Exile begins “shortly” after the end of Homeland (10 years, short for an elf). Drizzt has forsaken his home city of Menzoberranzan and left to survive in the Underdark with only Guenhwyvar by his side. He immediately faces two key issues. One, the Underdark is crazy dangerous. In the Dungeons and Dragons game, most of the monsters there are fairly powerful and have the Evil alignment. Two, a guy can only spend so much time alone before the madness starts to set in. Given that the drow are the poster children for evil, it is nigh-impossible for Drizzt to make friends with the few non-hostile beings he encounters.
But even in the darkest depths, Drizzt is still able to find small glimmers of light. Like the previous book, Exile is primarily about character development. There is still a good vs. evil conflict but it is secondary to Drizzt’s personal story. The only person he ever felt true kinship for was left dead in Menzoberranzan, leaving him feeling truly alone. As someone who has only ever known the wicked drow society, Drizzt begins to wonder if he is the only Good being in all this world. He has sacrificed everything to keep his life and, more importantly, his morality intact.
Exile is filled with more action than Homeland, given how dangerous the Underdark is as Drizzt wanders through. Drizzt finds many more enemies than allies on his journey of self-discovery as he continuously comes out ahead. Which is one of my gripes not only with Exile, but prequels in general. We know Drizzt is going to be ok in the end because the Icewind Dale trilogy (chronologically later) was published first. It takes away from the sense of danger and suspense, but there really is no good way around that. At least, not for Drizzt and Guenhwyvar. The other characters are all fair game for tragedy, which helps significantly.
In a trilogy, the second installment is usually the weak link (with some exceptions). Exile breaks this trend by expanding on what Homeland built instead of being filled with fluff. With Menzoberranzan behind Drizzt, the story can focus more on him now. The politics of the drow city still play a role here, but they are less of a key focus. The plot related to the city is resolved by the end of this book, but it seems unlikely this is the last time Drizzt will ever hear from his fellow drow. In the meantime, the remainder of his origins will conclude in the third and final book highlighting Drizzt’s beginning.