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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