The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart (The Drowning Empire #2)
The Emperor is Dead. Long live the Emperor.
Lin Sukai finally sits on the throne she won at so much cost, but her struggles are only just beginning. Her people don’t trust her. Her political alliances are weak. And in the north-east of the Empire, a rebel army of constructs is gathering, its leader determined to take the throne by force.
Yet an even greater threat is on the horizon, for the Alanga – the powerful magicians of legend – have returned to the Empire. They claim they come in peace, and Lin will need their help in order to defeat the rebels and restore peace.
But can she trust them?
CONTRIBUTOR(S): Natalie Naudus (Narrator), Feodor Chin (Narrator), Emily Woo Zeller (Narrator)
PUBLISHER: Hachette Audio
LENGTH: 560 pages (17 hours 31 minutes)
Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Main Character(s), Gay/Achillean Minor Character(s), Bi/Pan Minor Character(s).
*Contains spoilers for THE BONE SHARD DAUGHTER.
As the middle book of a trilogy, THE BONE SHARD EMPEROR moves several things to new stages but doesn't completely close off anything. Mephi and Jovis's bond is getting stronger. Phalue and Ranami are newly married and figuring out what kind of governor Phalue will be. Sand now calls herself Nisong and has begun invading the other islands with her fellow constructs. Lin is traveling to several of the islands in order to obtain promises of aid and loyalty from the various governors. The Shardless Few are more of a threat, with their leader pulling strings to destabilize Lin's reign. Lin now has a companion of her own, and a Cloud Tree monk has appeared to help her learn about the Alanga. There's a much stronger focus on information about the Alanga, since it appears they're coming back. I like the reveal of what they are, and I'm very intrigued by some late-book answers about their reemergence and connection to shard magic.
Nisong's conquest of the nearby islands is introduced and resolved. Technically she appeared in the first book, but the actual invasion and her tactics don't show up until this one. This isn't the last book, and it leaves open a bunch of interesting things. This include but are not limited to Jovis and Lin's relationship, further steps from the leader of the Shardless Few, the orphan girl Phalue and Ranami are helping, and Lin's next moves as emperor. The narrators are the same as the first book and (with the major exception of Nisong/Sand) are generally consistent with their earlier appearances. I highly recommend the audiobook. Having three narrators helped me keep track of the story and characters more easily, even though there are slightly more than three point-of-view characters.
Early on, Lin is exploring the rooms and items her father left behind by his death, trying to find a balance between getting information and holding on to herself. Later, Lin and Jovis begin moving around the islands on a tour of governors. This is in keeping with Jovis's wanderings in the first book, but it does make it feel a bit unmoored. The various plot threads are woven together expertly, with the common threat that more islands may sink. The romance between Jovis and Lin is a bit strange. There are the obvious issues, like how he entered her service as a spy and isn't sure yet where his loyalties lie. There's also a bit of fridge horror associated with Lin's identity which seems like it ought to trouble Jovis personally, but even once he figures it out he isn't dissuaded. I think I would have been more distressed in the same position, but I guess I'm not very much like Jovis.
A solid continuation of what's shaping up to be an amazing trilogy, don't miss this one if you like betrayal, fridge horror, and multilayered politics of an empire in crisis.
Graphic/Explicit CW for blood, violence, war, death.
Moderate CW for cursing, grief, xenophobia, fire/fire injury, injury detail, child abuse, murder.
Minor CW for racism, confinement, infertility, animal cruelty, genocide, child death, parental death.