Today I am so overjoyed to be sharing my review for Dark Shores by Danielle L. Jensen that I am breaking my only rule of book blogging: never review books written by people you know, love, or hate. In two years I have never before been tempted to toe this line, and yet here I am. I do hope that you enjoy this beauty as much as I did, because it is an absolute must read!
Title: Dark Shores
Author: Danielle L. Jensen
Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Genre: Fiction, YA, Fantasy, Adventure
Themes: Survival, Magic, Conquest, Romance
Features: Glossary, Author’s Note
My Rating: 5/ 5
High seas adventure, blackmail, and meddling gods meet in Dark Shores, the first novel in a new YA fantasy series.
In a world divided by meddlesome gods and treacherous oceans, only the Maarin possess the knowledge to cross the Endless Seas. But they have one mandate: East must never meet West.
A PIRATE WITH A WILL OF IRON
Teriana is the second mate of the Quincense and heir to the Maarin Triumvirate. Her people are born of the seas and the keepers of its secrets, but when her closest friend is forced into an unwanted betrothal, Teriana breaks her people’s mandate so her friend might escape—a choice with devastating consequences.
A SOLDIER WITH A SECRET
Marcus is the commander of the Thirty-Seventh, the notorious legion that has led the Celendor Empire to conquer the entire East. The legion is his family, but even they don’t know the truth he’s been hiding since childhood. It’s a secret he’ll do anything to protect, no matter how much it costs him – and the world.
A DANGEROUS QUEST
When an Empire senator discovers the existence of the Dark Shores, he captures Teriana’s crew and threatens to reveal Marcus’s secret unless they sail in pursuit of conquest, forcing the two into an unlikely—and unwilling—alliance. They unite for the sake of their families, but both must decide how far they are willing to go, and how much they are willing to sacrifice.
Every now and then you come across the first book in a new series and you just know that it’s going to be something big. Dark Shores is that book. Imagine this – a powerful empire that has conquered all the nations in their known world and is ruled by a corrupt elite that will stop at nothing to take it’s taxes in coin, or children forced into servitude, discovers that there is a whole new world connected to their own through a nation of free and seafaring traders known as the Maarin. They have legions of career soldiers at their disposal, unlimited funds, and an insatiable desire to bring everything and everyone under their control. In light of these circumstances it seems only natural that the Celendor Empire would kidnap, torture, and murder hundreds of the Maarin traders until one of them begrudgingly agrees to lead two legions across the seas and aid them in their conquests.
Unfortunately for Celendor, the Maarin that they torture in talking is seventeen-year-old Teriana – a sarcastic, quick-witted, spitfire of a girl who is as intent on subterfuge and disruption as she is on saving the lives of her crew and the rest of the Maarin that are being held by the Empire as collateral. What makes matters worse is that this mission is not merely a matter of crossing the Endless Seas into unknown lands populated by warrior nations and setting up a new regime. That would be far too simple. Instead this quest requires a touch of magic and permission from the gods. Gods who just so happen to be at odds as to whether or not the Cels should be permitted to cross the seas, if East should be allowed to meet West, and who may or may not have forsaken Teriana for breaking her most sacred of vows.
Can you say drama?
Written in split narrative between Teriana’s and Marcus’ point of view, the tension between their perspectives can seriously be cut with a knife. Their conversations and introspections provide the perfect avenue for character development and world building without being onerous, while their arguments and escapades deliver the excitement and adventure that make this an epic read.
Marcus is everything that you would expect from a legion commander – heady, calculating, and utterly ruthless. His every move plays into a larger strategy making it impossible to determine what’s genuine and what’s manipulation. And yet, he’s not the monster that the Empire wants him to be. He has a soft heart and a reverence for human life that leaves him constantly at odds with his orders. With Marcus, nothing is ever as it first appears as there are endless layers of motives, planning, and deceit making it impossible to gauge his true intentions. As a result, there is a tactful balance between the construction of a fearsome reputation and the pursuit of softer, much more personal desires. It helps too that he is a fatally flawed character, that he carries the kinds of secrets that could destroy lives and nations, and that he is deeply touched by all of the horrible things that he has done in the name of the Empire. It makes him human, relatable, and incredibly enigmatic.
Teriana on the other hand is brash, impulsive, and completely irreverent. Her stubbornness, the frequency with which she puts her foot in her mouth as the result of her sass, and her unwavering loyalty to the Maarin that makes her the perfect counter to Marcus’ disciplined and calculating nature. She wears her heart on her sleeve, embraces her emotions, and lives life to the fullest no matter the risk. She’s the kind of person that I’d happily loose all of my spare change to gambling with because because she’s the life of the party and instantly likeable, and of course, almost all of the men in the Thirty-Seventh feel the same way.
It’s always a pleasure to read characters with depth and complexity, especially in YA and fantasy, where it seems that so many can fall into stereotypes and tropes. It’s even better when you can watch these characters change and grow as the story progresses, and in this regard Dark Shores does not disappoint. Teriana, Marcus, and even the varied cast of secondary characters are full of revelations and change, and yet it’s clear that there is still so much more to come.
And we can’t forget to mention the fantastic world that Jensen has created. The contrast between East and West couldn’t be more stark with the Cels being godless, oppressed, and regimented to a tee while the people of the West are deeply spiritual and relish freedom in a way that the Cels can never comprehend. With the Celendor Empire inspired by Ancient Rome, there is just enough history to make this work of fantasy feel deeply rooted and real. Everything from the structure of the political system to the organization of the legions rings true, and yet enough liberties have been taken to keep everything fresh and original. Throw into the mix the Seven gods of the West with their realms, powers, and god-touched individuals and you truly have a war between worlds. The reverence for the Six and the fear of the Seventh creates a dynamic and magical experience that is easy to get swept up in. It’s detailed, magical, and so entrancing that it leaves you wanting more.
I can’t wait to see where this series goes, what the Six and the Corrupter have in mind for the Dark Shores, and the Thirty-Seventh and Forty-First legions will succeed in their mission of establishing a route through which they can conquer the West. There are so many sub-plots to be explored, battles to be fought, and questions to be resolved that next book can’t help but be even better than the first. I loved every second of Dark Shores and my only regret is that I bought my copy on publication day and that I will now have to wait (impatiently) for the next instalment to be released.
Many thanks to Danielle L. Jensen, Tor Teen, and NetGalley for providing a galley in exchange for an honest review – even if I *may* have bought a hardcopy before finishing my ARC galley!