ARC Review: Beyond the Shadowed Earth by Joanna Ruth Meyer

Check out on Goodreads | Buy on Amazon
Genres: Young Adult | High Fantasy | Villainy
My Rating: 2.5 stars
Description: 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. 

Disclaimer: I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, but it does not influence my opinion of the book nor this review in any way.

That description sounds really great doesn’t it? This read should check a lot of boxes for me: rags-to-riches, mythology, lush high fantasy setting, and a villainous lead! Not to mention a promising romance… *waggles eyebrows* Unfortunately… it fell a bit short of expectations. I’m going to address each of those in turn… 

Let’s start with the rag’s to riches story: is it? I literally had no idea what was happening with Eda this whole time. According to the story (and the blurb), she killed the previous Emperor to become Empress. The book made it sound like she came from royalty. But then she’d talk about going home, and it seemed like she was – pardon my language here – a commoner before that? But then lines came up like “He expected her to wash her own clothes??” (paraphrased) and didn’t know how to start a fire. Soo… backstory didn’t start out real well, as I knew almost nothing about Eda prior to the events of the book. 

Set as lush high fantasy with mythological elements: hmmm, I suppose. The world was interesting enough, although I never felt like I grasped it. Things were explained as necessary, and the mythology might have been cool, but it also felt like a giant pile of spaghetti for all the explanation we got. The characters didn’t even understand it wholly – which could have been interesting, but I just didn’t feel that it was handled well. 

But we got a really cool villainous lead, right?? Well… I really, really, really tried to like this one! I love villainous leads and well-written villains in general! But Eda just read like a petulant child, and everything was one big temper-tantrum. Everyone hated her, no one understood what she was going through, but really she just didn’t pay attention to anything 2 cm from her forehead. She sacrificed the life of her friend for a favor from a God, for heavens’ sake! She had the hands cut off of someone who opposed her – Queen of Hearts, indeed! But never did she do anything to make me feel bad or sorry for her. I guess she made it up in the end with her “chosen one” antics, but good lord, I did not like this one. 


She’d never stopped being that nine-year-old child, screaming for a place in the world after her parents’ deaths. Longing for affection and meaning and simply to be noticed. Making a deal with the gods and clawing her way onto the throne, just so she could feel wanted. Needed. Necessary to others’ lives. And then it had become about control. 


But we got a really cool villainous lead, right?? Well… I really, really, really tried to like this one! I love villainous leads and well-written villains in general! But Eda just read like a petulant child, and everything was one big temper-tantrum. Everyone hated her, no one understood what she was going through, but really she just didn’t pay attention to anything 2 cm from her forehead. She sacrificed the life of her friend for a favor from a God, for heavens’ sake! She had the hands cut off of someone who opposed her – Queen of Hearts, indeed! But never did she do anything to make me feel bad or sorry for her. I guess she made it up in the end with her “chosen one” antics, but good lord, I did not like this one. 

But… the romance…? I am really sad to report that the romance was as more of a thorn in my side than any source of enjoyment. (Spoilers ahead, skip to next paragraph unless you want to be mildly spoiled.) Eda threw her heart at the first person who was nice to her, and then had the gal to be surprised when he betrayed her? They’d known each other a week, she said “I love you” and never got a reply. So she married him and made him Emperor, of equal power to her. The whole time I was reading this, I wanted to throw the book against the wall! Then in the second half of the book… there was another blooming of romance! This one would have been more understandable, except I simply don’t understand how anyone could have fallen in love with her, and it seemed more of convenience for the plot than any real connection the two characters had. Which seems to be a theme throughout the book. 

It was the beginning that ruined this book for me. Eda was just so catty, cruel, nasty and self-absorbed, I couldn’t see past it. Wasn’t rooting for her and made multiple notes in my book like “Why would anyone be nice to her?” I simply didn’t understand what this character had going for her.  The second half of the book did get a lot better, but since I was already prejudiced against her from the very slow first half, by the time the pace picked up and I saw a glimmer of something worth rallying behind in Eda, I was long gone

At times, it just felt like the story was throwing *new elements* into the mix, and by the end I had no idea what was going on. Instead of being a “fresh, lush prose,” it felt more of a confused eye-roll.  As for the Chosen One trope… Eda did one thing. Made one choice that made her able to save the world. Otherwise, it was her getting passed from hands-to-hands as other people helped her, dragged her along and did all the work for her. “Chosen One” who? I simply couldn’t see why she was so special. I’m disappointed because not only do I not like writing negative reviews, I tried really hard to like this one, but eventually I was just forcing myself to get to the end. Reviews indicated that it would get better, and it did, but just not enough. 

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What are some of your favorite fantasy reads? Do you love a book with a good villain? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you! 


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