The Bone Shard Emperor proves Andrea Stewart is a fantasy force

The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart. Image courtesy Orbit & Redhook
The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart. Image courtesy Orbit & Redhook /

Andrea Stewart’s The Bone Shard Daughter was one of 2020’s best fantasy titles, a rich and complex tale of family, politics, and betrayal all wrapped up in a refreshing (and vaguely terrifying) magical system that involves draining power from the literal bones of a kingdom. And while reader expectations may be sky-high for its sequel as a result, The Bone Shard Emperor more than exceeds them, building on the (pardon the pun) bones of the first novel to craft a story that’s even more ambitious and engrossing than its predecessor.

The book picks up right where The Bone Shard Daughter left off, with young Lin Sukai now emperor of the Phoenix Islands, and desperate to prove herself to the people that her father spent much of his reign oppressing. But as she works to convince the island governors that she’ll be a different kind of ruler, Lin must also battle enemies on multiple fronts, from the rebel group known as the Shardless Few to the band of warmongering constructs leftover from her father’s armies. Plus, there’s the threat of the mysterious Alanga, an unknown and seemingly godlike group of magical beings who once ruled the world.

As more islands begin to mysteriously sink throughout the kingdom, Lin struggles to find a way to garner support for her fragile rule, even as she keeps dangerous secrets about who she is and the strange new abilities she seems to be developing. And though community folk hero Jovis is now officially her Captain of the Guard, their complicated feelings for one another will turn out to be more than either bargained for.

The Bone Shard Emperor is thrilling from its first pages, a twisty story that’s full of surprises, compelling POVs, and difficult choices for almost every major character. As the world expands beyond the island where Lin grew up and the stakes of her new reign begin to skyrocket, there are immersive battles, intricate political machinations, and a complex web of half-truths, lies, and outright betrayals. A bevy of smaller subplots tie multiple character arcs together in surprising ways, and the characters are gloriously gray throughout.

Lin’s journey becomes increasingly complex as the story continues and its stakes, as she must decide not only who she wants to become as a ruler — and what she’s willing to do or sacrifice to remain in charge of her kingdom — but how honest she can be about her own past and identity. A clone pieced together from her mother’s memories and a collection of body parts, Lin doesn’t entirely know who she is (or wants to be) anymore, and a big part of her journey to solidify her throne is about finding that out.

Yes, there are moments where The Bone Shard Emperor feels like a story that’s very much in the middle of things – it’s the central novel in a trilogy, after all, and there are many questions that the book simply can’t answer as a result. Yet, there are certainly some plot threads that will be left to the series’ final novel to resolve, many of which have to do with the motivations and identities of the various Alanga who are revealed throughout the novel, There’s also a running diary segment woven throughout the story that slowly details some of the bizarre beings dramatic history with one another, which naturally becomes rather important information by the end of the book. (Pay attention to the chapter intros and headers is what I’m saying.)

The Bone Shard Emperor is a thrilling next chapter in Stewart’s “Drowning Empire” trilogy, and exactly the sort of complex fantasy that everyone who is a fan of this genre is sure to love. I can’t wait to see how this story wraps up.

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The Bone Shard Emperor is available now.