Dark Shores is Book 1 in a new series by Danielle L Jensen, author of the Malediction Trilogy, and is set to release on May 7th, 2019. I received an advanced review copy courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley.
Though this is a new series for followers of Jensen’s works, Dark Shores was actually the first book that Jensen ever wrote.
As is typical for first time authors, we write a story we loved, and then for one reason or another, we shelve it. That reason can come in many forms from a book not being marketable to–in Jensen’s case–feeling like the book just wasn’t good enough for publication.
But Jensen didn’t want to leave her first love lost and forgotten. No one forgets their first, and she would not and could not let Dark Shores rot in a dusty drawer.
So after having a few published works under her belt, she edited, tore apart, and rewrote this wonderful story of what it means to be a family and just how far one is willing to go to protect them.
Review of Dark Shores
Ancient Rome meets Pirates of the Caribbean.
From the very first pages there is no denying the roman influence in Dark Shores. There’s an empire that has taken over every inch of the known world and is hungry for yet more power.
This empire is ruled by a Senate of elected officials who control the military which is the true force of empire. This military, filled with legions of legionnaires, is staffed by something not unlike a draft that is basically a son tax.
Every second born manchild is to be given to the empire and trained as hardened killers.
Marcus is one such legionnaire who, at the age of twelve, joined the military along with 4,000 other boys from all over the continent. We don’t see or learn much of their training days, but Marcus rose in the ranks and quickly became the Legatus, or commander, of the 37th legion. With his genius and prowess, the 37th went on to become the single most powerful force in the empire.
A large majority of trade in the empire happens via the waterways, and there the Maarin reign supreme. A free people not bound by the empire’s laws, the Maarin control the seas and are the lifeblood of the empire’s trade routes.
But the Maarin have a deadly secret, they can traverse the Endless Sea using what amounts to a wormhole that is opened by one of the Six gods of the world.
The empire denies the existence of the gods, and in fact punishes any worshipers with the death penalty.
Because of the empire’s bloodthirst, the Maarin keep the existence of the wormholes and what lay on the other side a secret. For far beyond the Endless Sea lies another whole continent often referred to as only “the West”, and if the empire knew of its existence they’d set out to conquer it like they have everything else, slaughtering countless innocents in the process.
Teriana is a Maarin pirate whose love for her friends and family and the decisions that she makes to save them will put the entire unknown West at risk.
The story in Dark Shores takes a really long time to take off. There’s a lot of world building that happens up front, and while I wouldn’t call it an info-bump, it is a rather slow burn. It didn’t really take off for me until about 42% of the way through the book.
There was always enough intrigue or maniacal plotting to keep me interested, but I was never fully engaged until Chapters 23-24. After that point, I couldn’t read the rest of the book fast enough. In fact, the last 30% I blew through in a single setting after taking 4-5 days to read the first half.
There are a few things that happen and a few characters that really quite frankly have very little impact on the story as a whole at the beginning, yet a lot of time is dedicated to learning about them, their problems, and their plans.
There’s a lot of confusion and questions about what kicks the whole story off in the first place, and those questions are never answered.
Namely, why did the gods tell Teriana to give the book of the gods to Lydia, Teriana’s friend, knowing full well that it would jeopardize an entire world–a world they would then come to be angry about being discovered.
Yet throughout the story the same gods are okay with the events coming to pass and want Teriana to take control of the situation, but then she never really does.
But perhaps the biggest question I had was how the main “bad guy” found out about the book that Teriana had given Lydia.
None of this is really spoilers as it it could all be inferred from Dark Shores’ book description. Of course the West is going to get discovered, or there’s not story here. But I want to know how it happened.
Teriana had a mind to ask Lydia, but then never gets the chance before she’s sent halfway around the world. While it ended up not being crucial to the story really, I was still longing for that confrontation and hoping that it might come later in the story through some strange turn of events, but it never did.
So the main thrust of Dark Shores is a battle of wills and power. Marcus butts heads with the main “bad guy,” this antagonist then puts Teriana in a pickle, and then pits the two off of each other.
Throughout the story, Teriana hates Marcus’s guts and Marcus thinks Teriana is an annoying idiot.
Teriana only puts up with him because the antagonist is holding her family hostage, and Marcus only puts up with Teriana because the antagonist is blackmailing him.
It’s an unhappy little situation all the way around. Couple that with the fact that Marcus is sent to conquer this unknown world, which Teriana is responsible for unveiling and she believes that every terrible thing that happens is her fault.
And in a way it is. It really is.
I won’t say too much about the rest of the plot, but suffice it to say that the “big bad” mentioned earlier is likely a problem over the course of the series, but there is another, smaller antagonist that becomes the main enemy and focus of Dark Shores.
I love the progression of this military campaign and the genius plans that Marcus executes. He deserves every bit of the acclaim that he gets as military commander. There are plenty of surprises in story, and plenty of twists to keep you turning the pages.
As with most YA Fantasy books, Dark Shores is character-driven, and there is really no better way to tell a story in my opinion.
Marcus and Teriana aren’t our only characters. There’s Bait, a Maarin boy who Terian secretly talks to behind Marcus’s back. And then there’s Yedda, Teriana’s aunt who is a tough woman, but knows how to love her niece and has her best interests at heart.
And of course we can’t forget about the legion (har har) of other supporting characters like Servius, Felix, Titus, Quintis, Miki, and Gibzen, legionnaires all of them. But Teriana quickly discovers they aren’t as bad as the empire makes them out to be, and we begin to see them as Marcus does, as not only his men, but his brothers.
Even Cassius, for as little as we see him, is single handedly responsible for a lot of the character development that happens in this story.
People will of course will ask about Marcus and Teriana. And I will say no more than Jensen has already said on the matter on the Dark Shores Goodreads page: She is an author who writes romantic subplots. You make your own inferences.
I think my favorite character in Dark Shores is Servius.
Well Teriana can get on your nerves sometimes, though I do like her spunk. And Marcus can be a little thick headed. But Servius–he’s everything you want in a character. He’s fun, he’s lighthearted, he’s loyal to a fault, but he’s also kind and caring.
If I could pick any legionnaire to protect me and my family, I’d want Servius. No, he may not be the baddest, the strongest, or the smartest, but he’d be reliable and great to spend time with.
I give Dark Shores a 4 out of 5. I was dangerously close to giving it a 3.5 due to the slow opener, but as the story progressed, I really got into it and ended up loving this book.
The unanswered questions, seemingly convenient set of circumstances, and slow opener are the only things preventing me from giving this a full 5-marks.
I’ll definitely be continuing on in this series and will without hesitation pick up the next book as soon as it’s available.
That’s the highest praise I can give any book really. If you so capture my attention enough that I will auto-buy your next book without reservation and hesitation, then kudos and good job!
While I wait, I may just go pick up Stolen Songbird and see what else Jensen has to offer.
Interested in more reviews? Check out my review of Kill the Queen by Jennifer Estep.