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Having thoroughly enjoyed her Books of the Raksura, I was excited for a new fantasy novel by Martha Wells, her first in some time after writing several books in her acclaimed science fiction series, The Murderbot Diaries. (Although I thought All Systems Red was decent, I didn’t find it captivating enough to continue the series and much preferred her other books I’d read.) Unfortunately, Witch King fell far short of my expectations despite a strong start and some interesting ideas.

This standalone epic fantasy novel begins with the demon Kai awakening outside his body, not knowing what happened or how he got there—only that his old body appears to have been dead for about a year and one of his closest friends is imprisoned nearby. Fortunately, he’s able to inhabit the body of a recently deceased man and release his friend from her captivity, but she doesn’t remember any more about how they got into their situation than he does. The two then set out to uncover the truth about what happened to them and find the friend’s wife, and their search alternates with a past storyline showing how they came to be legends and companions.

When reduced to its bare bones, Witch King sounds great: a story of found family bound by their involvement in a rebellion, alternating between how they came together to defeat a Great Evil in the first place and a present-day storyline involving two of those characters trying to solve a very personal mystery. I was immediately intrigued by Kai’s present predicament and quest to discover who wanted him out of the picture and why, and I also wanted to learn more about the demons of this world, especially after reading about their pact with humans and Kai’s first experiences as a mortal. He came to the realm when he occupied the body of a recently deceased woman whose family wanted to ensure their line continued, leaving his true physical form in the underearth and gaining the power to drain life from mortals when he did so.

However, it was struggle to read after the first two chapters, which introduced the aforementioned parts that piqued my interest. Considering the massive size of my TBR pile these days, I probably would have given up on it if it had been a book by a new-to-me author. But since it was Martha Wells, I persevered and hoped that everything would suddenly come together and make me glad I stuck with it. Sadly, that never happened, though I continued to appreciate many of the ideas that went into this novel. I love when books explore how the story doesn’t end just because the heroes succeeded in their quest to change the world and how others may strive to undo what they fought so hard to create. There will still always be problems and conflicts between people (or demons or witches or whatever), and since this follows long-lived characters, it shows that later generations may not see things from the same perspective.

Given these concepts, Witch King was brimming with potential, but it was just so bland. The writing does its job, but it’s rather plain and overly descriptive when it comes to aspects like appearance and dress. I wouldn’t have had so much of a problem with this if I were more invested in the characters and their stories, but other than the occasional bit of snappy dialogue, they too were devoid of charisma: for a bunch of legends with historical significance and awesome powers, they were dull to follow. It didn’t feel like the story really delved into them as individuals, and given the focus on found family, it didn’t seem to dig into the intricacies of these relationships and what made them fit together. Of course, it’s not unrealistic that a group of people (or demons or witches or whatever) would find each other by being on the same side of a rebellion, a common cause that drew them together in the course of seeking justice, change, and their own survival. However, if I’m reading about a group like this, I want to see what really makes them mesh. The members of this found family clearly cared about each other, but I felt like they were mainly close because they were in the same place at the same time with the same goals—not because they had personalities that drew them together and made them lifelong friends.

Although I didn’t find it entertaining for the most part, I have some rather mixed feelings on Witch King. There’s nothing especially “bad” about its writing, plot, or characters, and it has an original world and some interesting concepts thrown into the mix—and that makes it better as a whole than a lot of books. Nevertheless, it lacks the sort of prose and personality that makes reading fiction so enjoyable, that special spark that makes a book compelling and difficult to put down. It was all too easy to put this one down after the very beginning, and as much as I loved the idea of it, it could be a tedious reading experience.

