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The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart (The Drowning Empire #1)

Author: Andrea Stewart
Release date: 8 September 2020 (US); 10 September 2020 (UK)
Publisher:  Orbit
Genre: Fantasy
Goodreads: Here 

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.

Packing wickedly clever plotting and superb world-building, Andrea Stewart’s The Bone Shard Daughter presents a larger-than-life epic through seamlessly interwoven storylines.
Set in an empire consisting of many islands, the Emperor rules with the forbidden magic of bone shards that power fuels monstrous constructs that enforce law and order. For decades the emperor has reigned, but now his rule is failing and whispers of revolution travel across the Empire’s islands.

Coming into the story, I had to get used to juggling between multiple perspectives from the get go but it was a surprisingly pleasant and hassle-free experience.

Who do we start with? Let’s unpack our main characters 🙂

The Bone Shard Daughter presents its story through a diverse cast of rich, compelling characters.

Lin is desperate to find her father’s favour and learn the magic that keeps the empire safe to secure her succession of the throne – the only way she knows to help her people.

Jovis, smuggler and thief on a desperate search for his lost wife, keeps finding himself unable to refuse pleas for help.

Sand, who goes from village to mango grove to village again, experiences an unlikely awakening that stirs her towards a search for the truth.

Ranami and Phalue, lovers from different backgrounds, find themselves having to address their differences while embroiled on a quest for revolution.

Stewart’s excellent pacing emphasizes the distinctive voices between these 5 perspectives, making the choice of having 2 first person POVs and 3 third person POVs work. Through these five perspectives, Stewart asks a concurrent, singular set of questions: What is the value of human life? Are they to be solely determined by their usefulness, skill, or intelligence? Lin finds herself having her worth constantly questioned by her skill to work the bone shard magic and adopts a primarily utilitarian view alike her father although she is more earnest in keeping her people’s best interests at heart. Jovis and his animal companion Mephis work against the Empire that mandates children to donate a bone shard in a disturbing ‘tithing festival’ for fueling the constructs that govern the empire, treating its people like spare parts; while also finding himself questioning the revolution’s approach in how it treats its allies. Ranami and Phalue find themselves using their political position in an injustice-fueled passion to spread equality throughout all the lands. Sand is left to discover her value as she wades on through her inability to retain long-term memory. All these storylines are handled with much grace and care that makes the main characters easy to be invested in and actively root for.

The mysteries in the book are also quite well done as they were enjoyable to watch as they unfold. There was a disturbing and uncomfortable reveal during the second half of the book that I did not even expect. It was, however, handled well enough to avoid taking out my investment in the story.

That magic system? *chef’s kiss*

I found the magic-system in The Bone Shard Daughter to be particularly smart deriving its functions from both computing and linguistics. I realised about halfway of the book that the East Asian-inspired setting is not for mere aesthetic – it actually makes for a clever integration for the magic system as a passage in the book implies the flexibility of the commands according to linguistic flexibility, and the challenges described were reminiscent to that of an East Asian (most likely Chinese) language system.

The side effects of this magic also carry a disturbing weight. I was left understanding its forbidden nature – not only is the Tithing for bone shards making one go excruciating and potentially fatal pain, it also means a complete surrender of one’s wellbeing on top of their value being undermined to that of a “spare part” for the bone shard constructs. It was both uncomfortable yet fascinating to see how this magic gets embroiled into politics to retain power and how it affects the people of the empire – eventually converging all five storylines we follow in the novel.

Concluding Thoughts

The Bone Shard Daughter is a book of many, many strengths. Stewart’s well-polished prose, vivid imagery, and palpable tension present an enjoyable reading experience as we course through numerous intrigue and mysteries within the story.

All in all, I utterly loved The Bone Shard Daughter and I cannot wait to see the continuation of Stewart’s The Drowning Empire series. I absolutely cannot tell where this is going, as by the end of the book new players are introduced and some disturbing occurrences in the empire are yet to be unpacked.

Epic in scope, filled to the brim with rich, compelling characters, and packing sharp, disturbing genius in its magic system, fans of Samantha Shannon’s Priory of the Orange Tree and R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War would find The Bone Shard Daughter a highly enjoyable read.

The Bone Shard Daughter is available for pre-order, set for official release on 8 September 2020 (US) and 10 September 2020 (UK).


My many thanks to NetGalley, Orbit, and Little, Brown Book Group UK for providing an e-ARC of this book for an honest review.

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