Andrea Stewart returns with The Bone Shard Emperor, the second installment of this unmissable, action-packed, magic-laced fantasy epic.
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?
***Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit Books for providing a copy of the book. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***
***There are likely to be spoilers about the first book, The Bone Shard Daughter, in this review. If you haven’t read that book yet, read on at your own peril!***
I loved the first book in this series so much, and I was excited to get to read this sequel a little early thanks to getting an eARC from NetGalley. The Bone Shard Emperor was a worthy successor to The Bone Shard Daughter and continued the story into interesting new places while showcasing the same heart and superb writing that made me fall in love with the first book. There’s just something about the way Andrea Stewart writes that kept me hanging on every word. The mysteries from the first story were only deepened here as a result of the shocking reveals that set the scene for what will likely be an explosive final installment.
This story considerably expanded the world of The Drowning Empire. Lin and Jovis traveled to many different locales, and the other characters’ viewpoints added information about even more islands, as well, which was interesting to see. The greatest expansion, however, had to be in the world-building related to the history of the Alanga and their magic. While far from answering all the questions posed in the first book, this story added an immense amount of info to the lore while raising almost as many new questions as it answered. This book heavily favored the Alanga magic and, unfortunately, didn’t provide much new insight into the bone shard magic. Personally, I think the bone shard magic is more unique and more interesting. So, I was a little disappointed we saw so little of it here even though I found the Alanga stuff fascinating too. In general, though, the additions to the lore were intriguing and integrated into the story in an engaging way.
The plot of the book, overall, was pretty straightforward. Lin needed to convince her subjects to remain loyal in order to have the forces necessary to squash a bone shard construct rebellion. So, she spent a great deal of time traveling and meeting with governors to gain their support. I enjoyed all the political intrigue this brought to the story, and it was interesting to see Lin’s responses to the different ways the governors treated her. Although, I couldn’t help but feel like much of the politics of the first half of the book was somewhat of a waste of time as it didn’t seem to have much of an impact on the outcome. Additionally, there were a couple parts of the plot that felt really forced, especially the return to Imperial after visiting the second island. The ending, though, was an absolute blast to read. The action was fantastic, and the outcome of the final battle resolved the main external conflicts of this story, the loyalty of the governors and the construct rebellion, while also laying the foundation for what is likely to be a breathtaking final book.
If you’ve read my review for the first book, I don’t think it will come as a shock that I loved these characters and their trajectories in this story. Each character arc felt like a logical next step for their growth, and all of them struggled with learning to trust others, which seemed to be a major theme of the book. Lin had to figure out what to do with her newly found identity and status as emperor now that she had achieved them. She remained as strong-minded and persistent as ever, but she seemed to struggle a bit more with choosing and implementing the right course of action, partly because things were more complex dealing with all the politics and partly because she had Jovis constantly questioning her decisions and actions. Speaking of Jovis, I found his conundrum of figuring out how to continue being a hero when things get murky to be incredibly compelling. I liked seeing him struggle to figure out the right things to do given his split loyalties. I also really enjoyed the story of Phalue and Ranami here even more than in the first book. Phalue was almost a mirror of Lin as she worked to solidify her rule as governor, with the main difference being she was trying to hold on to the people’s love when Lin was trying to earn it. I loved seeing her and Ranami being a happy couple (at least for a while), and digging into Ranami’s past was interesting and created the space for some great perspective on the theme of trust. Finally, I enjoyed the character of Sand in this book, as well, but don’t want to talk too much about it to avoid spoilers. Her fight for survival really made me think twice about some of the decisions made by Lin and left me contemplating the idea of personhood.
The romance in this book honestly surprised me. It was well-written and delightfully slow burn, but I still felt something was off about it. It made logical sense for the two characters to develop feelings for each other given their close proximity, shared secrets, and other factors I won’t disclose here. However, it just felt really soon for the relationship to develop despite there being a time jump between books one and two. Jovis spent the entirety of the first book pining over his dead wife, and I just found it hard to believe he would move on that quickly. Although, I guess it had been seven years. As you can see, I’m conflicted about it…I liked the characters together, but it also just felt wrong.
This review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Mephi! I loved him in this book. He developed into a true teenager, which was adorable and fun to read. I enjoyed all the snark and his ridiculous antics throughout the book. The ending left me heartbroken for him, though. I’m also excited that there were more creatures like him! I love a good animal companion, and this book delivers that wonderfully.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. I just didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the first one. I loved the character development and deepening of the lore. However, the plot and pacing weren’t as tight as the first book and some of my favorite things from the first book weren’t as prevalent in this one (e.g., bone shard magic). Therefore, I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.
Are you looking forward to The Bone Shard Emperor? Have you read it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!