Review: Empire of Shadows by Jacquelyn Benson

Empire of Shadows by Jacquelyn Benson

Olivia reviews Empire of Shadows, the first book in Jacquelyn Benson‘s historical fantasy series, Raiders of the Arcana.

About the Book
Series:Raiders of the Arcana #1
Genre:Fantasy, Romance, Historical Fiction
Publisher:Crimson Fox Publishing
Date of Publishing:April 2, 2024
Trigger Warnings:
Page count:585
Book Blurb
Empire of Shadows by Jacquelyn Benson

Nice Victorian ladies don’t run off to find legendary lost cities.

One trifling little arrest shouldn’t have cost Ellie Mallory her job, but it’s only the latest in a line of injustices facing any educated woman with archaeological ambitions.

When Ellie stumbles across the map to a mysterious ancient city, she knows she’s holding her chance to revolutionize Pre-Colombian history. There’s just one teensy complication. A ruthless villain wants it, and Ellie is all that stands in his way.

To race him to the ruins—and avoid being violently disposed of—she needs the help of maverick surveyor Adam Bates, a snake-wrangling rogue who can’t seem to keep his dratted shirt on.

But there’s more than Ellie’s scholarly reputation (and life) on the line. Her enemies aren’t just looters. They’re after an arcane secret rumored to lie in the heart of the ruins, a mythical artifact with a power that could shake the world.

Between stealing trousers, plummeting over waterfalls, and trying not to fall in love with her machete-wielding partner, will Ellie be able to stop the oracle of a lost empire from falling into the wrong hands?

Empire of Shadows is the first book in Jacquelyn Benson’s smart, swashbuckling Raiders of the Arcana series. Read it now and dive into a rip-roaring historical fantasy adventure perfect for fans of Romancing the Stone and The Mummy.

Quote of the Book
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“You believe that breaking down the door, waving a knife around, and shoving me into a corner is saving me?”

“You screamed,” he countered.

“That is not an invitation.”

Song of the Book


Empire of Shadows is a page-turning historical romp with very similar energy to The Mummy

Though the novel takes place in Honduras, it has all of the same humour and swashbuckling adventure. The characters are warm, fun, and relatable—and, much like Brendan Fraser, Adam Bates somehow becomes more attractive with every extra layer of dirt.

The book primarily follows Ellie Mallory, a well-educated Victorian woman whose career has stalled out due to the era’s very low glass ceiling. Within the first few chapters, Ellie’s participation in the era’s suffragette movement starts a (small) riot and gets her arrested… at which point, she loses her job, stumbles onto a bonafide treasure map, and catches the attention of a frightening criminal.

Lest this sound a bit too serious for you—she also spends the entire first part of the book trying to juggle a potted fern.

Ellie eventually ends up haring off to British Honduras on a madcap adventure which requires the regrettable help of Adam Bates, an American surveyor with a love for local wildlife and an allergy to shirts. Adam and Ellie have fantastic banter and excellent romantic chemistry, none of which distracts too much from the plot.

Jacquelyn Benson’s expertise as an anthropologist also shines through in several places, in the very best way. Ellie’s genuine enthusiasm for history comes across lovingly on the page, without ever bogging down the story.

I’ve read Empire of Shadows several times now, and every time, I find myself so instantly absorbed that I forget to put it down for hours at a time. I’m already greatly looking forward to the next book in the series.

Our Judgement
Praise Their Name - 5 crowns

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