The Bone Shard Daughter is a phenomenal debut fantasy novel. It is a polished work that even an experienced author writes once in a lifetime. I was absolutely blown away by the characters, the magic system, and the writing. I was never once bored while reading The Bone Shard Daughter, with its complex story-telling methods, countless mysteries, and beautiful themes.
From the very first page of The Bone Shard Daughter, I was hooked. The story is told from several different perspectives and follows young Lin, the Emperor's daughter and heir—as well as Jovis, a smuggler who doesn't realize he has a heart of gold—Phalue, a privileged governor's daughter—Phalue's girlfriend, a rebel and activist called Ranami—and a woman stranded on a deserted island called Sand. Not only did I like every single one of the five point of views in The Bone Shard Daughter, which is practically unheard of for me, but the narratives were incredibly layered. I could see events coming together and make connections with skillfully laid clues from the different perspectives. It was like I was in the story, observing and experiencing things for myself, rather than just reading and and taking things in as unbiased spectator.
"My memory was lacking. But I know who I was now. I was Lin. I was the Emperor's daughter. And I would show him that even broken daughters could wield power."
As characters work to piece together the mysteries of their world, I felt like I was trying to figure them out as well. I loved the air of mystery that shrouds the entirety of The Bone Shard Daughter and watching the characters try to see past it. Lin, the Emperor's daughter, lives in a palace with her cruel, aging father and his ward. The Emperor gives her an impossible task--remember a memory of her past--and he will give her a key to unlock one of the countless locked doors in his castle. He pits her against his ward, Bayan, in a competition for keys that unlocks more than just doors. And Lin is soon be faced with the gruesome realities of the powers of bone shard magic, which only the royal family can use.
But this is only one of many gripping mysteries of The Bone Shard Daughter. Jovis, a smuggler, searches for his wife who was kidnapped by an impossibly fast-travelling boat with blue sails, which no one seems to know anything about—other than that it has taken many people who have never returned. Sand, gains sudden awareness on an island in the middle-of-nowhere with no memories, and a strange compulsion to not question anything about her past. Phalue, a wealthy and privileged governor's daughter, grapples with whether or not she should assist her long-term girlfriend, Ranami, in overthrowing her corrupt father and the empire he serves.
"My father always said the Alanga would one day come back, and when they did, they'd try to reclaim the Empire. All the Alanga had powers, but their rulers had more than most. When one island's ruler's fought with another the clash of their magics had killed so many hapless bystanders. Enormous walls of water, windstorms that flattened cities. The greatest of them, Dione, could drown a city while saving all the flies, but most Alanga didn't have that level of control."
Underneath all of these smaller mysteries is a much larger and inscrutable one, that of the mystical and powerful Alanga race. The entire reason the Emperor practices his titular bone shard magic, which requires his citizens to give up their bone, so he can then use them to create magical constructs—is to keep these powerful and enigmatic beings suppressed. Artifacts remaining from the time the destructive Alanga roamed the land—paintings and fountains and the like—have gone quiet, closing their eyes to the world ever since the Emperor began practicing this magic. But even Lin doesn't know how her father's magic keeps these creatures at bay, or if they even exist anymore.
All of these puzzles, big and small, captured my imagination from the very start of the novel. Stewart deftly weaves this intricate and palpable web of mystery that suffuses the atmosphere and touches every single part of The Bone Shard Daughter. What’s more, is that the author's writing is so smooth and captivating, that I, an ardent hater of first person writing, didn’t even mind that two of the five point-of-views were written in first-person. In a style fitting for 2020, the year I read a book in mostly second person, the three other point-of-views were written in a different style--third person. And. I. Didn’t. Even. Notice. It was not until I started writing my review that I realized that The Bone Shard Daughter was written in completely different persons/point-of-views. That is how natural the writing feels and how sucked into the novel I was when reading it! I’m pretty sure Andrea Stewart could sell me anything with her writing. Broken egg? I’d buy it in a heartbeat if she wrote the advertisement. And I certainly plan on buying a physical copy of The Bone Shard Daughter for my shelves, as I loved every minute of it—and every character.
A novel where I didn’t hate one or many of the characters and their viewpoints? I would have thought it impossible, but The Bone Shard Daughter proves me wrong. Every single character is developed and flawed. I was most invested in Jovis and Lin’s narratives, but I also enjoyed that of Phalue and Ranami’s. I loved how Stewart deftly uses the latter's relationship to realistically highlight class disparities and the negative effects it can have on a romance. Though Stewart doesn't focus as much on these two characters or get too detailed with their LGBT romance, she portrays the long-term relationship of Phalue and Ranami in such a human way, that it feels so poignantly familiar, and anyone can relate to their struggles—even if they're not a governor's daughter or a resistance fighter.
"The Emperor's sworn duty - to protect us from their magic with his own - is looking more and more like we've sent an old dog to guard a pair of unworn slippers."
Not only were the characters relatable and interesting, but so were the universal themes that all of the cast were dealing with. In a society held together by a high cost magic system—the Empire’s takes bones from its citizens to use in the Emperor’s magic, which consequently drains the original bone owner of their force—the novel begs the question if the safety of the whole is worth the quality of life or even the lives of the few? If the Emperor continues to take bones from its citizens to build his magical constructs to protect from the feared race of the Alanga in order to protect his citizens, is it worth the potential loss of young lives in the extraction of the shards, and in the slow decay of others? Is this presumed safety against a feared people that hasn’t been seen in years really worth this cruel loss of life?
"Constructs weren't people, even if a few bore human parts. The lives of the shards in their bodies powered them, and the commands written on them gave them purpose."
When there are constructs made from human bones, are the constructs, in fact human? Or a lesser being deserving of less freedom? And where does a ruler draw the line when creating this life? I found these moral questions extremely interesting, especially as Lin, the Emperor’s daughter, grapples with them herself, as she unlocks secret door after secret door in her palace, and realizes that she too can utilize bone shard magic as well. I literally could not put the book down because I was so interested in what decisions Lin would make. These choices become especially important when she involves citizens in her plan to unlock more of her father's secrets, hidden behind locked doors and missing memories.
Likewise, other main character Jovis, a former smuggler in search of his missing wife, is also tasked with figuring out the value of life on a smaller scale. Should he rescue children from the requisite bone shard tithe instead of searching for a wife that’s most likely been dead for years? I love watching the snowball effect of Jovis doing one good deed and watching him discover that he is a good person capable of doing extraordinary things. And oh, I cannot sing enough praises for Jovis’s bond with his rescued sea-otter-dragon-kitten thing, Mephi. I freaking love it. I was super invested in their relationship and how a mystical creature was able to teach Jovis to be a better human, despite not being human itself.
Honestly, if you read one new release this fall, let it be The Bone Shard Daughter. I was absolutely blown away by every facet of Andrea Stewart's masterful writing. I was never once bored while reading the novel, could barely put it down, and loved every bit of all of the mysteries unfolding in this debut. The characters, the magic system, the themes, and the writing are spectacular. The only downside of The Bone Shard Daughter is that it isn't even officially published yet, and I want the next novel. I will be waiting with baited breath for the next entry in The Drowning Empire series.
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