The Bone Shard Emperor (The Drowning Empire #2) by Andrea Stewart
Published by Orbit Books
Release Date : 23rd November 2021
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.
There was always a way to fix things. There was always a way to come back.
ARC provided by the publisher Orbit Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
An excellent follow up to a solid debut. The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart is the drip feed epic fantasy that will keep you guessing.
As I said in the previous reviews of books I’ve picked up it is #NetGalleyNovember and the #1 book that I target myself to finish is the second book of The Drowning Empire series, The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart. I read The Bone Shard Daughter around a couple of months ago and I liked it. The book is a solid debut and first book to a refreshing new series. Going into this second book, I have worries because second book syndrome is one of my biggest fears and it can make or break a series for me personally. As you can see from my rating there is nothing to worry about, because it slightly exceeded it’s predecessor in terms of quality. Before I dive into the review, I would like to gush about the cover of this book done by Sasha Vinogradova and designed by Lauren Panepinto. The amount of detail that goes into the cover is absolutely stunning and every time I look at it I see a something new to appreciate.
The Bone Shard Emperor is the second book of The Drowning Empire series and sequel to The Bone Shard Daughter that was released back in 2020 by Andrea Stewart. It is a multi POV epic fantasy centered in the Phoenix Empire, an empire with a vast archipelago, ruled for centuries by the Sukai family. The recluse and tyrannical Emperor has closed himself of from the world letting the constructs he created run the Empire. The people fear the Emperor and is suffering under his rule. A rebellion, earthquakes, and an uprising of a construct army threatens Lin’s rule as she sits on her father’s throne. There is also the ever mysterious awakening of Alanga artifacts across the Empire. In this sequel the stakes are higher and the focus of the story is centered around Lin trying to stabilize an already crumbling empire faced with a variety of challenges. The story takes on a more political narrative filled with negotiations, alliances, and whole deal of rallying to unite the Empire clouded in doubt towards their newly crowned ruler.
But this was the truth I could not escape from : if I stood against the tyranny of the Empire, then I had to stand against all tyranny.
The world building is much more expansive and broader compared to the first book. The already good foundation that is established in the first book is slowly built up by showing a lot of interesting lore and secrets through Lin and Jovis’s discoveries. The way Stewart revealed these bits of lore throughout the story is well intentioned and strategically clever with the timing to keep readers guessing at the edge of their seat. Before it took me a while to read through the first book because of it’s slow pacing in this sequel the pacing improved exponentially. The story is more stream lined as the story picks up it’s pace and stakes building up to a climax that got me shaking with excitement while reading. The world exploration that I was craving in The Bone Shard Daughter is answered as Lin’s travels around the Empire trying to repair the relationship with the other islands. We get to see more of the people on the other islands as they interact with the main characters. The convergence of plot connecting all the characters together is smooth and masterfully done. Stewart weaved everything together consistently throughout the story and it is satisfying to see the tapestry taking form on an epic scale, all the while still treating readers to more threads to chase.
The bone shard magic isn’t shown more in this sequel compared to the first book as the story takes on a different approach in it’s magic trajectory. Though we’ll get to see more bone shard magic in the action scenes it’s presence is lowkey. By lowkey I mean there isn’t anything new that Lin learns as she focuses her duties more as the Emperor. Have no fear because Stewart shows a new kind of magic that is previously shown can be done by Jovis in the first book. The magic is deeply connected with the lore of the world as a whole and it is also the root that started the ripples that is felt in the present. The magic is connected with Mephi, Jovis’ animal companion, that I can’t wait to know more about in the third book. To avoid spoilers I’ll stop here. Though I would like to gush about the explosive, avatar-esque, and vivid action scenes that is executed marvelously. Especially the last battle! I’d say compared to the first book The Bone Shard Emperor exceeded my expectations in terms of action.
“A coward is not a man who feels fear. A coward is one who would volunteer others for the suffering he would not take on himself.”