My Rating: 5/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt from Witch King

Read “Deconstructing Epics” by Martha Wells (her Women in SF&F Month 2023 guest post on Witch King and more)

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Cassiel’s Servant is the latest of Jacqueline Carey’s books set in the same world as her beloved Kushiel’s Legacy series, which introduced the land of Terre d’Ange, its pantheon, and the iconic heroine Phèdre nó Delaunay. This new novel covers the same major events as the first book in the series, Kushiel’s Dart, but it has a different entry point and voice since it’s narrated by another character. It’s told from the perspective of Joscelin, the young priest in Cassiel’s order of formidable warriors who is bewildered by his monastery’s assignment to guard the courtesan Phèdre. But his new charge is also a spy, and when she discovers secrets that threaten their homeland, the two are sent on a perilous adventure where their only allies are one other: Cassiel’s follower, dedicated to a life of duty and celibacy, and Naamah’s follower, dedicated to sacred sex work and destined to find pleasure in pain due to bearing the mark of another deity, the punisher Kushiel. And in the course of their struggle for survival, the monk and the courtesan fall in love.

It’s a familiar plot if you’ve read Kushiel’s Dart, but there are some differences given the change in perspective. Joscelin’s first-person narration is more straightforward and less melodramatic than Phèdre’s, and the first 20% or so is new story covering his life before he became her protector. It starts with the day two monks come to his home, hoping he’ll follow the tradition of middle sons joining the Cassiline Brotherhood and accompany them to the monastery. From there, it delves into everyday life as part of the order, training, and the friendships and rivalries he forges there. His formative years show his wholehearted devotion to Cassiel, the angelic companion who remained celibate to devote himself to protecting Yeshua’s son Elua, and his desire to emulate his dedication to duty. He certainly is the stickler for rules and vows met in the first book in the series, but he is also loyal to those he cares about, which sets the stage for his eventual growth into a more mature version of himself.

Although it has a different viewpoint and less ornate prose, Cassiel’s Servant is like Kushiel’s Dart in that it’s a beautifully written, heartfelt story built around epic events and complex characters I felt for. This novel set in an alternate version of our world has little actual magic but is more magical than many, and it’s my favorite fantasy book I’ve read this year. I love the setting Carey has developed and how the main characters’ society developed based on one key difference: Blessed Elua, who grew from the earth when Yeshua’s blood merged with the tears of Mary of Magdala. Although his grandfather the One God abandoned him, several angels—including Cassiel, Naamah, and Kushiel—left heaven to watch over him, becoming known as Elua’s Companions. He taught others to “Love as thou wilt,” and as demonstrated through Phèdre’s service, love is not bound by gender and all love is accepted as long as it’s consensual. In Phèdre and Joscelin’s time, descendants of these angels walk the land they settled (a version of France), and there are various houses embroiled in political intrigue. It’s a richly created setting, and even though other parts of Europe are more in line with their real-world counterparts, the cultures and people are all well realized. (Whether its because of this book itself or the time that has passed since I first read it, I appreciated that more here than in Kushiel’s Dart, where I found one of the more familiar lands less interesting.)

Once Joscelin and Phèdre meet, it does follow the same basic storyline as the first book in the series with the occasional scene or conversation that didn’t include the original narrator. I didn’t remember a lot of the details of Kushiel’s Dart, though some of it did trickle back to me as I read, but I didn’t find that to be a problem. That may be because the two main characters and their relationship was the most memorable part of the previous novel to me, but in any case, I loved reading Joscelin’s perspective. It’s still largely Phèdre’s story since she’s the one who becomes entangled in the bigger events and has the most influence, but I still found it compelling when viewed through the eyes of a character in a supporting role—and Joscelin is still an important part of it.

Both characters have different types of strength, and this showed how they complemented each other in the course of their journey. Phèdre’s strengths lie in her intelligence and wisdom: her knowledge of politics and languages, her intuition and perception, and her grasp of human nature. As a skilled warrior, Joscelin is able to fight and defend, but I thought this highlighted how much of his strength was in his ability to adapt: questioning his long-held beliefs and changing his perspective, coming to understand Phèdre, and becoming especially good at protecting her because he could anticipate her actions and reactions. He knew what kind of trouble this impulsive, reckless, brave, compassionate woman was likely to find, and I enjoyed seeing him go from disdaining her service to Naamah to realizing just how incredible Phèdre is and admiring the hell out of her.

