Book Review: The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart
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: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Book 2 of The Drowning Empire
Publisher: Orbit (November 23, 2021)
Length: 560 pages
Following on the heels of The Bone Shard Daughter comes its sequel The Bone Shard Emperor, continuing the saga of the Phoenix Empire. Please note that my review may contain spoilers for the previous novel if aren’t yet caught up, as the story picks up almost immediately after we last saw our characters. In terms of POVs, we have more or less the same ones from the first book, beginning with Lin, who has become Emperor since the death of her father. As a new leader, she is untested and faced with skepticism from her subjects, and it doesn’t help that most of them don’t trust her, expecting her to be as tyrannical as her late father.
To the hold her empire together, Lin must put on a show of strength to deter any challenges to her reign. Still, that’s easier said than done. Even as rebels in the northeast gather their forces in an attempt to dethrone her, elsewhere there are murmurings that the powerful magicians of old called the Alanga have returned. And then there are the mysterious sinking islands, a persistent problem to which no one knows the answer. Panic is building, however, as every citizen is afraid that their island may be the next to fall and drown.
When it comes to allies though, Lin feels fortunate to have at least a couple in her corner. One of them is Jovis, a wily vagabond who had been promoted to her Captain of the Guard. But while the former smuggler has taken well to his position and is extremely good at what he does, Lin is unaware that he is also hiding a secret, one that could threaten her rule even as the two of them grow closer. And finally, on one of the larger, more influential islands, we have Phalue and Ranami. The couple has thrived ever since Phalue took over as governor from her father, and yet, even after all they’ve done to improve conditions for their residents, the future of their home remains uncertain.
First things first: while I didn’t think The Bone Shard Emperor was quite as good as its predecessor, it was still very enjoyable read. As a sequel and the middle book of a trilogy, it accomplished its goal of carrying the series’ momentum while keeping the reader’s attention. I liked how the author built upon existing threads, layering the plot with more intrigue, more conflict, but still managed to stay on point, keeping the narrative tight and moving quickly.
But at the end of the day, it was the characters who stole the show. More specifically, I was impressed with Lin and the way she handled herself in this book. Her journey undoubtedly provided the driving force behind this novel, the fact that she was presented with obstacles every step of the way, yet she never once succumbed to the adversity or took the easy way out. I was also pleasantly surprised at the growing relationship between Lin and Jovis. Admittedly, this particular development was something I vaguely suspected with book one, but I was still unprepared to see it play out the way it did here, and that I didn’t hate it!
That said, there were other character relationships that I felt were weaker, and once again I didn’t find myself as compelled by the chapters featuring Phalue and Ranami. Of course, it didn’t help that Ranami’s emotional manipulation was extremely off-putting to me in the first book, to the extent that I don’t think I can ever truly warm up to her, or perhaps it simply comes down to having less interest in their storyline, especially when compared to Lin’s.
Ultimately though, it’s pretty clear that Andrea Stewart has a plan and is building up to something big, and if that means certain characters had to take a backseat while others stepped up, then that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Bottom line, I enjoyed how The Bone Shard Emperor added to the series arc by giving us more of what made the first book so strong—flawed but genuine characters, unique world-building, and high stakes. I’m curious to see how the trilogy will conclude.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Bone Shard Daughter (Book 1)