In an empire ruled by bone shard magic, the new Emperor finally sits in her hard-earned throne, but dangers still lie ahead and enemies hide at every turn. Lin Sukai now rules the Phoenix Empire, 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 a greater threat looms on the horizon, for the Alanga – the powerful magicians of legend – have returned. Lin may need their help to defeat the rebels and restore order. But can she trust them?
This is the second book in the Drowning Empire series, so there will be spoilers for book one: The Bone Shard Daughter. If you want you can read my review for this first book here (please don’t judge my early reviews too harshly).
Andrea Stewart has created an incredible and original world, with islands that float through the vast sea, creepy constructs that the Emperor powers with bone shards from the Empire’s citizens, legends of immortals with elemental magic… and the story she weaves in this world is even better. At the end of The Bone Shard Daughter she brings together her two main characters, Lin the Emperor’s daughter and Jovis the smuggler and folk hero, both of whom have bonded with mysterious (and adorable) creatures that give them extra strength and magical powers. Lin, having finally defeated the tyrant emperor she believed was her father, appoints Jovis as Captain of her Royal Guard in the hopes it will give her some of the people’s goodwill. What she doesn’t know is that Jovis has been sent as a spy by the Shardless Few, a rebel group intent on overthrowing the Emperor.
Book two picks up very shortly after these two characters come together, and I love how it opens with Lin climbing the palace roof, much like she was at the start of the first book. This time, instead of trying to sneak around behind the Emperor’ back, she is the Emperor and is trying to avoid the gaze of her courtiers and servants. She may have let real people back into the palace after stopping bone shard magic, but she still has secrets to keep that, in the wrong hands, could spell her doom. Jovis, of course, follows her and immediately gets tangled up in things. It has been just under a year since I read The Bone Shard Daughter last and I’d forgotten just how much I love both Lin and Jovis, but two chapters of The Bone Shard Emperor was enough to remind me, especially as they’re now together and their personalities play very well against each other.
The action doesn’t take long to start in this second novel, starting with a rogue construct beneath the palace, an assassination attempt, and a war brewing in the North. Stewart follows the same pattern she did in book one, with Lin’s and Jovis’ chapters being written in first person and being more frequent, peppered by third person voice chapters for Nisong (or Sand, from book one), Ranami, and Phalue. I found that this worked really well, and I hardly noticed the changes between third and first person; it felt natural. I also found that all three of the supporting characters were much more well developed. Ranami and Phalue, especially, had quite a rocky relationship in book one and neither of them came across as very likeable, but Stewart spent more time on them in The Bone Shard Emperor and it really paid off.
The other thing that was developed further was the magic and the world building; as Lin travels the Empire to try and gain the support of all the Governors, we get to see more islands and I loved the little details that made each unique, even within one Empire. And as Jovis and Lin come to terms with their new powers, we get to find out more about the Alanga, which were a big mystery at the end of book one. We also get to see more of what bone shard magic can do, and all the horrors that com with that! There is still so much to answer, but I was very happy with the revelations we got throughout the story, and I daresay I even guessed a couple of the twist! There was a bigger sense of this world having a history, and a complicated one at that, and I can’t wait to unravel even more of it! As always, I won’t reveal too much of the plot but if this review hasn’t already convinced you, here’s what else you can expect: adorable Mephi (and Thrana now!), more dark secrets, Mutual Longing™, an actual giant sea serpent, a mysterious cloudtree monk, and a plucky young orphan. Once again, I highly recommend this series!
Published: 25th November 2021 by Orbit
Series: The Drowning Empire, book two
Narration style: multiple (see review)
Format read: hardback
Content Warnings: death, blood, body horror, animal death, torture