Cassiel’s Servant is a beautifully written novel exploring the relationship between two of Jacqueline Carey’s most beloved characters, and once again, she’s demonstrated why she’s a master storyteller. It feels a bit like sacrilege to rate this higher than Kushiel’s Dart, but the best I can do is consider what I think and feel about a book at the time I read it. And whether it’s because of the book itself or the reader I am now, I had a slightly better experience with Joscelin’s story, mainly because I got into it immediately without the convoluted prose and early discussions involving houses and people that hadn’t been encountered yet. I just loved this book and these two characters, and maybe I’ll find that I feel even more strongly about Kushiel’s Dart when I do revisit it—which I am excited to do after reading Joscelin’s take on its events.

My Rating: 9/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt from Cassiel’s Servant

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature in which I highlight books I got over the last week that sound interesting—old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included, along with series information and the publisher’s book description.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate of, and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

It’s been a little while since one of these posts, and there are a few new things you might have missed since the last one:

Now, on to the latest book—which was featured in my Anticipated 2023 Speculative Fiction Book Releases post!

Cover of Outlaw Mage by K. S. Villoso

Outlaw Mage (The Dageian Puppetmaster #1) by K. S. Villoso

I backed K. S. Villoso’s newest novel on Kickstarter, and my signed hardcover came in the mail a few days ago. This epic fantasy novel was released on August 1 and is now available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.

I’ve been excited about this book ever since I heard about it, largely because I LOVED K. S. Villoso’s Chronicles of the Bitch Queen trilogy (The Wolf of Oren-YaroThe Ikessar FalconThe Dragon of Jin-Sayeng). It’s a fantastic character-driven epic fantasy series that gets more complex with each book, and though it has a voice all its own, its intense first-person perspective makes me think it might appeal to those who love that about Robin Hobb’s Fitz books and its reflective passages make me think it might appeal to those who enjoy that about Guy Gavriel Kay’s work. It also has morally gray characters and is one of the rare series that made me like a character I didn’t much like at first.

I’m excited to read more set in the same world as Chronicles of the Bitch Queen, especially after reading a blog post K. S. Villoso wrote about Outlaw Mage‘s protagonist in relation to its main character:

I loved writing Talyien, and I loved people’s responses to her. She still remains the badass my heart wants to be. But Rosha is going to hit a little closer to home for me, and maybe for a few others out there who aren’t particularly athletic or at the very least, smart enough to know when NOT to go running into a battle, swords swinging. (I’m sorry, Tali). Sometimes the quiet ones want to set the world on fire, too. And that’s just as badass in my opinion.

One of my favorite character types is “quiet ones [who] want to set the world on fire,” and I’m so excited to see what K. S. Villoso did with Rosha.


Despite Rosha’s efforts, she will never fit in. To her classmates, she is forever an outsider, a girl from the fringes of the empire just lucky enough to have well-off parents. To her teachers, she is either a charity case or an exception to the rule that Gorenten just aren’t capable of performing complex magic. Worse, still, she is nothing but a status symbol to her father—a child gifted with magic to show his powerful friends that even people like them could belong in the empire. As if she doesn’t have enough problems already.

Haunted by the invisible rules that pull her dreams just out of grasp, she walks out on the eve of her final exams, throwing away her one chance at becoming an official mage of the empire. She practices magic outside the mage council’s grasp, one of the worst crimes anyone could commit.

