Book Review: The Bone Shard War by Andrea Stewart

book review the bone shard war andrea stewart

Title: The Bone Shard War (Drowning Empire #3)

Author: Andrea Stewart

Publisher: Orbit

Publication date: April 18, 2023

Genre: Fantasy

One Sentence Summary: Two years after the events of the second book finds Phalue traveling with Lin as she seeks to obtain swords than can kill an Alanga while Ranami deals with the Shardless Few, Nisong reluctantly working with a powerful Alanga who will do anything for his own gains, and Jovis practically enslaved by a terrible man who makes him do terrible deeds, but the inevitable clash is on the horizon and not everyone is prepared.

the bone shard war andrea stewart

Despite the two year time jump, I struggled to feel the passage of those two years. I tended to rely on the frequent mentioning of how long it had been to remind me it had been two years. On one hand, I could understand why there needed to be a time jump, but, on the other, it makes me wonder if most of the characters just stagnated during those two years because there wasn’t really much of a shift in characterization between the end of the second book and the beginning of the third.

Lin isn’t a very good Emperor. She’s frequently gone from Imperial Island, leaving the day-to-day functioning of the Empire in others’ hands while she travels from island to island to find as many Alanga-killing swords as she can before either Dione or Ragan can. Dione, despite being the leader of the Shardless Few and still claiming to want change in how the Empire is ruled, spends most of his time trying to find the swords before Lin. Nisong just wants her throne so has linked herself with Ragan, a rogue Alanga who can sway many to his cause, but who really doesn’t care about anything other than what he wants. Meanwhile, Nephilanu has been invaded by the Shardless Few and Ranami is imprisoned while her wife Phalue is stuck traveling with Lin despite everything in her screaming for her to return to Nephilanu. As for Jovis and Mephi, they’re stuck in the clutches of Kaphra, who is intent on destroying every Alanga so he has the only one left in existence under his control.

The Characters

It’s been great to follow the same batch of main characters from book to book, to see the things they must endure and overcome to get to the point that they do by the time this book ends. It’s been especially fun to watch the ossalen, especially Mephi, literally grow and mature. I liked the shifts in thinking as they grew during the turbulent years of Lin’s reign, the changes they had to make in order to adjust and try to claim the life they wanted, only to have it torn from them over and over.

Lin, as I mentioned, isn’t a very good Emperor. This is laid out so clearly throughout this book. Instead of tending to the plights of her people, she’s off chasing swords despite not even knowing what they really do. And nor do we ever find out much more about these swords, so I felt a little salty about that, among some other things, by the end of the book. But this quest of hers reminded me of her initial quest to recover memories and gain keys. She’s dogged and stubborn, but often misses the forest for the trees until it’s almost too late. But I wouldn’t say she doesn’t have a good heart; she’s just a little misguided sometimes. I really liked how her arc ended, and loved how everything she is and everything she went through came full circle as little bits of information about her family and her world were offered. I adored her at the end.

Phalue and Ranami weren’t a couple I really enjoyed in the first book, but I loved them in the second. This one finds them separated as Phalue is working with Lin and Ranami is holding down the fort on Nephilanu. Ranami was amazing in this book, as wife, mother, and leader. I adored everything about her and loved her growth. She’s amazing and so capable, which was wonderful because I just wasn’t invested in her story for the first two books. I wish she had shone more, but this book really did her justice. I wish Phalue’s story had been as interesting, but she’s really just stuck helping Lin, constantly angry Lin won’t let her go to her wife and daughter. But the trust these two have in each other is quite special, and I loved how they balance each other.

Nisong still thirsts for the throne and bringing down Lin, so has linked herself up with Ragan, thinking him the best ally she could use. Unfortunately, she finds herself basically under Ragan’s control, and Ragan isn’t a very nice man. There isn’t much to him, but there’s a conflicted undercurrent to Nisong. She’s hungry for something and thinks Ragan can help her get there, but she’s also troubled with the actions Ragan takes, especially when it comes to Ragan’s poor ossalen. Nisong’s bond with the ossalen is so lovely and sweet, and I feel like he was really the big catalyst for her change. I loved her story in this book. She grew by leaps and bounds, and the conclusion to her story was just lovely.

Finally, there’s Jovis and Mephi. After Nisong put some shards in Jovis, he’s been under the control of his former employer, Kaphra, who is determined to wipe out the Alanga so he has the only one left and can basically do as he pleases. This, of course, doesn’t sit will with Jovis, who tries to get around him at every turn, but Kaphra literally holds Mephi’s life in his hands. Jovis’s story was excruciating and hurt my heart so much. He spends so much of his time wondering if he’s a monster, so clearly seeing how he’s fallen from hero to villain, but Mephi is always there for him, and I absolutely loved him for it and everything he does. I was disappointed Mephi was sorely lacking in the first half, but he makes up for it in the second half, and he gets some really awesome moments.

