REVIEW SUMMARY: A good read, but I was expecting more.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Marid Audran and his crime boss, Friedlander Bey, are exiled to the Arabian desert for a murder they did not commit.
PROS: The flavor of prose is very enjoyable and easily consumable; colorful characters; the Budayeen is a great setting.
CONS: Weaker first half; pacing issues.
BOTTOM LINE: This late-blooming story did not quite match the enjoyment levels of the previous two books; if you haven’t read them, start there.
The Exile Kiss is the third story in George Alec Effinger’s Marid Audran series, following behind two excellent books: When Gravity Fails and A Fire in the Sun. Sadly, this book, while not at all bad, is weaker than the first two.
The story follows Marid Audran, strong-arm enforcer to 200-year-old mob boss “Papa” Friedlander Bey, the powerful lord of the Arab ghetto known as Budayeen. Marid and Bey are falsely accused of murder (presumable framed by one of Fey’s powerful rivals) and banished from the Budayeen to the middle of the Arabian desert. They vow not only to survive the harsh environment, but also to exact vengeance on those who have framed them.
This is almost as serviceable a plot as the previous books, but it poses some problems; namely that it removes some of what was enjoyable in the earlier stories. The streetwise Marid is out of his element here. The assuredness and spunk that was so enjoyable before is gone while he is in the desert. Their triumphant return to the Budayeen only highlights the fact that the earlier portions felt like Marid-Lite. This only reinforces my impression from the earlier books that the Budayeen is as important a character as the people. The desert interlude also serves to delay the main thread of the book – the crime for which they are accused. At times it seemed that I was more anxious than Marid and Bey were to get back to the vengeance part. Worse, the normally confident, first-person prose came across half-hearted in its delivery, as if Effinger himself were waiting for the action to liven up.
When Marid and Bey did back to the Budayeen, however, the story really started to shine. Back in his element, Marid was his same old wise-cracking self, despite a side thread that his time in the desert leading the simple life with the clan of no-tech nomads had altered him forever. Even when his troubles magnified back in the Budayeen, he kept his cool, if not his street smarts (he seemed to get outwitted way too easily for someone with his experience). Compared with the pacing of the first half of the book, the second half seemed to fly by, perhaps too quickly in the end.
It’s easier to be long-winded about a book’s flaws than its virtues, so don’t let my griping give the impression that The Exile Kiss is unreadable. On the contrary, this is still a good read. Effinger’s flavor of prose is still very enjoyable and easily consumable. The Budayeen is gritty and steeped in an interesting culture full of humorously enthusiastic displays of politeness honor. The use of the cranial plug-in modules, Marid’s drug addiction and his uneasy relationships are all used to good effect. The cast of characters are as colorful and corrupt as always and it’s great to see them again. But this late-blooming story did not raise itself to the enjoyment levels of the first two books. If you haven’t read the previous books, start there and you’ll see what I mean.