, and eventually to the Conclave of Shadows. On the way he once again confronts Tal and survives the meeting. He also visits his sister and is pleased with her situation.
This novel describes the mental processes of the former duke as he remembers his past actions. As he grows to better know Jojanna and Jorgen, the farm wife and her son, Kaspar begins to see how his own behavior would have affected the common folk of his dukedom. He also begins to see how Varen had manipulated him with magic and questions his own decisions. He also remembers advice from his father that he had ignored under Varen's influence. He begins to feel remorse for the people hurt by his mistaken efforts. Ironically, the wisdom he gains after his deposal would make him a better ruler.
Kaspar is initially determined to return to Opardum to have his revenge on Tal and Captain Havrevulen. His regained memories and experiences cause him to better understand the actions of his enemies, but he still wants revenge. However, the armored relic begins to loom in importance to the point of reducing his wants to insignificance. While still determined to return, he is primarily concerned with contacting the Conclave of Shadows.
This novel is the last in the Conclave trilogy. But it is followed by Flight of the Nighthawks, the first novel in the Darkwar series. The armored relic will play a prominent role in this next series.
Highly recommended for Feist fans and for anyone else who enjoys tales of high adventure, powerful magic and personal enlightenment.
-Arthur W. Jordin