THE BONE SHARD EMPEROR by Andrea Stewart (BOOK REVIEW)
Please note this review will contain spoilers for The Bone Shard Daughter.
To the relief of many, Emperor Shiyen is no more, his legacy of tyranny and oppression has finally reached its end, and new horizons lay ahead for The Phoenix Empire. But can the people learn to trust their new Emperor? As Emperor Lin Sukai sits upon her newly won throne, she ponders the same question. You see she may now be their leader but the people have no love for the Sukai’s, her alliances from the other island leaders are weak as they are reluctant to lend their support, and amidst all this several new threats emerge, all determined to bring the Emperor’s rule to its knees. A growing army of constructs has set its sights on conquering the Imperial Island, and the Alanga, the believed magical enemies of old, have returned. Yet do they come in peace?
The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart is the much anticipated sequel to The Bone Shard Daughter. Stewart delivers another thrilling tale of secrets and long forgotten memories, of cryptic Bone Shard magic, and of characters who are pushed to their limits… and beyond.
Emperor Lin begins her rule by finally putting an end to the horrific Tithing Festival, whereupon the Emperor would take shards from its citizens to create constructs. It is clear that Lin is not her father, her intentions truly are for the good of the empire, but even with this revolutionary act she cannot win over the people’s support. Therefore she realises, with the protection of her Captain of the Imperial Guard, her best chances are to visit each island, to return their shards in good faith, to once again prove her worth. Time is of the essence though as she hears rumours of two rebellious forces gathering on two different fronts, that being The Shardless Few and another infamous figure. Lin desperately needs an army, she needs to unite the islands.
“I was Lin. And that would have to be enough.”
Once again, through each character, Stewart explores the themes of secrets and family, both of which go hand in hand. Lin was a character who held my sympathies and admiration throughout. She certainly felt the constraints of becoming an emperor, the lack of privacy, her every act being scrutinised, of having the weight of the nation on her shoulders. With her whole heart she cared for her people but doubts and insecurities still clouded her mind. Her father may be dead, but his presence lingered and his memories still haunted her every step. Stewart illustrates the complexities of family bonds, at the end of the day he was still her father, the only parent she had ever known, and as pointless as it may have seemed, she still longed for his love. Lin desperately wants to be better than her father ever was, to be the emperor The Phoenix Nation finally deserved, yet she still couldn’t reveal the truth of who she really was. In part because she still didn’t know.
Here is where Stewart once more played with memory and identity as she portrays how they can shape a person, a concept of which I absolutely loved seeing examined in more depth this time around. It is within this narrative arc where subsequently both Lin and Jovis are at the forefront of the novel. Lin goes to desperate measures to uncover her father’s secrets by unlocking his memories which lay hidden in the Imperial palace. She hopes to learn more about her, Jovis, Mephi and Thrana’s growing powers and bond, both of which are becoming hard to hide. Unfortunately the past is filled with unimaginable horrors, blood and pain, and the truth tastes rather bitter. Each memory leaves Lin a little more broken, and I desperately hoped she wouldn’t lose herself completely. As sad as I felt for Lin, I too felt empathy for Jovis. Emahla, his wife long dead, remained an anchor that pulled Jovis back to a happier time, memories of her reminding him of all that he’d lost. Who was Jovis without Emahla?
“I’d told myself so many times I wasn’t a hero. I lifted my staff to the side, opening my arms, inviting the construct to attack.
Maybe I was a hero. And heroes were idiots.”
As much insecurity, pain and loneliness as Lin held, my beloved Jovis did too. They may have both had their companions Mephi and Thrana, but another type of companionship was missing. In this instalment Jovis is a character torn in several ways and by several opposing forces. He is loved by the common folk, known in the songs as the saviour of children, hence he is appointed as Captain of the Imperial Guard and his loyalty now resides with Emperor Lin, or so it would seem. Much to Jovis’ displeasure, he cannot escape the clutches of Gio from The Shardless Few, and Kaphra from Ioph Carn. It is no wonder that he is a man much conflicted, a man who cannot for the life of him decide whether to trust Lin, or betray her. Stewart spends a large proportion of this novel exploring Jovis and Lin’s relationship as they travel through the empire, and as stressful as I found their mistrust, there was also a longing and tension between them which kept me captivated. Jovis and Lin remain my favourite characters, their first person narration offered much deeper insight into their feelings and I ached for them to find happiness… with each other. Was that so wrong to ask for, Andrea Stewart?!
Out of all the characters, it is Phalue who doesn’t face her hardship alone as her wife Ranami stood loyally by her side, even when they disagreed. Although I never quite warmed to Ranami’s character, I felt her criticisms towards Phalue’s decisions far outweighed her actual support, I could see her rougher life experiences had shaped her to be more sceptical and perhaps less idealistic. Ranami truly loved Phalue, she just didn’t want to see her fail.
“Is there a sliding scale of good? And if so, where do my actions fall? I’m trying to do better, but I don’t quite know what that looks like.”
In The Bone Shard Daughter, Lin and Phalue, were linked by the way their father’s were incompetent, uncaring leaders. In The Bone Shard Emperor they both share the task of stepping out of their father’s shadow, and they both feel overwhelmed. Phalue, the newly appointed Governor of Nephilanu Island, struggled to administer the safety of her people, her father may have been a cruel leader but he had held peace, and with Phalue being pulled in several directions, could she do the same? It seemed that helping the poorest proved to be much harder in reality compared to her previous idealist vision.
Having said that this instalment maintained a large focus on secrets, an aspect which I loved seeing was all the revelations. Without delving into detail, we learn a great deal about the Alanga, which begins with Jovis’ discovery of Dione’s, the last known living Alanga, journal. I was also delighted to discover more about Mephi and Thrana, and every scene with them included was a joy to read. There are also a few new characters who turn out to be not as they seem. As more islands face collapse, we get hints of theories as to why this occurrence may happen, and once again the Bone Shard magic and the creation of constructs is as gruesome yet fascinating as ever. Stewart truly packs so many unique concepts within her worldbuilding and constantly keeps her readers wanting to know more.
The Bone Shard Emperor is a story set in a world which revels in the macabre, where a fight for survival and a hunt to uncover the truths of the past are done in hopes of building a better future. Stewart elevates her characters and world to new heights and leaves her readers with a heart-stopping climax filled with war and chaos.
“I wished I could live in this moment. I wished it never had to end. But forever was a term for fools and poets.”
ARC provided by Nazia at Orbit Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the copy! The Bone Shard Emperor is out now.