The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire #1) by Andrea Stewart
Published by Orbit Books
Release Date : 8th September 2020
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.
I told a great many lies to others, and I told a great many to myself. This perhaps was the greatest lie of all.
The Bone Shard Daughter is a strong first book to promising new series by Andrea Stewart proving to be one of the best fantasy debuts in 2020.
When I first started my reading journey in 2020 The Bone Shard Daughter is one of the first books I put in my TBR but somehow took me a while to finally get to it. The book is well loved by my Twitter mutuals and close friends alike. I don’t know what was holding me back from reading it. So I made it my mission in August to pick up this book. The sequel, The Bone Shard Emperor, is coming out in November 2021 it is perfect timing too! Before I dive into the review I would like to appreciate the gorgeous cover done by Sasha Vinogradova. The level of detail of the marble-esque engraving is just so so so stunning!
The Bone Shard Daughter is the debut and first book to the The Drowning Empire trilogy by Andrea Stewart that made their debut back in Fall of 2020. It is a multi POV story that follows multiple characters on four different islands of the empire. On these islands, the Emperor governs the people through his constructs to maintain law and order. This causes the Emperor to become more estranged from his own people spending his days locked up in the palace investing as minimum effort as possible in running the Empire. The Emperor has reigned for decades over the islands protecting the people from the looming threat and return of the Alanga, the powerful former ruler of the islands. But now years since the war against the Alanga there are rumors spreading amongst the people that Emperor’s could no longer protect the people, his rule is failing, and a rebellion is brewing across the islands.
My memory was lacking. But I knew 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.
In the many POVs we follow all of the characters come from different backgrounds and are in different situations to show the many facets of the world across the archipelago. The story focuses on five different perspectives all scattered on different islands. It is quite unique to find that two POVs—Lin and Jovis—is written in first person and the other three—Phalue, Ranami, and Sand—are written in third person. I’ve read a lot of multi POV books this is the first time I’ve encountered this approach of writing the POVs. In my personal opinion this approach would only work for this story and these characters. The back and forth from first person to third person enhances the story telling creating a much more immersive experience for readers to get to know the characters. The results speaks for itself—all of the characters have a much more distinct voice, a clearer motivation drive, and a personality that shines beyond the pages.
Even though there are five perspectives the main focus is Lin’s POV and Jovis’ POV. Lin is the Emperor’s daughter and heir to the Empire that spends her days in the palace surrounded by hidden secrets and locked doors. Being the heir there is a lot of pressure for Lin to prove herself to her father, the Emperor, that she is worthy of her position. She is pitted against Bayan, her father’s foster child, to earn keys to rooms in the palace that will lead to knowledge of the bone shard magic behind the constructs. But to do that she needs to regain the memories she lost. In Lin’s POV the theme that is highlighted by Stewart is about identity. Identity and validation are two things Lin seeks within her story arc. For a good part of Lin’s POV she pushes herself to re-discover who she was before she lost her memories to get the validation from her father that she is the daughter he can be proud of. What I love about Lin is her unbending will and courage to push herself to her limits then taking charge of her life defying her father’s expectations. The only gripe I have with Lin’s POV is that it took a while for me to warm up to her. Being the POV that is separate from the others I didn’t get excited or felt that Lin is compelling as a character up until in the later chapters of the book around 55-60% of the book.
And that was the worst thing about this grief – not just knowing that she was gone, but knowing that eventually new memories and experiences would layer on top of them, making the distance between us ever wider. The days we’d spent swimming and fishing at the beach, the first time I’d kissed her, the dreams we’d shared – I was now the only keeper of these memories, and that was the truest sort of loneliness.