Years later, her father’s shoddy business deals have finally landed him in trouble and he disappears without a trace. Rosha reluctantly enters the services of a rich sorcerer, his last known connection. The sorcerer’s sudden death leaves her stranded in a sea of enemies—and the knowledge that the man is the voice behind the ageless, faceless emperor. To protect herself and her family, Rosha must impersonate the most powerful man in the empire. As she becomes everything she has ever hated, she stumbles upon conspiracies that seek to break the empire from within…

Today I have a guest post by Essa Hansen to share with you! She is the author of The Graven trilogy, which begins with Nophek Gloss, described as being about “a young man [who] sets out on a single-minded quest for revenge across a breathtaking multiverse filled with aliens, mind-bending tech, and ships beyond his wildest imagining.” This science fiction story continues in Azura Ghost and was recently concluded with the release of the final book in the trilogy, Ethera Grave. I’m thrilled she’s here to discuss a favorite trope used in her series in “Creating Belonging While Finding Family.”


Cover of Ethera Grave by Essa Hansen

Creating Belonging While Finding Family

Found family—or chosen family—is one of my favorite tropes, and I’m pleased for this opportunity to gush about it. When I set out to write a found family in my debut science fiction trilogy, The Graven, it was to give myself the craft challenge of an ensemble cast. I was more of a discovery writer than a plotter back then, meaning I threw a space-faring crew together and swiftly fell in love with them as their story and history unfolded on the page. My favorite found families have a messy warmth: broken characters fitting together over time, jagged edges that mis-fit but are tumbled smooth by shared experiences, and an enduring care despite quarrels.

Found families tend to be comprised of misfits. Since I was worldbuilding a vast, varied multiverse where intermingling diversity is the norm, I could assemble a found family of different species, cultures, and backgrounds. Part of what makes misfit dynamics interesting is the friction from these differences of nature, opinion, and approach, and the bonding that bridges that dissimilarity through shared new challenges. Surrounding ourselves with only people like us can be stagnating. Often the most influential relationships of our lives are with those most different from us, who force us to develop our perception of the world and ourselves, and help us exercise empathy. Caiden, my initially teenage protagonist in The Graven trilogy, is navigating a great trauma and a foreign world, and relies immensely on the life lessons imparted to him by the family he’s found…even when he’s still too damaged to act on their wisdom.

There are two main ways to go about writing a found family: either bond strangers together as the narrative progresses, or start with an already established crew, frequently with one new individual thrown in. I opted for the latter because I love how the breaking of symmetry in a functional system can force positive change in unexpected directions, even resulting in more stability than before. Caiden’s presence reveals the crew’s hidden tension points as they form clashing opinions of him. It tills up layers of self-development they hadn’t realized were in dire need of working out. Even if a team isn’t quarrelsome, sometimes their easy equilibrium is more fragile than it seems, or that equilibrium has become a stagnation.

Cover of Nophek Gloss by Essa Hansen Cover of Azura Ghost by Essa Hansen

Misfits are frequently also outcasts or set adrift from a blood family or organization or society, and find belonging again in the group they assemble around them. Caiden was raised in a world of convention, where everyone had a set function in the machine of industry; he had no culture or sense of community or even terms for “family.” When he’s uprooted from this system through traumatic events, he struggles to feel like he belongs anywhere. Everything is new and strange, and ignorance makes it dangerous. The stability he craves comes from the crew who adopts him and whose knowledge heals the impoverished imagination his isolated upbringing left him with. Caiden finds acceptance among them, and acceptance is the stepping stone toward belonging.

A family team is community, safety, depth, support—a space wherein you can be seen as your authentic self. It’s the ride-or-die relationships, the people you can confide in, be vulnerable with, friends who both have your back and will slap sense into you. The friends who will protect you from yourself. Some readers love found family stories because it’s a model of the family they’re still seeking. For others, it validates and resonates with the family they’ve chosen. For many, the attraction of found family is precisely that it does away with rigid definitions of what “family” is, freeing the family type unit from defined roles or hierarchy or being limited to biological ties. It represents deep bonds regardless of labels, encourages platonic love, and allows family to be who you choose rather than the group you were born into.

