The Bridge Kingdom and I have been circling each other for years. It’s another book that sat on my TBR for far too long, and I feel accomplished having finally read it. While I don’t think it lives up to the hype, it was still a fun and anxiety-inducing read as we watch Danielle Jensen pit two enemies against each other in the most delicate of situations.
Lara is a princess of Maridrina, but instead of living in a castle with gilded walls, she was raised at an isolated desert compound to become her kingdom’s greatest weapon. Aren, the king of Ithicana, demands a Maridrina princess as part of a peace treaty, and Lara’s father plans to send her not as a doting wife, but as a spy. The King of Maridrina wants control of Ithicana’s bridge and the wealth that comes through this incredible trade hub. He plans to use Lara for intel and sends her off to infiltrate the opposing kingdom from the inside. Terrified but determined, Lara takes advantage of this opportunity to save the people of Maridrina from starvation and will stop at nothing to bring Ithicana to its knees.
I was downright giddy when I discovered the book would feature POVs from both Lara and Aren. I couldn’t wait to see these two face off against each other, but the story quickly gave way to Lara’s POV which was more interesting and purposeful. Jensen did a much better job showcasing the anxiety and stress of the arranged marriage in Lara’s chapters. Lara’s conviction is strong, but as she becomes more familiar with Ithicana and its inhabitants, we feel her horror as she realizes her actions will destroy them all. Jensen puts Lara in so many uncomfortable situations and the dread for the end just piles up. On the other hand, Aren’s POV fell flat. His own relationship with Lara changes throughout the book, but the reasoning for that evolution never felt clear to me. He’s constantly suspicious of Lara, yet he caves a little too easily for the enemy as someone trying to keep his entire kingdom alive.
There are some horrible mythical lands across fiction, but I have never dreaded adventuring in a place more than Ithicana. This place is terrible, and I commend Jensen for making me really feel how rough living in this kingdom would be. Ithicana is practically inhabitable with its insanely dense rainforests, rocky shores, and shark-infested waters. The entire kingdom is spread among islands so all travel is via boat which has to constantly account for the tides and you know, casual weather stuff like tropical storms. If you fall into the water a shark will eat you unprompted, but if you make it to land there are poisonous snakes and god knows what else. Then there is the bridge which every kingdom wants a piece of, so all of Ithicana is in service to the warrior class and defending its shores for months on end. Everyone in this kingdom is muddy and wet and literally fighting for their life every second.
The strangest part about The Bridge Kingdom is how wildly different the pacing is by the time I reached the end of the book. It’s like two completely different stories were put together. This shift is pretty disarming because up until the 80% mark, the pacing was good and it kept me engaged. Yet after one of the story’s big defining moments, the time in this story doesn’t just skip, it JUMPS. Months begin to pass between Lara and Aren’s POV and the story suffers for it. Up until this point, Jensen did a great job keeping us rooted in the character’s experiences. There was a lot of pressure on the story and it made the stakes feel real. But the big time skips at the end of the book skim over moments between Lara and Aren that are pretty foundational for the plot.
Overall I had a decent time with The Bridge Kingdom. Based on my experience with the first half of the book I would have rated it higher, but some strange decisions were made at the end. I wouldn’t say I’m dying to discover what happens next but I will tackle the sequel out of curiosity to see how Jensen remedies the final events of book one.
Rating: The Bridge Kingdom – 6.5/10