Monday, April 10, 2023

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

The Bone Shard War (The Drowning Empire #3) by Andrea Stewart
Publication Date: April 20th, 2023
Hardcover. 624 pages.

About The Bone Shard War:

"The Bone Shard Daughter was hailed as "one of the best debut fantasy novels of the year" (BuzzFeed News). Now, Andrea Stewart brings us the final book in this unmissable, action-packed, magic-laced epic fantasy trilogy, The Bone Shard War.

Lin Sukai has won her first victory as Emperor, but the future of the Phoenix Empire hangs in the balance – and Lin is dangerously short of allies.

As her own governors plot treason, the Shardless Few renew hostilities. Worse still, Lin discovers her old nemesis Nisong has joined forces with the rogue Alanga, Ragan. Both seek her death.

Yet hopes lies in history. Legend tells of seven mythic swords, forged in centuries past. If Lin can find them before her enemies, she may yet be able to turn the tide.

If she fails, the Sukai dynasty – and the entire empire – will fall.

There will not be any spoilers for The Bone Shard War in this review, but there may be minor spoilers for the previous two books. You can find my reviews for those two at the following links:
The Bone Shard Daughter (#1)
The Bone Shard Emperor (#2) 

I realized after starting The Bone Shard War that I desperately needed a recap for this book because there isn't much guidance provided, so admittedly I was a little confused at times during the first couple chapters, but eventually I found my way again. We pick up about two years post events from The Bone Shard Emperor, which is partially what caused me to take a little time to regain my grips in the world as we slowly learned that status of each character and what had happened int he interim time between The Bone Shard Emperor and this book.

I loved getting to revisit Lin, Thrana, Jovis, and Mephi the most, largely because I just love the relationships between them and their "animal" companions. Thrana and Mephi are the real stars of this show, as I'm sure we can all agree. I've enjoyed seeing Lin evolve over the course of these books from someone relatively naive in the first books to an emperor who is now ready and capable of ruling an empire (well, for the most part). There's been a lot for her to learn and I think we really see it all come together in this book, particularly her growing maturity and ability to see the grander picture and make decisions that are the best for the most people. Similarly, Jovis has really evolved from a smuggler trying to make his way and save tithed children to an imperial guard to now a prisoner, but who internally has grown so much and has much more strength than ever before. Both Lin and Jovis have really been given opportunities to learn more about who they are, what their desires and motivations are, and much more. I was never an overly huge fan of Phalue or Ranami's storylines, but I do think Stewart did them justice in this book and continued their storylines in a strong way that really kept me engaged in their roles. It's been a continuous source of intrigue to see how they interact with Lin and one another in order to work together while still maintaining their own goals and motivations.

This book also deals with a lot of different types of grief, from different types of death to loss of ideas or dreams to loss of memories and everything in between. Stewart does an excellent job at creating complex characters, and that has been apparent throughout this entire trilogy, especially when dealing with these different forms of grief. All of the characters, from the 'good' to the 'bad' are so very human and struggle with a variety of different issues. We really get a sense that these characters have to work through difficult things and do grow from them in different ways. Morals are put to the test and everyone has to figure out where they stand and what they are willing to do to maintain their choices, and dealing with the outcomes of each and every choice.

One discussion that I really liked seeing explored in this trilogy, and especially in this book, was around having an empire and emperor in rule versus having a different form of governance such as council or something with less power concentrated in one place. Lin really wanted control of the empire to, in her opinion, make it strong, generous, and be able to responsibly and kindly take care of its inhabitants. Her opponents, however, didn't want any type of singular ruler at all–no matter how "good" they may be–because they don't believe power should ever rest with one person, and that subsequent rulers after Lin could be just as bad as previous times, if not worse. I really liked seeing this struggle play out and getting to see the arguments from both sides. I also appreciated getting to see Lin come to terms with how she feels about the empire and what she wants and/or is willing to do for the betterment of everything. I think Stewart handled this rather enormous topic really well, and I thoroughly enjoyed the journey to where we end up when the story concludes (which I'll leave spoiler free!).

I've seen a few people mention that this book was a little repetitive, and unfortunately I have to agree with that. The pacing was very hit and miss for me due to this, and I felt like there were a number of scenes that were added almost more as filler than were actually necessary to the story, or that the information gleaned from them could have been obtained in another way or another scene. There were a lot of scenes of one of our main characters running into Ragan, Dione, Nisong–basically, any one of the antagonists–have some sort of (often violent) interaction, and then part ways without actually attempting to kill one another or with promises to "meet again." It felt a little silly to me at times and made me think of movies or books when they leave the bad guy (or good guy) alive, which only ends up being a problem later as well. It was almost as if the stakes overall felt lower, because it got to the point where they'd meet with an antagonist and I didn't feel worried because I figured they'd just meet again some other time. Maybe this latter part is just something that bothered me, but I did feel like quite a few of these fights were rather pointless because of this.

We do finally get a lot of answers regarding bone shard magic and more of the intricacies of the magic system itself, though I'll admit there were still areas that left me feeling slightly confused or that I didn't fully understand how some things worked. There are plenty of twists and turns throughout, however, that keeps things interesting and this really helped to keep the pacing up from other times when it slowed more.

Overall, I found The Bone Shard War to be a very satisfying conclusion to this trilogy, and I look forward to seeing what Andrea Stewart will be writing next! For me, this was not as good as The Bone Shard Emperor, but still much better than The Bone Shard Daughter and I'd definitely recommend this trilogy as a whole to any fantasy fan. I've given The Bone Shard War four stars. 

*I received a copy of The Bone Shard War courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

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