The very best aspect of my own writing/publishing journey has been the friendships I’ve made with other authors, many of whom feel like family to me. We’ve bonded in the pages, in the query trenches, in submission hell, and through the rough waters post-deal or post-publication. I’ve grown immensely as a writer and a human through their perspective and critiques. Found family isn’t just the people we build belonging with—it’s all the dimensions by which we share experiences, how we mismatch and how that stresses and redefines us in the best ways, as well as how we fit that was more necessary a feeling to find than we realized.

I hope those of you still in the process of “finding” will land where you belong soon.


**P.S. For some great found families in science fiction, check out: The Guardians of the Galaxy, Firefly, The Expanse, Mass Effect, The Salvagers trilogy by Alex White, and The Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers. And of course, my trilogy, The Graven, which has two separate found families brought together to prevent the collapse of a vast bubble multiverse.


Photo of Essa Hansen

Essa Hansen writes immersive fantasy and science fiction, and works in those genres in feature film as a sound designer for studios such as Marvel, Pixar, and Disney. She grew up in beautifully wild areas of California, from the coastal foothills to the Sierra Nevada mountains, before migrating north to the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Working her way through the fantasy disciplines, she has trained horses, practiced archery and Japanese swordsmanship, and is a licensed falconer. She now lives with her cat in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I’m thrilled to have a guest post by Genevieve Gornichec to share with you today! She is the author of  The Witch’s Heart, a novel inspired by Norse mythology featuring “a banished witch [who] falls in love with the legendary trickster Loki.” The Weaver and the Witch Queen, her second novel, is coming out in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook in exactly one week—on July 25! I’m delighted she’s here to discuss creating its setting  in “Worldbuilding the Past: A Fantastical Viking Age.”


Cover of The Weaver and the Witch Queen by Genevieve Gornichec
More Information & Book Excerpt
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The lives of two women—one desperate only to save her missing sister, the other a witch destined to become queen of Norway—intertwine in this spellbinding, powerful novel of Viking Age history and myth from the acclaimed author of The Witch’s Heart.

Oddny and Gunnhild meet as children in tenth century Norway, and they could not be more different: Oddny hopes for a quiet life, while Gunnhild burns for power and longs to escape her cruel mother. But after a visiting wisewoman makes an ominous prophecy that involves Oddny, her sister Signy, and Gunnhild, the three girls take a blood oath to help one another always.

When Oddny’s farm is destroyed and Signy is kidnapped by Viking raiders, Oddny is set adrift from the life she imagined—but she’s determined to save her sister no matter the cost, even as she finds herself irresistibly drawn to one of the raiders who participated in the attack. And in the far north, Gunnhild, who fled her home years ago to learn the ways of a witch, is surprised to find her destiny seems to be linked with that of the formidable King Eirik, heir apparent to the ruler of all Norway.

But the bonds—both enchanted and emotional—that hold the two women together are strong, and when they find their way back to each other, these bonds will be tested in ways they never could have foreseen in this deeply moving novel of magic, history, and sworn sisterhood.

Worldbuilding the Past: A Fantastical Viking Age

One of my favorite quotes from The Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings, a chunk of a book by scholar Neil Price, is as follows: “history is nothing if not a suppositional discipline, sometimes akin to a sort of speculative fiction of the past.”

Unsurprisingly, as both a fantasy author and a history BA—as well as a Viking Age living history geek—I have latched onto these words, and Children of Ash and Elm is one of the many books I had on hand as I was drafting my sophomore novel, The Weaver and the Witch Queen: a fantastical reimagining of the origin story of Gunnhild, Mother of Kings, a tenth-century queen of Norway.

Weaver is essentially an alternate universe historical fanfiction set in the Viking Age, based on the Icelandic sagas. But how do you realistically build a world that may or may not have already existed, and that people may already have Opinions on? For Weaver, I asked myself a few important questions:

What are the parameters of the world?

Just like with fanfiction, in writing historical fiction or fantasy, you’re writing in a pre-existing world in which there are certain rules. There are basic things to research, like “what sort of technology did they have access to?” and “how did they complete this everyday task?” but there’s also the cultural mindset of the characters.

