Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart starts The Drowning Empire trilogy. It takes place in a country that consists of several islands which float around a sea in a set pattern, coming closer and retreating, as well as moving slowly around, which affects the weather. For several years there’s been a dry season. The book starts as the rainy season is about to begin.

The empire is ruled by the Emperor who has secluded himself in a palace on the Imperial island, not seeing envoys from other islands or visiting himself. His sole attention is on constructs, creations he builds from different animal parts and then animates with bone shard magic to use as spies, guards, and civil servants. Some are more intelligent, some are less so, depending on how many shards they have. According to him, the constructs are the only defence against an ancient enemy that hasn’t been seen in centuries.

Each citizen is required to donate a bone shard from their scull as children. When their shard is in use, the construct uses the donors’ life energy, depleting and eventually killing them. People hate it and a rebellion is rising against the Emperor and the practice.

There were several point of view characters. Two of them, Lin and Jovis, were told in first person, with bigger roles in the story, and the others in third.

Lin is the Emperor’s daughter. She suffers from amnesia caused by an illness she also has no memory of, but she’s eager to learn her father’s magic to become the next emperor. But he hoards the secret, making impossible demands of her for the knowledge, so she sets out to learn it by herself, stealing her father’s keys to a secret library. And then she uncovers a secret about her father and herself that upends her entire world and puts her on the path to overthrow the Emperor. Lin wasn’t entirely likeable character, but I ended up rooting for her anyway.

Jovis is a smuggler searching for his wife who was stolen from their home years ago. He’s sailing from island to island, looking for clues. But every time he thinks he’s on her trail, something happens to derail him. People keep asking him to smuggle their children away from the shard ceremony, and little by little, he finds himself entangled in the rebellion against the Emperor.

He has a companion, Mephi, a creature he saved from the sea. He can speak, and he possesses magic that gives Jovis incredible strength, fighting skills, and other special abilities as long as they’re near each other. Together, they end up helping the rebels to overthrow an island governor in exchange for information about Jovis’s wife. But when the time comes to go find her, he chooses to go after the Emperor instead. Jovis and Mephi were my favourite characters. Jovis was a bit grumpy but with Mephi he slowly thaws.

Then there were the governor’s daughter Phalue and her girlfriend Ranami. The latter is involved in the shard rebellion, and she coaxes and emotionally blackmails Phalue into going against her father. They weren’t really my favourites, but Phalue had a decent and believable growth arc.

Finally Sand, a woman who lives in a desert island, repeating her daily routines with no recollection of who she is or how she’s ended up there. But then an accident jolts her out of her haze, and she starts gaining her memories, only to learn the same shocking truth as Lin did, with the same conclusion: she must rise against the Emperor.

This was an excellent book. The world was interesting and the magic truly unique. The characters had believable storylines, and the chapters were short, keeping the pace fast. I didn’t see the twist coming, even though in hindsight it’s self-evident, so that was well done. The larger uprising against the emperor, and a possible return of the ancient enemy is yet to come, but the second book will concentrate on those. That will be next on my reading list.


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