Today’s review is about THE BONE SHARD EMPEROR by Andrea Stewart, the second installment of The Drowning Empire trilogy. This review contains spoilers for the first book, The Bone Shard Daughter.
Author: Andrea Stewart
Publisher: Orbit Books
Publish Date: November 23, 2021
*These are not affiliate links and I do not make a commission from any purchase made using these links.
In this action-packed magical fantasy epic, a heroine at the head of a powerful empire confronts a raging battle as she’s forced to do whatever it takes to restore peace.
The Emperor is Dead. Long live the Emperor.
Lin Sukai finally sits on the throne she won at so much cost, but her struggles are only just beginning. Her people don’t trust her. Her political alliances are weak. And in the north-east of the Empire, a rebel army of constructs is gathering, its leader determined to take the throne by force.
Yet an even greater threat is on the horizon, for the Alanga–the powerful magicians of legend–have returned to the Empire. They claim they come in peace, and Lin will need their help in order to defeat the rebels and restore peace.
But can she trust them?
I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.
I feel fortunate that I only discovered and read The Bone Shard Daughter earlier this year. This meant that I didn’t have to wait very long to read the sequel! I was so intrigued by the magic system, not to mention Mephi captured my heart, that I couldn’t wait to read more.
Lin now knows who, or rather what, she is. She can also add murderer and usurper to the list. After Lin discovered just the start of the terrible things Shiyen did to his citizens, she deposes her father and began a new rule at the end of The Bone Shard Daughter. As Emperor, Lin rejects a reign by fear and instead yearns to prove she can justly lead the Phoenix Empire.
But first she must prove to the people she is not like her father if she hopes to continue the Sukai dynasty. Complicating this goal is the fact that Shiyen’s war constructs are now on the loose attacking the people. There are also rumors that the Alanga are back.
As I mentioned earlier, the bone shard magic system and Mephi were my favorite aspects of the first book. Bone shard magic takes a little bit of a back seat to the politics Lin plays to entreaty herself to various islands to try to gain their support. But fear not, it does play a part in the sequel, but you must be patient. For the Mephi lovers, this kleptomaniac has his share of page time. Mephi remains a mischievous critter, but I also enjoyed reading about the trust he and Jovis have in one another. I love that we learn more about what Mephi and Thrana are…I wish I could say more, but that would involve significant spoilage!
In The Bone Shard Daughter the Alanga are an ephemeral concept. They haven’t been seen for several generations, and the Sukai dynasty made sure that no one forgot the danger they posed. But suddenly there are whispers that the Alanga are back and we start to learn more about them. It’s a tough call since I love Mephi, but the Alanga plotline, and the artefacts associated with them, is probably my favorite aspect of this book. For a while I wasn’t sure where it was going and then boom, the plot twist hits you in the face.
In my review of the last book I mentioned that I wasn’t terribly invested in the Phalue and Ranami plotline. However, I warmed up to them a lot in this book. Phalue finally understands what Ranami was trying to teach her. We now get to read about them as a united front to combat corruption and their maturing trust and loyalty to each other.
For any Nisong fans out there, well, she plays an unexpectedly large part in the politics of things. I was curious about her storyline in the last book, but found myself not as invested this time around. I had a hard time understanding her reasoning for her decisions once they were revealed. Again, it’s hard to say more without giving out spoilers.
Lastly, there were a couple of aspects that surprised me. The first is the romance that develops between two key characters. There wasn’t any sort of chemistry alluded to in the last book; and I felt like the chemistry written in this book fell a bit flat. I understand why the relationship happened, but I also would’ve been happy if it hadn’t developed. (I’m happy to discuss more in the comments.)
I also felt like the writing style changed a little between the two books, but not necessarily in a bad way. The writing style in The Bone Shard Emperor seems more casual. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of The Bone Shard Daughter to compare, so I could be misremembering. I also felt like the portrayal of Jovis and Lin in this book made them seem more rash and therefore less mature. But I’m not sure if I’m imagining it, or if this is because they’re both in new roles trying to navigate their way.
Overall, I enjoyed this sequel to The Bone Shard Daughter. Personally, I liked the first book more, maybe because there was so much unknown. However, I really enjoyed learning about the Alanga and what type of animals Mephi and Thrana are. I’m also curious to see how the plot twist at the end plays out in the next book. I also like that Stewart explores, via several plotlines, the concept of the “lesser evil,” or whether the ends justify the means; how emotion can cloud judgment; and how loyalty to a party can be challenged when one witnesses for oneself that their beliefs and predictions might not hold true.
That said, I do recommend this book and I look forward to reading the next one. Until we meet again, Mephi.
Content warnings: battle scenes, death, allusions to pet/animal abuse
Reading format: e-ARC