From the outset, I knew that I’d be bringing my own experiences as a woman in Viking reenactment into the mix, so how Weaver would engage with gender roles in the Viking Age was something I had to consider deeply. I could have very well repainted Gunnhild as some sort of warrior queen and it would have fit perfectly into our popular culture view of Vikings. So why didn’t I?

Because she wasn’t, and more importantly—she doesn’t have to be.

Free women in the Viking Age, especially those of a certain status, arguably had more agency than their counterparts in Europe at the time, and they had other ways of getting what they wanted without physically fighting, especially if they could play the games of honor and politics or had a certain skill set, as Gunnhild did. And in Weaver, the women around her also have their own means of determining their fates: Some of them can physically fight; others use their wit, their practical skills, and even their compassion to make themselves the stars of their own stories.

But if you are indeed into warrior women (and who isn’t?), there are also plenty of Viking and Norse-inspired novels starring shieldmaiden-type characters, such as The Norse Queen by Johanna Wittenburg (a novel about Queen Asa, the great-grandmother of one of the love interests in Weaver, Eirik Blood-axe), and the Hall of Smoke series by H.M. Long.

Which parameters can (and should) be changed?

One thing you may notice if you pick up any one of the Icelandic sagas is that they are heavy on prose and light on dialogue, and the dialogue itself may come off as stilted in some translations, or weirdly modern in others. In my early drafts of Weaver, the characters’ dialogue was very formal—and my beta readers weren’t big fans.

So in subsequent drafts, I tweaked this. Thus Weaver may stretch the boundaries of what is “accurate,” short of using modern slang—but to me, it was more important that my characters spoke and seemed like actual people, rather than having them speak and act stiffly and distantly in the name of historical accuracy. For you, it may be different—it’s all about your priorities and what you want your work to be! Historical fiction writers and readers have different tastes and different expectations, and adding a fantasy element further complicates things.

When you ask yourself the above questions, perhaps answer these ones too: Why am I telling this story? Do I want to attempt total historical accuracy, or veer from the path while still trying to maintain a sense of authenticity? And what roles do the ‘fantasy’ elements play in the story that I’m trying to tell? All are important things to think about when you’re crafting a fantastical tale of days long past.


Photo of Genevieve Gornichec by Daina Faulhaber
Photo Credit: Daina Faulhaber
Genevieve Gornichec earned her degree in history from the Ohio State University, but she got as close to majoring in Vikings as she possibly could, and her study of Norse myths and Icelandic sagas became her writing inspiration. Her national bestselling debut novel, The Witch’s Heart, has been translated into more than ten languages. She lives in Cleveland.

As an Amazon Associate and Bookshop affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

The Bone Shard War concludes The Drowning Empire trilogy, Andrea Stewart’s Asian-inspired epic fantasy series containing The Bone Shard Daughter and The Bone Shard Emperor. Set about two years after the end of the latter, the finale follows the same set of characters amidst various problems contributing to upheaval in the Empire: the return of old magics and prejudices against their users, sinking islands that kill and displace many, and different ideas about how the government should work and who should rule. It reveals more about the mysteries of the archipelagic Empire and its forgotten history, and it continues the story of the clash between those who disagree about how their issues should be addressed—and those who seek vengeance or power for themselves.

I very much enjoyed the previous books in this trilogy. The Bone Shard Daughter introduced engaging characters and set up intriguing questions surrounding the bone shard magic, animal companions, and sinking islands. The Bone Shard Emperor revealed more about these mysteries, focused on the difficulty of changing things for the better when there are underlying systemic problems, and further built the world and characters, making me appreciate the series even more. Though I would have liked these books to delve further into the complexities of the different islands’ problems and the characters, I also found them both absorbing and incredibly fun to read.