The Setting

With a number of islands making up the Empire there always seems to be one to explore. Indeed, some new islands are visited, as well as old ones, but much of the story is also set on the sea as all the characters spend at least some of their time traveling from one to another. I liked that the rainy season has moved in, so the characters are constantly getting soaked, and it sometimes makes things difficult for them. I liked that it also offered quite a lot of water for the Alanga to manipulate, and they do take full advantage.

But the fascinating part of the world in The Bone Shard War was how some of the world’s history is revealed bit by bit. There are so many revelations, but I never found it to be overwhelming since it built up on what was given in the first two books. I felt enough of it was hinted at that, by the time the characters made the full realizations, the reader had as well, and got to feel the full magnitude of what it meant. I loved seeing how things that were at play in the first book were finally explained. But my favorite part was the role the ossalen played, even if it made me a little sad. Now that the wider world has been explored, it was great to get into the details and see how all the pieces worked together. Still, there are a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of history left out, so I’m hoping the author returns to this world in the future.

The Story

Honestly, the story was the weakest part for me. Half of it felt like a quest and the other half was the inevitable clash between Lin, Dione, and Ragan. I did expect something a lot more epic, but I do have to pause and acknowledge that the focus felt more like it should be on the characters’ growth as these things happen to and around them. With everything that happens, they have to assess and act, and I found that to be a lot more interesting than what the story was.

The first half was almost entirely focused on Lin, Dione, and Ragan all trying to beat each other to finding these Alanga-killing swords, but I’m still at a complete loss as to everything that they do. It sometimes felt like a fool’s errand or something just to keep them busy and in each others’ cross hairs. I did like some of the scheming that went on behind some of it, but I felt like there were other things that should have been focused on instead of these three just trying to out perform each other. Ranami’s story, too, felt a little lacking as all that really happened was she was captured and then sat down to talk to her captor because they had depended on each other as orphans. She’s fantastic, but her story moved molasses slow, which was weird because all the other characters had swiftly moving stories. Jovis was what kept me engaged, but I found he didn’t have as many chapters as I would have liked because, again, it was all about Lin, Dione, and Ragan.

The second half is stronger, in my opinion, as it’s focused on what happens when Lin, Dione, and Ragan are all in the same place and fighting each other. There’s no break for them, and Lin has to work to catch up to where Dione and Ragan are in terms of what they know. It kept me fully engaged, wanting to see how their inevitable clash would play out and how the trilogy would end. I kind of enjoyed that Lin felt like a very capable underdog, even if it did get frustrating from time to time. I loved that there was more of Mephi, and his and Jovis’s relationship is just so heartwarming and beautiful despite the heartbreaks. The end surprised me a little as some things I wasn’t expecting happened, but there were also some really pleasant surprises, and I find myself feeling thoroughly satisfied. I’ll definitely miss Mephi and just how playful and lighthearted he was, as it made his serious scenes that much more wonderful.

In Conclusion

The Bone Shard War is a worthy ending to the trilogy and nicely wraps up each character’s arc. There’s still a lot left to be explored and a lot left hanging open and unknown, but the major points were wrapped up. The characters were the stand outs for me, but I also adored all the revelations and the world building that just made the world make so much more sense. I’m still feeling displeased with how much of a foolish quest the first half of the book felt like because my burning questions about those swords are just never answered, and then I felt like the swords were kind of abandoned for the sake of speeding up the inevitable clash and get that going. But the second half was a fast read, and the ending managed to both make me satisfied, and break my heart a little.

How many cups of tea will you need?

4 cups

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Thank you to Orbit and Angela Man for a physical review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: The Bone Shard War by Andrea Stewart

  1. I loved all the character arcs in this book so much and was surprisingly satisfied with where they all ended up. I agree that the sword chase went on for a bit too long, and I missed Mephi in the first half of the book. I think it ended up being a great conclusion, though, and I do hope the author returns to this world one day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Me, too! I’d love to get more of the history or see these characters ten years down the road. There was a lot I wouldn’t have guessed that happened at the end, but, after thinking about it and reading Nicole’s interview with Stewart on Thoughts Stained with Ink, I can definitely see how it all led to the end from the beginning. I think the second half really made up for the really long sword chase.


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