Book review: The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

Title: The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

Publisher: Orbit

Publication date: 8 September 2020

Genre: Adult | Fantasy

Page extent: 448 pages

Rating:

Goodreads blurb: In an empire controlled by bone shard magic, Lin, the former heir to the emperor will fight to reclaim her magic and her place on the throne. The Bone Shard Daughter marks the debut of a major new voice in epic fantasy.

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.

Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit for providing me an advanced copy of The Bone Shard Daughter in exchange for an honest review.

Welcome to your new favourite fantasy world! The Bone Shard Daughter is a slowburn fantasy with such an interesting world (where islands move and sink!), a very fun magic system (using shards of people’s skulls!) and has a cast of brilliant characters (MEPHI, MY SWEET BABY ANGEL!)

From the blurb, I went into The Bone Shard Daughter expecting a story of power and privilege as daughter of the emperor Lin tried to take the throne from the father. And we do get that. But what was unexpected was this whole host of other POVs that made this world even better than I anticipated! It did through me off a bit at the start as I’d gone in with such different expectations to what we got, but I really loved these other characters by the end of the book. We follow five main POVs throughout:

  • Lin, the daughter of the emperor who recovered from a serious illness five years ago, but lost all the memories of her childhood. Her father now pits her against foster brother Bayan as the two compete to see who can learn most about bone shard magic and be named their father’s heir.
  • Jovis, a burly smuggler desperate to find his wife who disappeared seven years ago. Helping children escape the tithing festival, where they give away part of their skull bone to the emperor for his bone magic constructs, he runs into Mephi, a bedraggled looking kitten who just so turns out to be something else entirely.
  • Phalue, the daughter of a governor on one of the islands around the Empire, whose long term partner Ramani has wound up involved with the Shardless Few, a group who want to take down the Empire.
  • Ramani herself, who has to grapple with her love for a woman in a position in power who doesn’t seem to understand the depths of suffering in the lower classes.
  • And then there’s Sand, an outsider point of view at the far reaches of the Empire, who falls out of a mango tree and realises something odd about her island.

I had times when each of these POVs were my favourite, so it’s difficult to say who I liked best. Though I’m certainly not complaining, as big multi-POV fantasies like this one often suffer from a ‘this other character has a much more interesting POV and I don’t care about the rest at all.’ The Bone Shard Daughter was not like that. At the start, I found myself dying to know more about Lin, as she started her discovery and exploration of this very cool magic system that allowed bone shards to be created in constructs to protect the Empire. But then I was blown away and drawn into this mystery on Sand’s island, longing to know more about what the fuck was happening. Then Ramani and Phalue, this amazing f/f relationship who love each other but are struggling to resolve their morality and positions. But by the end, I think I was most in love with Jovis (which actually very much surprised me, because he starts out very rude and gruff and a unwilling to help, and almost left poor little Mephi in the sea). But by the end I cherished the strong love that had developed between Jovis and his magical animal companion Mephi, I adored the way his love for his wife drove his actions so much, the beauty of his emotion and heart break clear on every page. So there really wasn’t a single POV I wasn’t interested in and didn’t want to know more about!

The magic system is definitely one of the coolest in any book I’ve read this year. Parts of people’s SKULLS are used to power constructs to defend the empire? And citizens are forced to give their bones? But it means if your shard is in use, at some point you will grow suddenly weak and sick and no longer be able to function. This system made for such an interesting power dynamic, one that could really explore the experiences between the nobility and the working class. This was particularly apparent with Lin and Phalue, who had to challenge themselves and their role in power, and see how far they were willing to go to. For Lin especially, as a wielder of bone shard magic, the magic she must learn to use to win over her father, she was faced with the knowledge that by using these shards and using the working class as a stepping stone to power, she wasn’t really any different to her awful father. Her journey and development as she had to come to terms with this was one of my favourite parts of the book.

As much as I loved the magic system, the reason I didn’t give this a full five stars is also the magic system. There seemed to be some inconsistencies and I was rather confused about how this magic that took time and patience to wield could somehow be instantaneously used in the middle of battle? The battle scenes used this magic in a way that seemed to ignore time? As this was an ARC, I’m hoping this might be improved by the final book, but I was very confused about how a magic that requires time to actually work was suddenly either being used immediately in the heat of battle (and thus made no sense with the rest of the book), or the opponent’s simply sat around waiting for you to complete it before attacking (which makes equally little sense). It brought me right out of the story which was really disappointing because I’d been loving every minute until then.

But overall, I was really impressed with The Bone Shard Daughter! It has one of my favourite ensemble casts, each of their POVs were so interesting in their own ways, and this world, with islands that can move and sink and magic that is wielded with people’s skulls, made for a very exciting fantasy debut! And of course I will devour the sequel whenever it releases.

3 thoughts on “Book review: The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

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