By: Andrea Stewart
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit/Hatchett Book Group
“I watched the flames lick up the side of the piece of paper I’d taken from the census book…I should have burned the thing years ago, should have hidden my origins better, but it was a part of my past – a reminder of who I was and where I’d come from.”
Andrea Stewart, The Bone Shard War
The Bone Shard War is the epic conclusion to Andrea Stewart’s incredibly original and thoroughly enjoyable, The Drowning Empire Series. This final installment picks up two years after the events of the Bone Shard Emperor, with Lin Sukai’s empire in disarray. Jovis, the man she loves had left to rescue Mephi but never returned. Having been she was sent a piece of his tattoo; she believes he died and mourns his loss deeply. With her heart broken, Lin still must take control to save the empire and its people. In her quest, Lin discovers more about herself and what the empire truly means, and if her role as emperor is what is best for the people. The Bone Shard War is as excellent as the first two books in the series. Once again, Ms. Stewart’s sharp, clear prose carries this book on paths that twist, turn, and has revelations that were both exciting and beautiful. The character interaction and development were complex and real, and the character arcs were completed perfectly. In The Bone Shard War, Lin, along with a reluctant General Phalue, searches the kingdom for lost swords that may hold the key as to why the islands are sinking. This journey is introspective for Lin, as she meets her people along the way. The greetings are not always warm, as many associate any emperor with the cruelty of her father. Throughout this series, I have absolutely loved the unique magic system that Ms. Stewart created, the carving of words onto bone shards and placing them in both people and animals. Her versatility in writing magic systems, characters, worlds, and new battle scenes is nothing short of amazing. She excels at all aspects in writing the Drowning Empire Series. Ms. Stewart has given us a brilliant, detailed novel in The Bone Shard War. It was a page-turning novel from start to finish, ripe with twists and turns that keep the reader both engaged and wanting more. It was the perfect conclusion to this trilogy. I highly recommend not only The Bone Shard Emperor, but the entire Drowning Empire Series.
The female characters very much drive this series forward. Lin, Phalue, Ranami, and even Nisong, are the main players in a crumbling empire. While each have their own agenda, they do align as they are all trying to protect and make life better for the people. I have written at length about Lin in the first two books. She has taken her rightful place as heir and became emperor. However, we see a different side of Lin in this book. She is still as strong and determined, but there is her underlying fear that she cannot save her people. There are threats from the Alanga and the Shardless few, as well as outright rebellion from the island governors. Her journey to seek the swords is also one to forge alliances where she can. She takes Phalue with her, however reluctant she is as she wants to get back to her wife and daughter. Phalue became a constant in Lin’s life, and while resenting not being able to get to her family, she does see a side of Lin that perhaps no one else does. Has she become so obsessed with the swords that she is not seeing the bigger picture? Her separation from her family is palpable and leads to her imagining the worst outcomes of an invasion. This is so relatable. How often do we all imagine the worst things that can possibly happen when we are separated from our loved ones?
“Her mind played out terrible images as she strode from the room… Ranami overrun by soldiers, a sword run through her chest. Ayesh bounding out atop Shark, slain easily by one of the Alanga who’d taken up with the Shardless Few. The people she loved most in the world dead and gone, the city burning… ransacked by people who only cared about hurting the Empire without caring that it meant hurting the innocents within it.”
Andrea Stewart, The Bone Shard War
Ranami becomes a force to be reckoned with. She is not a trained soldier like her wife, Phalue, nor does she possess magic like the Alanga. Ranami has something far greater. The ability to see the middle ground in what is unfolding, and the skills to negotiate what could be a peaceful solution. She once held firm with the beliefs of the Shardless Few, but like many, they have strayed from the path they are on. It disturbs Ranami and she strives to make it right. For her, the killing of innocents in time of conflict is not a “necessary unpleasantness.” She likens that to the cruelty of the old emperor. Suffice to say, Ranami’s story arc is one of the best surprises in this book.
