The premise is Aron, displaced knight of Darien, kills a man in a bar fight who turns out to have been the Earldom of Nandor's guard captain. This normally lethal action proves to be to Aron's benefit as he finds himself dragooned into being Nandor's new guard captain due to their desperate need for a swordsman to rescue the family heir. Aron is to lead a small group of soldiers into their rivals' lands in order to break him out of prison then get him back to Nandor safely. Its complicated by the fact he'll be going with said heir's cousin who has a vested interest in making sure the man doesn't make it home.
It's telling so much of fantasy is devoted to stories about saving kingdoms from zombies or preventing the end of the world that I found a simple Ivanhoe-esque rescue mission to be incredibly refreshing. It's a universe with magic as we see a wizard and a goddess' touch but, for the most part, it's more likely you'll get stabbed than blasted to smithereens in this universe. Aron is certainly portrayed as a badass but he's a believable badass who has to run when his opponents outnumber him more than a few men.
Exile is an excellent adventure novel that harks back to the Sword and Sorcery days of Pulp fiction, though it takes place in a civilized Medieval world rather than something akin to the Hyborian Age. Martin Owton avoids creating villains, for the most part, with only a few characters being genuinely evil. Instead, this is a dispute between lords where the Nandor are as much in the wrong as their opponents. It's just we root for the Nandor nobility because we sympathize with them and see the story from their perspective.
There is an element which will probably annoy some readers and entice more. Specifically, the fact Aron is portrayed as an irresistible sex god who the women of the realm can't resist falling for. Not only do the two heiresses of Nandor fall for him but also their mother and a goddess. Aron is capable of resisting the wiles of a couple but not all of them and seems bemused more than anything else. I have nothing against James Bond-esque protagonists and note there's nothing wrong with it even if can be a bit silly reading about how every woman wants him.
I actually like the character of Aron most out of all the ones in the novel and that's a rare experience. Martin Owton successfully channels The Man with No Name and other Clint Eastwood-esque heroes from Westerns to a Medieval era. He's cold-blooded, stoic, ruthless, and dangerous but not without a heart. Also, it works well because while he doesn't say much in the novel, we're always in his head and seeing things from his perspective.
I like the way the book handles its action scenes as well. They're short, dramatic, and brutal with a lot of emotion behind them. We never get the sense Aron takes combat less than 100% seriously as it's always deadly in this world. People quickly die when struck down with a sword and there's a sense anyone could end up dead if they're unlucky. Aron kills a lot of people in the book but he's not invincible and needs to be bailed out a couple of times or run away as mentioned. This makes him a more believable protagonist as well as more likable. It also makes the action scenes more intense.
As for Nandor and the Empire where the book takes place? Well, it's perfectly serviceable as a setting. There's nothing that especially jumps out about the kingdom and the Nandor family has a Stark-like quality of being a little too good to be true but that's nitpicking. It's actually a bit original just because it's a Medieval kingdom which isn't about to be destroyed by orcs or a hellhole on the verge of collapse.
Exile is a collection of short adventures strung together by the main plot and there's a lot of enjoyable scenes spread throughout. It's an excellent palette cleanser between fantasy epics and something I recommend for a short light read.