Title: Beyond the Shadowed Earth
Series: Beneath the Haunting Sea #2
Author: Joanna Ruth Meyer
Publication Date: January 14, 2020
Publisher: Page Street Kids
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ARC provided by the publisher through NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.
Featuring morally gray characters and an intricate plot, Joanna Ruth Meyer’s companion novel to her 2018 debut Beneath the Haunting Sea is a complex tale about vengeance, guilt, and redemption.
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.
Though not without flaws, Beyond the Shadowed Earth was, overall, an enjoyable read. Set in the world of Meyer’s debut Beneath the Haunting Sea, this book was ambitious in its coverage; expanding on already established elements and exploring characters previously introduced.
The story focuses on book one’s antagonist, Eda. Intent on taking revenge on the baron who stole her inheritance, a grieving nine-year-old Eda makes a deal with the god Tuer: her life in his service in exchange for the crown. Bargaining with gods, however, are tricky transactions and when Eda fails to fulfill her end of it, she realizes, much too late, that the consequences are bigger than her.
I’m going to be honest. I had a hard time with this book. Yes, the plot was intriguing, and yes, the world building was well done. I loved and enjoyed both elements. I am, however, of two minds about its characters.
Eda, to say the least, is unlikable. She’s selfish, self-centered, naive, and vengeful. She is so blinded by her anger that it clouds her judgment. She bartered with a god, schemed and killed her way to get the crown. She is everything a villain is.
Being unlikeable, though, isn’t the reason why I have conflicting feelings about her.
All throughout the book, things happen to Eda – tough ones. She lost both of her parents at a very young age, was displaced and betrayed and used. Her best friend, the one person she truly cares for, is taken from her all while her hold on her empire slips, her barons making their own moves to grab whatever power they could. All these are meant and should have made me, at the very least, a little bit considerate if not totally empathetic towards her. But it was so difficult to connect with Eda. Her character was shallowly drawn and one-dimensional. There just wasn’t so much to her, no hidden depths. This also holds true for most of the supporting characters, which, for a character-driven story, is a big problem.
Setting my issues with character development aside, I still found many things to like in Beyond the Shadowed Earth.
The world building was exquisite. From its complicated politics to its intricate religion, Enduena was fully alive and I gladly immersed myself in it. The magical and almost mythical nine gods, the center of this story’s religion, was the most interesting part for me, and, admittedly, it was what kept me reading especially when Eda’s story wasn’t progressing much.
Ultimately, even with its share of issues, Beyond the Shadowed Earth was a good read. The conclusion to Eda’s story was satisfying, open-ended enough but with clues that she’s on to the right path. This book is the second of the series, but could pretty much stand on its own. YA fantasy readers, especially the ones that love a good redemption arc will love this story.
JOANNA RUTH MEYER hails from Mesa, Arizona, where she lives with her dear family, a rascally feline, and an enormous grand piano. When she’s not writing, she’s trying to convince her students that Bach is actually awesome, or plotting her escape from the desert. She loves good music, thick books, looseleaf tea, rainstorms, and staring out of windows. One day, she aspires to own an old Victorian house with creaky wooden floors and a tower (for writing in, of course!)
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