Here’s hoping this book marks the start of me getting my NetGalley shelf under control. And honestly, it isn’t that bad of a start! There are a couple things I’m going to nitpick but I think this was a pretty solid read. Of course, I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review!
It has always been Eda’s dream to become empress, no matter the cost. Haunted by her ambition and selfishness, she’s convinced that the only way to achieve her goal is to barter with the gods. But all requests come with a price and Eda bargains away the soul of her best friend in exchange for the crown.
Years later, her hold on the empire begins to crumble and her best friend unexpectedly grows sick and dies. Gnawed by guilt and betrayal, Eda embarks on a harrowing journey to confront the very god who gave her the kingdom in the first place. However, she soon discovers that he’s trapped at the center of an otherworldly labyrinth and that her bargain with him is more complex than she ever could have imagined.
Set in the same universe as Joanna’s debut, Beneath the Haunting Sea, Beyond the Shadowed Earth combines her incredible world building and lush prose with a new, villainous lead.
Disclaimer to all the oblivious people like me: This book is a companion novel! I repeat: a companion novel. As in, it’s recommended you read the first book before reading it’s companion. Did I know there was such a thing as “book one” when I requested this from NetGalley? Nope. Did I read the whole book without realizing this was a companion novel until I got to the “about the author” page at the very end? You betcha.
Honestly though? It really didn’t impact my read all that much. The benefit of this being a companion novel rather than a sequel is it has a different cast of characters, conflicts, and circumstances. It isn’t as dependant on the first book. I will say there were a couple of instances throughout Beyond the Shadowed Earth that made me think, “Hmm, I really with the author would expand on this. It seems like there should be more to it than that.” I now realize that these things are likely more developed in the first book and it’s expected that the reader knows what’s going on at this point in the game. Even with those minor incidents, however, it still felt like I was understanding the book and not missing any super vital information, so I’d say this can be read without reading book one (however frowned upon).
As I’ve said many times in the past, I like to feel a connection with the characters in the books I read. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel much connection with any of these characters. I initially really disliked Eda, which I think was intentional, but I ended up really enjoying her character arc. I might not have felt very close to her or her conflicts but I admire what the author did with her storyline. I think a lot of the other characters in this book don’t have enough page time for me to feel any connection to them, either. The only characters I really felt anything for were Morin and Tainir, and even they didn’t have much development or page-time. This book definitely belongs to Eda and her story.
Despite not having felt overly close to her character, Eda’s story is definitely a crazy one. Her life is full of betrayal, backstabbing, plotting, and treason- mostly by her own hand. This is why I said we aren’t supposed to like Eda. The summary is telling the truth when it calls Eda a villain. She’s selfish, spiteful, and typically acts before thinking. This definitely causes a lot of trouble for her, those close to her, and her Empire.
I really enjoyed the way Eda’s Empire and whole world was built. The stories of the gods were captivating and vivid, much like the descriptions of everything in the book. Similar to how the stories often serve as cautionary tales for Eda, this whole book reads as a folkloric tale. I love the parallels we see between the gods’ stories and Eda’s story, especially as the book develops and plot twists arise.
The ending of the book was definitely a bit strange, though not exactly unenjoyable. There were times throughout the book that seemed to drag on and, as interesting as it was, parts of the plot were predictable and I felt very disconnected from the characters, which resulted in the plot feeling less high-stakes than I think it was meant to be. There honestly wasn’t anything outstanding about the book which is why I gave it an average rating. There aren’t a lot of things I dislike about the book but it didn’t seem like anything very special. Still, I’d recommend this book to lovers of fantasy, folklore, mythology, and villainous leads.
Although it isn’t high on my tbr, I do plan on actually reading the first book to fill in some of the missing gaps and return to the story of the gods and this world.
Have you read this book/series? What did you think about them?