YA Weekend: Dark Shores by Danielle L. Jensen
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Book 1 of Dark Shores
Publisher: Tor Teen (May 7, 2019)
Length: 368 pages
I’ll be honest, I almost didn’t want to read this. After the way Danielle L. Jensen’s first series ended, which left a horrible taste in my mouth that has lingered even after all this time, I’ve learned to be cautious of anything else she writes. However, because the description of Dark Shores sounded so enticing with its promise of sea-faring adventures and pirates, ultimately I decided it might be worth a shot.
Fortunately, in the end, the book gave me no cause to regret that decision. But still, the first quarter or so of this was a little rough. Granted, there was a lot to set up for the premise, which features a setting inspired by Ancient Rome, a fractured empire rife with infighting and rebellion, characters from both sides of the divide including a mariner princess and a soldier of the legion. In this world, conquest is the name of the game, and the Celendor Empire means to win it. Ruled by a corrupt and power-hungry senate, the Cel have long a long history of subjugating nations and their peoples in the name of bringing in more wealth for themselves. Now the only places they have left to conquer are the seas and Dark Shores, the near mythical land on the other side of the world.
But the sea also has its own protectors to guard its secrets. Teriana is heir to the Maarin Triumvirate, a culture of sailors and traders belonging to no land and whose livelihoods depend on the sea. But the election of Lucius Cassius to the head of the Celendor Empire now threatens everything Teriana holds dear. A ruthless tyrant, Cassius is determined to plunder the riches of Dark Shores, ordering his forces to put pressure on the Maarin because they alone possess the knowledge on how to get there. Forced to reveal her people’s secret to the Cel as part of a bargain to spare the lives of her crew and family, Teriana is placed under the authority of Marcus, the commander of the notorious Thirty-Seventh legion. Forsaken for her betrayal, Teriana has no choice but to pray she chose the lesser evil, trusting in Marcus to do the right thing.
Thankfully, the story picks up significantly in terms of pacing and interest beyond this point. Dark Shores was definitely a book that needed to grow on me, and I’m glad I persevered because both the plot and characters got better once the main journey got underway. It’s perhaps no coincidence that this was also when our two protagonists finally connected on a deeper level, reaching an understanding between themselves which went beyond simply acknowledging each other—sure, an alliance of convenience at this point, but I liked how it was nuanced by the weight of the political impact behind their choices. And of course, it also planted the seeds of their romance that came later, making the relationship more believable and convincing.
As to my feelings for the individual characters though, unfortunately I never really warmed towards Teriana. She came across as immature and needlessly belligerent, and very often her behavior or some of the childish things she would say would pull me right out of immersion. In some ways, she reminds me a lot of V.E. Schwab’s female characters—having an attitude for the sake of having an attitude, which grew tiresome after a while. Thankfully, Marcus fared better. He at least had the bearing of a commanding officer, though I felt at times his character was too idealized and seemingly adored by everyone. Unfortunately, the author seems to have a tendency to oversell her protagonists, making their positive attributes feel forced. Though to her credit, some of the best characters and my favorite people in the book come from the supporting cast, many of whom come across more natural and realistic.
I also mentioned some issues with pacing at the beginning, which happily ironed themselves out as the story progressed so that much of the majority of the book actually ended up being an entertaining and quick read. The ending, however, felt way too abrupt. I think part of this also had to do with some of the unnecessary drama in the romance, which just didn’t feel too organic. Still, I want to stress that despite my complaints, I had fun with this book. I wouldn’t have thought Teriana and Marcus would have worked that well based on their contrasting personalities, but they ended up having a great dynamic on the page.
Bottom line, I had a good time with Dark Shores, which in itself isn’t too surprising considering how much I also enjoyed the author’s Malediction trilogy right up until the final chapter of the third book where she blindsided me with a cruel parting shot. So far, this novel is showing some excellent potential, and so long as Jensen doesn’t rip my heart out and stomp it to pieces like that again, I think this new series and I will get along just fine.