A story referencing meddlesome Gods and deep fantasy elements, I picked up Dark Shores by Danielle L. Jensen with excitement. While it isn’t exactly what I expected I did enjoy it for what it was, a story of ultimatums and tough choices with interesting characters and a fascinating world.
There’s a great many characters in the story however a lot of them fade in the background to make room for the two central protagonists. Teriana and Marcus dominate the center stage as the two point of view protagonists of Dark Shores. Both of them I find fantastic and well developed as they tackle the complex issues of loyalty, honor, and family. Teriana is a wise cracking and smart mouthed merchant sailor whose main goal is to protect her family and her people from the tyrannical regime that is the Cel Empire. Marcus is the commander of the most infamous and feared legion in said army with a haunted past and a dark secret that threatens his command throughout the story. It’s fun seeing the dynamic between the two as they bounce off each other very well. How the two clashing world views conflict against each other and how each of them grow as they learn more about each other has a natural progression feels satisfying to follow. None of their development comes off as rushed as each change follows from a plot event that affects the two. There’s a clear cause and effect for each change and it’s great to see how the same event affects each of them in a different way.
The worldbuilding is fantastic as the comparisons to real world Roman Empire and conquest is fun to read and explore. Throw in some fantasy elements like Deities and magic, it makes for an exciting world to explore. Considering this is a story with a sailor as a protagonist, the amount of the world we explore really is breathtaking as they traverse the world together. The descriptions of the locales are wonderfully detailed and paint a pretty picture of the cultural differences and environments explored.
The world of Dark Shores is wonderful and mysterious however it feels a bit too mysterious. A lot of the world building is done early on to establish what the Cel Empire is like and what Teriana’s religion is about. However while the Empire, it’s practices and the grey areas of its function, are explored very well, Teriana’s religion regarding the Six feels like it could be explored more considered how much of a role it plays in the story. When the atheism of the empire is emphasized so immensely and how much it hates pagan religions, more could have been done to flesh out the Gods and Goddesses that are so important to Teriana and her people.
The story is a fun and deep tale of two conflicting world views clashing against one another. Jensen takes her time to really explore the complexity of the story as Teriana and Marcus are flung from situation to situation across the world that challenges who they are as people. It’s exciting to see Teriana try to plan and work around the constraints she’s under while Marcus struggles to win her over and convince her of the truth of who he is. It’s very satisfying to see decisions that fall in line with the characters ever changing perspectives and motivations.
While the character driven motivation was done really well, I feel that the ending was a bit rushed. The plot starts off rather slowly as it builds up carefully for the majority of the book to lead to something should be the culmination of everything they’ve been struggling with. However the end feels abrupt given the length of build up. The climax begins and ends so suddenly that it leaves the reader a wanting more. It still gives some satisfaction in seeing one of the story arcs fulfilled, but many of the arcs are still left open which I suppose is meant for the sequel. The problem with this is that parts of the story feel over developed and don’t really go anywhere or hint to something we may expect in the sequel. I would have preferred to see some reference in either an epilogue or a few additional chapters to give either a resolution or hint to what we can expect in the sequel. It’s possible I may have missed it, but if there was some indication that this was part of a series the abruptness may have felt less hollow.
Jensen’s writing style is quick, easy to follow and fluid. The story jumps between the perspective of Teriana and Marcus without breaking momentum of the story. Each perspective gives a unique flavor to how they view the world and the respective power systems. The chapter lengths never go too long to feel like their dragging nor does the word choice ever cause any major breaks in the action. There are a few moments where the use of profanity comes up and it sounds a bit strange for how modern it sounds though.
What Writers can Learn from this Novel
The Character Development of both Teriana and Marcus are pretty compelling as you want both to succeed, yet success of one dooms the other. It’s an interesting balancing act and adds in so much complexity for an overall interesting and deep story. The opposing world views and how the two slowly come to understand each other really illustrates how much contrast there is between the internal struggle each of the protagonists feel. The internal struggle each of them face feels appropriate for how much it torments them. Marcus is the haunted soldier with a troubled past and Teriana is the guilt ridden merchant sailor who wishes to right her wrong. In the context of the story their inner struggles we read comes off as justified as it’s constantly evolving with the actions of the plot.