“Imprisonment is an injury not to the body but to the soul,” she quoted
Now it was Halong’s turn to snort. “Ningsu’s Proverbs? How rudimentary.
“Popularity doesn’t make things less valid…the book is popular because the proverbs ring true to so many.”
Andrea Stewart, The Bone Shard War
I do not think it is a spoiler to reveal that Jovis is alive, as the reader finds out early on. He has been the victim of bone shard manipulation. He has served aboard a ship, controlled by a man named Kaphra. Jovis has been made to do terrible things, though he tried to fight against the bone shard commands. Many times, Mephi is threatened, and Jovis does not resist. His two years away from Lin has been painful, and even if he were to escape, he doesn’t think she would take him back. Jovis still loves her, but he knows she can only think he is dead. I will not reveal to much about Jovis as his arc can lead to many spoilers. I was happy how is character was handled. His frustration and sorrow at the things he is forced to do is heartbreaking, just as his undying love for Lin. He is clever, however, and always trying to get back to her. But can he ever?
“Come back to me. Lin’s arm around my neck… I’d made her a promise, one I never intended to break… But a ghost couldn’t keep promises. A ghost could only drift through the world, carried by whispered breaths, by dreams that faded with the morning, by hopes that took too long to die.”
Andrea Stewart, The Bone Shard War
The story is told in the first perspective of several characters: Lin, Phalue, Ranami, Jovis, and Nisong. This is the same as the other books, and it works so well. It gives the reader insight to each of the characters from their perspective. While we hear their inner monologues and how they think, we are not getting a one-sided perspective. For example, as Phalue travels with Lin, we can see her through Phalue’s eyes. Lin is not perfect, and her drive to get the swords, while important, Phalue sees it as a journey taking her away from her family. Lin is becoming obsessed with getting them, perhaps to the detriment of her gaining allies. It works as well with the other characters. They question their actions, they are also determined in their beliefs, and throughout the book, they grow and develop. It truly is the perfect ending to these characters stories. I must admit that I will miss them.
The world that Ms. Stewart created was vivid and vibrant. Each island was different in terms of how the people lived, what the cities looked like, and the terrain. She describes the clothing colors and embroidery; it was so easy to picture it. The smells of the different foods, the markets, and the homes takes the reader right into the setting. Even in the poorer districts, where the smells were foul and the people poor, they were just as descriptive. When an island begins sinking, the fear and terror of the people as they try to escape is tangible. There is a climactic battle scene which is amazing. We are tossed right into the mayhem of all these groups trying to make it to the palace, and each group having their own agenda. It was never confusing, despite how much was going on. It was perfectly executed.
The Bone Shard War, the final book in the Drowning Empire series by Andrea Stewart, is a brilliant conclusion to a brilliant series. Once again, all the fantasy elements are in place and the character arcs came to wonderful, fully satisfying conclusion. We saw more of Ranami, which was an absolute delight, as she has no magic, but becomes a force to be reckoned with. The bone shard magic system is still at the forefront, and remains one of the most unique uses of magic I have read in fantasy. In this installment, Lin journeys with Phalue, Ranami’s wife, to find mythical swords that she believes will save the empire. The threat of the Alanga and Shardless Few comes to fruition as they openly attack the islands, with the ultimate goal of overthrowing Lin. I loved this series, and once again The Bone Shard War takes the series to a new level of excitement and fantasy. The Asian-inspired world-building and LGBTQIA+ representation only added to how impressive this series is and underscores the need for representation. Ms. Stewart’s prose is so well done, with the fist person perspective of several characters, and paints vivid descriptions of all the elements of the novel. The Bone Shard War is full of twists, turns, and events that I never would have predicted. It was beautifully written, and parts were heartbreaking and emotional. Ms. Stewart wove together the wonderful fantasy series in The Drowning Empire. The Bone Shard War was a great read from start to finish, and a fantastic conclusion to the series. I highly recommend not only this book, but the entire series as well.
Summary from NetGalley
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.