A lot of fantasy embodies the typical tropes of castles and knights, kings and princes, but Dark Shores by Danielle L. Jensen gives fantasy a new turn. Ripe with soldiers based on Roman centurions, kickass ladies who sail the seas, and pathways to magic, Dark Shores is one fantasy book you don’t want to miss.
The Maarin people are keepers of a secret continent across the turbulent oceans with one goal: East must never meet West. When one of the Empire’s senators learns of the Dark Shores, he captures Teriana’s crew for information. Teriana makes a treacherous agreement with him in order to save her people, which forces her in an unwilling alliance with Marcus, one of the legion’s top commanders. But as they embark on this dangerous mission, Teriana and Marcus will have to decide how far they are willing to go and how much they’ll sacrifice for those they care about.
I almost gave up on this book. The opening was chock full of names and places and world-building details that I couldn’t pin down. (There is a glossary, but it was in the back so I didn’t find it until I finished the story.) But the concept—pirates and magic and centurion soldiers—was so intriguing I pushed through, hoping I’d hit a point where I didn’t want to stop. And I did.
As the story took off, I sank deep into the world and characters and plot. Teriana is a fantastic female character. She’s strong and determined and even if she thinks she’s making the wrong decisions, she holds fast to her choices to help those she loves. I also like how much she grows and changes and learns about the world during the story. But my favorite character was Marcus. Oh, Marcus. The entire time I read I was thinking, “Excuse me, but please don’t die.” He has this dark, complicated past that you know will just wreck your soul when you learn the truth.
While their relationship might be predictable, I liked that it took time for them to trust one another. We definitely don’t see that enough in YA books. Plus, the romance wasn’t the focus of the story so it didn’t become overbearing or cliche.
As for the world-building and actual plot, those were phenomenal. I like the collision of Roman centurion inspiration and pirate ships and sea monsters. The Xenthiers and magic were cool as well. I could easily picture this as a movie or TV show.
Even though they reach their destination about halfway through the book, the action doesn’t waver, and while the plot seems to drift, it becomes obvious there is more to the story than simply reaching the Dark Shores. While the ending felt a little anticlimactic, I can tell Danielle L. Jensen has big plans for the sequel and I look forward to reading it.
If you like fantasy with loads of adventure, high levels of romantic tension, and excellent world-building, find a copy of this book and read it.