[review contains references and spoilers for Bone Shard Daughter, book one of The Drowning Empire trilogy]
After defeating her father, Lin hoped taking over as emperor would be a smooth transition, but no one knows who she is and don’t trust the Sukai family after the terrors of tithing festivals and constructs. But with Jovis, who has become a folk hero, at her side she decides to travel across the empire to announce the ending of tithings, return everyone’s bone shards, and try to get the governors to lend her their support, both for her rule and to build an army. Because not only is Lin dealing with the distrust of the empire, an army of constructs who didn’t appreciate her putting a bounty out and her plans to dismantle all constructs are making their way across the empire, conquering islands and killing the people. It also doesn’t help that the army of constructs is being led by a woman calling herself Nisong and claiming to be Lin’s illegitimate half-sister in a bid to contest her claim to the throne.
If you enjoy political fantasies with many plots and subplots happening simultaneously, you will adore this book and series. All of the characters are complex and have their own motivations. It’s sometimes hard to decide who is good or right because so many of these folks are reacting from places of trauma and trying to survive and thrive with the resources at their disposal. Lin is doing everything to not be her father, but her greatest skill and the skill that has kept her alive is her abilities with bone shard magic, so when she makes grand promises to stop using it, how is she to prove her strength and ability to lead the empire? Jovis may be praised for having rescued children from tithing festivals and his super strength and supernatural abilities, but he’s also just a man who misses his dead wife try to figure out what is best for the people of the empire and how to fulfill oaths he’s made. Phalue is governor of Nephalanu after deposing her father, but she’s also trying to prove herself nothing like him with the help of her gutter-born wife and listening to the people of the island instead of doing only what is in her best interests, all while also contending with the Shardless Few who wish to kill her or at least end the governance of Nephalanu.
There truly are so many machinations at play and so many conflicting goals. It’s hard to know who to trust when you don’t know who is telling the truth or might be an enemy spy. But even among these dangerous, scary, stressful times people are able to build connections and strengthen bonds. I love the growth between Phalue and Ranami now that they’re married and working together to govern Nephalanu. The way Lin and Jovis grow close and lean on one another over the course of this book was one of my favorite points of tension because of the “will-they-won’t-they” energy.
I’m trying not to give too much away, but this book was so fantastic and the audiobook is spectacularly done. I love these characters, even the ones who give me conflicted feelings, and I really cannot wait to see what’s going to happen next, especially with those final few chapters. Things are getting explosive, and it is so masterfully executed!