The Bone Shard War, however, was not as absorbing or fun to read as the previous books, making it my least favorite installment. I enjoyed the bittersweet-yet-hopeful ending and was glad I finished the series, but this novel had some issues in its execution, particularly with pacing. The first half had parts so dull that I often ended up setting the book down after reading just one chapter, and though the second half was harder to put down, it also rushed through its far more compelling events.

The first couple of chapters had me hooked because I was curious about what had happened during the two years between books, but it didn’t take that long to catch up. It seemed like the Empire and most of the characters were basically dealing with the same problems as before. Of course, it can take time to make change and resolve conflicts, but it didn’t ring true to me that people with major capabilities and strong personalities conveniently held back from doing anything too noteworthy between books—especially after everything that happened at the end of the previous installment. It felt more like a month or two had passed than two whole years in a lot of ways.

The bigger problem was that I just wasn’t all that interested in what was happening for some time. This was probably in part because many of the characters whose interactions I most enjoyed were apart in this installment, but I think my lack of engagement had more to do with the lack of new information. The previous books did a wonderful job of introducing more pieces of the puzzle that kept the mysteries of the world compelling, but the first half of this one largely went over things that had already been revealed without adding more. In particular, there was a quest involving the white swords that seemed too long, especially since it rehashed what we already knew about their importance from the previous book without teasing anything new and exciting about them along the way. This excursion did show more about the characters and paved the way for some growth, but it took too long to get there.

Once it did get to that point, I started to enjoy the book more, and in the end, I found it a mostly satisfying conclusion. The biggest questions about the world and magic were addressed (although I did want to learn more details about the bone shard magic and its origins), and the characters ended up in interesting places. However, the storylines were rushed, and one was a bit of a mess despite being the most fun to follow.

It seemed like the more entertaining a character’s section was, the more frustrating they were as people and vice versa. The previous book had made me more invested in Phalue and Ranami than the first, and I enjoyed reading about these two women working together as a married couple to better their island. However, I found their perspectives less engaging in this book since this great dynamic between them was lost given that they were apart most of the time. There was nothing that especially bothered me about their journeys or where they ended up (other than the pacing issues that existed for all the characters); I just didn’t find their parts all that riveting.

A couple of the other characters had more interesting stories once they got going in the second half, but it also seemed like too much of their development happened too quickly. I have mixed feelings about this because I appreciate that this series believes that people can learn, grow, and change—plus it did plant the seeds for the paths they took, and major events can make someone quickly evaluate their true feelings and who they want to be. But it also seemed like some characters went from being set in their ways to rapidly choosing differently, and it happened rather quickly.

As usual, Jovis was my favorite character to read about. He was the one who’d changed the most between books due to all he’d endured, plus he is bonded to Mephi, perhaps the most endearing creature in existence. His sections were the most interesting, but they were also intensely aggravating because he kept overlooking obvious solutions to his problems—even after finding the answer to the big problem he’d been dealing with for two years that had an all-too-obvious solution. I think the intent was for him to have given up, so lost in despair and an identity crisis that he forgot himself, but it wasn’t believable to me that it would take him two whole years to figure out something that should have come easily to him.

Despite my issues, I was still emotionally invested enough that my heart was shredded to pieces during some of the final chapters. I love it when stories make me feel truly devastated, and the heartbreaking parts of this bittersweet ending absolutely succeeded in that regard. (And after all the bitterness, it did end on an optimistic note.)

As much as I struggled through the first half of The Bone Shard War, I am glad I persevered so I could find out what happened to these characters and discover the answers to the burning questions I had about this fascinating world. I thought it was the weakest book in the trilogy, but the latter half is better than the first and it was satisfying to see how it ended—even if it could be a frustrating journey at times.

My Rating: 6/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt from The Bone Shard War

Read “Happily Ever Aftermath” by Andrea Stewart

Reviews of Previous Book(s) in The Drowning Empire Trilogy:

  1. The Bone Shard Daughter
  2. The Bone Shard Emperor