Book Review: The Bone Shard Emperor (The Drowning Empire, #2) by Andrea Stewart

Book Review: The Bone Shard Emperor (The Drowning Empire, #2) by Andrea Stewart

ARC provided by the publisher—Orbit Books—in exchange for an honest review.

Cover art by Sasha Vinogradova

Cover design by Lauren Panepinto

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Series: The Drowning Empire (Book #2 of 3)

Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy

Pages: 560 pages (Hardcover edition)

Published: 23rd November 2021 by Orbit Books

The Bone Shard Emperor is a compelling sequel with a focus on politics and character development.

“Old men always think they know better than everyone else, even when the world has long since changed around them.”

One year and a half since its publication, I finally read The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart. The Bone Shard Daughter was my favorite fantasy debut of the year 2020. But despite how much I enjoyed that book, I am ashamed to admit I haven’t read the sequel until now. This is not because I’m not interested in reading the sequel, which is this book. It’s the other way around. I knew I would at least have a good time reading this, and that’s why I waited until the publication date of the third and last book of the trilogy, The Bone Shard War, is near to be released before I tackled this. I even reread The Bone Shard Daughter first in preparation for this read, and I’m not disappointed. This was, undoubtedly, another great book by Andrea Stewart.

“A coward is not a man who feels fear. A coward is one who would volunteer others for suffering he would not take on himself.”

The story in The Bone Shard Emperor starts shortly after what happened at the end of The Bone Shard Daughter. Lin is struggling in the new role that she won at so much cost, the drowning of the empire continues, and a rebel army of constructs is coming. It is imperative for Lin and Jovis to gather an army amid crumbling political alliances to counter this. Unlike the first book in the series, where mystery and identity played a big role in the narrative, the majority of The Bone Shard Emperor revolves around politics, scheming, manipulations, lies, and developing the characters. This isn’t to say the mystery is not there anymore, the secrets about the Alanga are still there, but the mystery is not as prevalent as its predecessor. The Bone Shard Emperor dives deep into the meaning of leadership and responsibility. It showcased that toppling a ruler can be relatively easy compared to ruling over an empire. Yes, this kind of story has been done countless times in fantasy books, but I am not complaining when I’m reading a book where it feels like it’s done right. The Bone Shard Emperor is another example where it’s executed nicely. And I believe this is mostly thanks to the well-developed characters, even if I did not like some of the process they went through.

Picture: The Bone Shard Emperor by Marie Magny

Still told from five POV characters like in The Bone Shard Daughter, Stewart once again utilizes first-person and third-person narration to tell the story here. The first-person POV narration is used for Lin Sukai and Jovis’ POV chapters; the third-person POV narration is used for Nisong, Phalue, and Ranami. Even though they are different styles, I still loved how seamless it felt to read. Out of the five main characters in The Bone Shard Emperor, we have the most story progression in Lin, Jovis, and Nisong’s chapters. Do not get me wrong here. I still feel invested in Phalue and Ranami’s chapters, but I did not feel they added too much importance to the main story. Not as I expected. That has been the case in the first book, and it’s the same again here. Also, I must say I am not a fan of Ranami. It is understandable why she behaved the way she did in the book. And yes, she had a harsh past. But to boil it down to two words, she felt ridiculously self-righteous to me. To make things worse, every time Phalue or someone doesn’t follow what she wants, she tantrums like an entitled spoiled brat.

“I’m learning to. What’s the point of having power if we can’t use it to help people? The farmers, the gutter orphans – they’re no different than you or me.”

The same, in a different way, also goes to Jovis. It was hard to read his POV chapters here. His actions in this book were filled with cowardice and lies, and I wanted Mephi to slap him constantly. He was rude and disrespectful. He relentlessly shifted the blame and mistrust he deserved to Lin. And Lin, who is struggling and doing her best to do everything for the empire, is repeatedly put in a worse situation because of his actions. In our world, I think what Jovis is doing, if I’m not mistaken, is gaslighting to the point where he cannot smell his own ass gas. I will say, though, as frustrating as they were to read, it felt like everything was intentional for the character’s development. Fortunately, I truly liked where these two characters end up at the end of the book, and I hope they will be more likable in the last book.

“It wasn’t fair that Jovis should have the love and adoration of the Empire’s people, and I had to fight for even a modicum of respect.”

Other than Jovis and Ranami, I don’t think I need to add many things to say regarding Lin, Nisong, and Phalue in my review here. Lin has been a constant since The Bone Shard Daughter, so it is not a surprise her POV remains the most engaging one for me here. But I am pleasantly surprised by Nisong. Nisong was a forgettable character in the first book, but I am so interested in reading her storyline in this book. Her chapters played an irreplaceable part in the entire narrative, and I am impressed by how Stewart made me care about her predicament with every chapter. With this intense focus on the character’s development and relatively minimal plot progression, I can understand why some readers thought of The Bone Shard Emperor to be inflicted with the middle book syndrome. I still enjoyed it despite its flaws, and I think if you enjoyed reading the story structure in The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson, you might like this one. Now, they are very different from one another, but the story structure in The Bone Shard Emperor reminded me of The Well of Ascension a lot. As I said, most of the book revolves around politics, scheming, and character development, but then, the final 50 pages of the book were a non-stop thrilling action sequence. This last action sequence alone was enough to conclude that The Bone Shard Emperor is more action-oriented than its predecessor. We did not witness this kind of big-scale battle in The Bone Shard Daughter.

“One thing the monks taught me was that history is not a line; it is a spiral. We don’t repeat moments in time, but we come back around, echoing them.”

The Bone Shard Emperor was a great read. All the positives I mentioned aside, I wish the world-building and scope of the series get much bigger here. So in comparison, overall, I liked The Bone Shard Daughter slightly more than The Bone Shard Emperor. I hope the development and events established in this book will become a strong foundation in The Bone Shard War. I look forward to finishing the trilogy very soon.

“When you’re young, you think you can change the world. You think you can bend it to your will. When you’re old, you learn to change your small corner of it and live with the rest.”


You can order this book from: Blackwells (Free International shipping)

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