Book Review : The Bone Shard Emperor

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : The Bone Shard EmperorThe Bone Shard Emperor (The Drowning Empire, #2) by Andrea Stewart
on November 11th 2021
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Source: NetGalley

The Bone Shard Emperor is the unmissable sequel to The Bone Shard Daughter, one of the biggest fantasy debuts of 2020 - a captivating tale of magic, revolution and mystery, where a young woman's sense of identity will make or break an empire.
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 northeast 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 needs their help to defeat the rebels and restore order.
But can she trust them?

The Bone Shard Emperor is the follow up to the superb The Bone Shard Daughter , one of my favorite books of last year. I was highly anticipating this sequel, and the return to its unique world, interesting magic system, complex characters, and absolutely adorable mythological creatures. The Bone Shard Emperor is a worthy follow up to its predecessor, with the stakes much higher for all of the characters involved, a new villain emerging, and the secrets of the past quickly coming to a head.


Admittedly, I did have a little trouble getting into The Bone Shard Emperor. I believe this was largely in part due to how much I loved its tightly-written, fast-paced predecessor. I could’ve read an entire series taking place in the Imperial Palace, with main character Lin struggling to learn the secrets behind her father’s many locked doors and proving herself worthy as his heir. Luckily for me, The Bone Shard Emperor follows every thread that it wove in the first novel. Lin struggles to reconcile her role as Emperor without the use of her powerful bone shard magic, Jovis wrestles with his conflicting loyalties, Nisong grapples with the losses caused by her brutal revolution, and Phalue and Ranami try to find balance in their new roles as governor and governor’s wife. Every single point-of-view is interesting and effortlessly conflicted, rendering the characters immediately three-dimensional and believable.


“Whatever you might think of me, of my station, I am not my father. I do not fear the people. I am Lin Sukai and I will remake this Empire.”


Like in the first novel, I particularly loved reading from Lin’s perspective. I find her to be such a compelling character. Her struggle to remain true to herself and to reject her father’s way of doing things, and to still be able to protect her people without the use of bone shard magic is such a righteous desire. I was less thrilled with Jovis’s many conflicting loyalties, and frequently lamented his inability to just tell the truth to anyone. Jovis’s and Lin’s relationship, which turns romantic, managed to both make sense and feel completely unexpected to me. After reading The Bone Shard Daughter, I never would have predicted the two catching feelings for each other, even with Lin’s resemblance to Jovis’s missing wife. Despite my surprise at their developing relationship, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it made sense for two lonely people, who are also the only ones with strange magical powers and companions, to seek comfort in one another. Though I didn’t exactly feel their physical attraction or chemistry per se, their bond was entirely believable to me and I think it added a very interesting dynamic to the story.


Less interesting to me was Nisong, formerly known as Sand’s, development in this novel. Though I really enjoyed her single-mindedness and determination in the previous entry in the series, in The Bone Shard Emperor I was a bit shocked to find how suddenly these character traits had turned into ferocity and brutality. Due to Lin’s decree that all bone shard constructs should be dismantled and destroyed by both the empire and citizens, Nisong goes on a rampage, terrorizing people by enacting her Tithing Ceremony, even resorting to killing citizens and turning them into her own undead constructs. With the goal of taking Lin’s place as Emperor, she moves from island to island, leaving destruction in her wake, and losing many of her friends in the process.


“Their conquest didn’t have to end here. She was Nisong. She had once been the Emperor’s consort. And she had been the first one outside the Emperor’s family to learn the bone shard magic.”


Though I felt that Nisong’s transformation was pretty shocking and abrupt, she makes an absolutely spectacular foil to Lin. Lin was her father’s rejected creation, not quite perfected, and never retaining all of the implanted memories of her “mother,” the original Nisong. Current construct Nisong, is the cast off construct that Lin’s father couldn’t bear to kill, that retains many of the original Nisong’s memories, but far less of Lin’s humanity, compassion, and concern with doing what’s right. Unlike Lin, Nisong has no qualms about taking what she wants, no matter what the cost, and is more than willing to use Bone Shard magic in the process. Their ideological differences and inevitable confrontation create an undercurrent of tension that pervades the entirety of The Bone Shard Emperor. Nisong’s brutality only serves to make me root for Lin even harder, which is truly masterful story crafting. 


“The Empire expected a monster? She would be the monster.”


Besides Nisong, another new and utterly despicable villain emerges in The Bone Shard Emperor. I honestly cannot wait for the next novel for this character to get his just desserts. It’s amazing how quickly and believably author Andrea Stewart can develop a complex character—she is truly a great character craftsman, with even side characters having layers and layers to them. Likewise, her tales are well planned, with observant readers who play close attention able to predict what is coming in the novel. And of course I would be remiss not to mention how much I love the truly unique world and magical systems of The Drowning Empire series. The Bone Shard Emperor delves deeper into the lore of the world, with more of a focus on the mysteries of the Alanga and the role of the Sukai family and their bone shard magic in destroying them. 


“We need one another. We receive these abilities, and they receive a way to influence the world.”


And thankfully, readers will get to experience much more of Mephi, Jovis’s adorable companion, and Thrana, Lin’s rescued companion. I don’t think I can overstate how much I love these creatures. In fact sometimes my fear and dread of anything happening to these fur babies is so intense that I could barely stand to keep reading the novel—obviously, I did anyway—that is how much I adore Mephi and Thrana. They deserve the world. 


I am honestly so invested in this series and its characters that I don’t know how I’m going to wait for the next one to be released. If you delight in fantasy worlds with unique magic systems, conflicted characters, and mythical creatures, look no further than The Bone Shard Emperor.


*All quotes taken from an ARC and are subject to change at time of publication.


Book Review : The Bone Shard Emperor - Blogging with Dragons

Posted October 1, 2021 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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