Book Review: The Bone Shard War (The Drowning Empire, #3) by Andrea Stewart

Book Review: The Bone Shard War (The Drowning Empire, #3) 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 War by Andrea Stewart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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

Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy

Pages: 624 pages (Hardcover edition)

Published: 20th April 2023 by Orbit Books

In the words of Mephi, The Bone Shard War was a very good and satisfying conclusion.

“Popularity doesn’t make a thing less valid. On the contrary, I’d argue that the book is popular because the proverbs ring true to so many.”

It’s always a bittersweet feeling to say goodbye to a great fantasy series you’ve been following for a few years or more. I’ve been following Andrea Stewart’s journey for three years now. I read The Bone Shard Daughter for the first time on the first day of May 2020; I finished the book the next day. And The Bone Shard Daughter became my favorite fantasy debut of that year. Fast forward three years later, and here we are at the end of another trilogy. April 2023 is almost over, and The Drowning Empire is the first series I finished reading this year. I even reread the first book in preparation for this conclusion! I rarely do that. And I am happy with this decision. I do not think I would end up enjoying The Bone Shard War, the concluding installment of The Drowning Empire trilogy, this much without doing a reread to refresh my connection with the story, world, and characters first. I will do my best to share my thoughts about The Bone Shard War as spoiler-free as possible.

“All this talk of stories and history, and they were repeating it –actors on a stage putting on a slightly different rendition of the same play, night after night.”

The Bone Shard War started a bit unexpectedly for me. It starts with a time skip, and similar to Locklands by Robert Jackson Bennett, which did the same thing in the final book of The Founders trilogy, I expect the time skip here will have a mixed reception from readers. Two years have passed since the end of The Bone Shard Emperor, and it did take me some time to adjust to this time skip decision. I have nothing against time skips in general. But in this book, initially, it felt like I missed reading an installment or a novella, and I did not think the book needed to utilize this time jump. But after reading it to its completion, I understood why Stewart decided to implement it. I cannot talk too much regarding the detail of the story in The Bone Shard War because this is the third and final book of the trilogy. However, I can safely say your investment and enjoyment of The Bone Shard War will rely a lot on the level of connection you place with the main characters. I feel this is crucial because the plot structure in the middle of the book did feel a bit repetitive. Fortunately, the themes of found family, identity, responsibility, leadership, sacrifice, and justice are heavily evident in the text. And at approximately 184,000 words, about 10,000 words longer than its predecessor, in my opinion The Bone Shard War provided a breathtaking and highly readable final 150 pages to conclude the trilogy.

“You say you’re doing this for the greater good, but how many tyrants have used that to justify the pain they’ve visited on innocents?”

One of the most pleasant surprises I had with The Bone Shard War was the satisfying and emotional ending. Although I liked Lin, Jovis, and the main characters, I never felt attached to them. That’s why I was surprised by the emotional impact the climax sequences inflicted on me. The last few chapters definitely tugged at my heartstring. Lin, Jovis, and Mephi have always taken center stage in the past two books. And that is still true in The Bone Shard War. But Stewart did a great job allocating the balance of the character’s spotlights with Phalue, Ranami, and Nisong, too, this time. In this book, I finally felt they were all the main characters of The Drowning Empire trilogy, rather than only Lin and Jovis, as in the previous two books. And I loved reading the resolution of these characters. One of the biggest reasons behind the time jump (from my analysis anyway) is to display the depth of affection or resentment all the characters have for the world and some individuals, depending on which perspective. Although I did say there were a few sections in the middle of The Bone Shard War that felt repetitive, I was rewarded by the final 150 pages. I absolutely loved the resolution of all the main characters. Also, Mephi… Actually, not just Mephi. All the ollassen (Thrana, Mephi, and Lozhi) were incredibly precious. Everyone has their own pain and struggles, and we all need individuals who care about us as affectionately as they did toward their partner. Someone who will accompany us when we make mistakes, someone who will be there with us during our journey toward redemption.

“If my good deed could be washed away by the terrible ones, then it had to work the other way. I could still wash away the terrible ones.”

With the character’s journey and background throughout the trilogy, Stewart tackles other themes such as hope, privilege, and the harshness of social status. And I certainly enjoyed reading the exploration of the magic system. Stewart imbued a nice touch of creativity into the Bone Shard magic of construct and commands introduced in the first installment. Specifically, Stewart showcased just how simple and difficult it can be to navigate the unbending strength of the magic. More importantly, what I appreciate about this is how at the same time, Stewart also demonstrated the importance of our mindset as we proceed through life and struggles. If there’s one thing I could add, I wished the characters would spend more time on each island before they move from one island to another so quickly, but that’s more likely my preference speaking because I’m an avid fan of One Piece. If handled correctly, I think more page count to explore the intricacies of each island and the lore would have transformed the trilogy into something more epic. Stewart has the talent for it, as we can witness from the actions delivered at the end of The Bone Shard Emperor and the last 150 pages of The Bone Shard War.

“Only, I’d hoped for something different, once. And hope was a clinging, grasping thing, an ember that refused to be extinguished no matter how much sand I heaped atop of it.”

There isn’t much else I can explain in detail without spoilers here. Compelling, intimate, and fulfilling in equal measure, The Bone Shard War ended The Drowning Empire trilogy emotionally. Despite a few minor issues I have with The Bone Shard War, I do love this final installment almost as much as The Bone Shard Daughter. As I said, the ending and resolution of all the main characters written here were so rewarding. It felt like the time to say goodbye to the characters and world. And I guess it IS that time. If the first trilogy by Andrea Stewart is already this well-polished, I think the potential for her next series to be superior is massive, and I am excited to find out.

“Maybe no one was a hero. Maybe I’d gotten it wrong from the beginning. Maybe there were only heroic moments and decisions and we all had to keep choosing those as best we could. When we could. I felt the brittleness in my heart firm up, the edges still there, still tangible, but a thing I could live with.”

Picture: The Bone Shard War by Ethemos

Series Review:

The Bone Shard Daughter:4.5/5 stars
The Bone Shard Emperor: 4/5 stars
The Bone Shard War: 4/5 stars

The Drowning Empire: 12.5/15 stars

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

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