In The Bone Shard Emperor we follow the same cast of characters such as : Lin, the Emperor’s daughter, that can do bone shard magic and only heir of the Phoenix Empire; Jovis, a reluctant hero and smuggler that travels with his companion Mephi, a creature that can grant him powers; Phalue, daughter and heir of the governor of the island of Nephilanu; Ranami, Phalue’s partner and rebel that is working with The Shardless Few; Sand, a mysterious woman that is determined to take back what was hers. Adding to these pre existing characters is the introduction of more characters that will play a major role in this sequel and future instalment. The characterization in The Bone Shard Emperor is consistent and believable in terms of development. Each of them have something they are working on in this sequel as Stewart layers more seeds of growth in their characterization. The way Stewart balanced between character arcs and the major plot line is neatly done. Everything is written clearly and articulate that doesn’t falter from the crisp quality of the previous book. There are many themes explored in The Bone Shard Emperor but the major them I found weaved into it’s characters is trust and all the complexities related to it such as : betrayal, loyalty, promises, etc. What’s interesting is readers can find the various manifestations of trust in each of the characters, both in main and side characters. Some characters are trying to trust again, some are trying to gain trust, some has given up on the idea of trusting someone, some are going through the fresh pains of betrayal—a breaking of trust, and many more. It is so fascinating seeing this across all Stewart’s characters that I can’t help just think in awe the grip they have on me.
“I don’t care where you came from. I don’t care about your heritage. Come back to me.” I didn’t ask, but he offered it anyway.
“I promise,” He took my hand and held it over his heart. It beat, strong and steady, beneath my palm. “And I’ll never break a promise to you again.”
Even though it is a multi POV story, in my opinion, Lin and Jovis carried the story in this sequel. They both play a big part in progressing the plot as they spearheads the movement in uniting the empire. Lin is now the emperor and she is under a lot of pressure from all sides of the empire. The determination that we got to see in her from the first book is stronger as she makes it her mission to be better than her father. Conflicted by her own sense of identity and place in the world Lin is grappled with issues that plagues her thoughts with loneliness, distrust, and imposter syndrome. Jovis now a former smuggler is deeply involved with the on goings of the empire. He is struggling to root himself into the position that is bestowed upon him as he questions his loyalty and intentions. Jovis’ reluctant demeanor is still a big part of his character which led to him projecting his worries and insecurities to Lin. They are both tied together by strands of fate; seeing their interaction as they bounce off each other with ideas and banter is the relationship development that surprised me. Even with the difference in station they both actively challenge each other. Their overall character development is thanks to each other as they are each other’s catalyst.
“We were your mistakes, to be crumpled and burned like so many ink blotted pages. Give me your Empire or give your deaths.”
Another character that stood out to me is Sand. A character that turned to a path of destruction and death as she is motivated by vengeance to reclaim what is rightfully hers. I’ll be honest in the first book Sand’s POVs isn’t as compelling as the other POVs. Piecing together Sand’s position in the grand scheme of things is slightly hard in the first book but now her characterization is much clearer with intent and motivation. Though the end goal is still up to debate to fully understand what she expects to achieve in the long term. For Phalue and Ranami they are the epitome of that IT queer couple that is just so wholesome and heartwarming. Their rocky relationship is now more harmonious, fulfilling, and so full of love. Amongst all the sad and intense conflicts there is fluff that readers can expect from Phalue and Ranami. Personally, I didn’t like Ranami but she did redeem herself in this sequel as she becomes a person of power that grows to expand her tunnel vision view of the world.
I was Lin. And that would have to be enough.
Final thoughts, The Bone Shard Emperor is a consistently good sequel to one of best debuts in 2020 with expansive world building, noteworthy character development, gripping mystery and lore, explosive action, and incredibly well balanced pacing. I can now finally sigh in relief because Andrea Stewart has wrote a story that overcome the second book syndrome proving that The Drowning Empire series is an epic fantasy heavy hitter. This series also has grown to be one of my favorites. I highly recommend for readers who don’t know about The Drowning Empire to pick up a copy and dive right in because it is a book that is perfect for readers who are interested to get into adult fantasy. It checks all the boxes for an incredible story that is adventurous, gripping, and SO MUCH LORE! The Bone Shard Emperor accomplished to get me so hyped for the third book, The Bone Shard War, of the series that will hopefully release in 2022.
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.