Personally, I favored Jovis’ POV more in the book because he goes on a lot of adventures across different islands and connects with other characters. Jovis is an ex navigator turned smuggler that has sacrificed everything to go find his missing lover. For years Jovis has been going on a wild goose chase going from island to island gathering clues of her whereabouts. One day while leaving an island Jovis finds a creature swimming beside his boat so he saved it and named the creature Mephi. Lo and behold Mephi isn’t an ordinary creature but something powerful. Together they both formed a bond with each other—a bond so mysterious and strong that formed since the time Jovis saved Mephi. The relationship Jovis and Mephi has is heartwarming and wholesome. Somehow along the journey Jovis has let this mysterious being become his most trusted friend to share his worries and expose his vulnerability. Jovis’ development throughout the book amazes me! The stages of grief Jovis goes through to finally accept the reality in front of him and then come to the realization to turn his life around—is one of the most monumental moments in the book. The themes of grief, abandonment, and loneliness is weaved expertly in Jovis’ characterization by Stewart. There is always a special place in my heart for characters that struggle with grief and acceptance
especially if they have an animal companion.
“It’s hard to remake one’s view of the world, to admit to complacency. I thought remaking myself for you was hard enough, but doing that was something I wanted. I didn’t want to realize how much I’ve hurt the people around me, and that’s what confronting my beliefs meant. We all tell ourselves stories of who we are, and in my mind, I was always the hero. But I wasn’t. Not in all the ways I should have been.”
Now on to the only couple in the story, Ranami and Phalue. What made their POV impactful to the story is their relationship. They both come from different backgrounds, grew up in different environments, and have different values. Phalue is the governor’s daughter that grew up in a palace surrounded in luxury while Ranami grew up in slums having to fight in order to survive. It is refreshing to see that they started out neck and neck ready to fight each other but in the end they found a way to bridge the gap. They are like any other couple readers could’ve encountered in real life. Their dynamic and disputes all felt genuine and believable. Andrea Stewart did a great job in depicting the difficulties and struggles of couples that have different social status’ from one another. The discussions are nuanced, fair, and covers both sides really well. Ranami and Phalue’s POVs offers a view point that explores the glimmer of hope within the failing empire that change is coming no matter how small the change is.
Another aspect of The Bone Shard Daughter that has piqued my interest is the bone shard magic. I like that the bone shard magic is simple yet complex at the same time. The easiest way to explain the bone shard magic it is similar to coding or programming. The constructs are powered by commands that is given by the creator. The commands range from simple things such as guard or attack to more complex ones such as manage the docks or analyze the economy. Similar to coding sometimes the programs fails to run if the command isn’t done well or if there is a bug that ruining the set of commands within the construct.
“You are doing a good, but you are alone. Alone is bad. Alone is not good.”
The Bone Shard Daughter is very much a character driven story which one of the staple things I look for in books I read. From each of the characters Stewart shows the multiple plot lines that feeds into the main plot which climaxed to a domino effect of reveals that sprouts even more questions. The pacing of the story is immaculate and well detailed with each chapter we are given the key to open doors to the history and secrets that binds all the POVs together. The quality of writing is on the same level as any reputable author making The Bone Shard Daughter as one of the most solid debuts out there. The Asian inspired world Andrea Stewart has created is vivid and written. Reading the book it feels like we’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the lore of the world. The are still a lot of mystery regarding The Endless Sea and the illusive Alanga. I’m excited for what’s in store in the sequel because I think it can go anywhere from here.
Final thoughts, The Bone Shard Daughter is a strong first book to a promising series that has checked everything on the list for an amazing fantasy debut. It is a well balanced story with great characterization and development, intricate yet simple world building and magic system, a gripping plot, and wondrous potential for growth. Andrea Stewart’s prose is polished, concise, and accessible—making this book a perfect introduction to the adult fantasy genre. Everything is written in detail and is exceptionally lush that each sentence flows smooth as butter. The slow build of the tension and stakes is done marvelously which climaxed to a satisfying ending that hints to readers enough that it doesn’t leave you hanging. I seriously regret not picking this book up sooner but I’m glad I did this year because now I just need to wait a few months to read the sequel. I highly recommend readers to pick up this book, whether you’re new to the adult fantasy genre or if you’re looking for an Asian inspired fantasy that is fresh and intriguing that includes an animal companion, definitely check this book out. In the words of Mephi, the cutest thing that exist in The Bone Shard Daughter, this book is “A very good” and everyone should read it!
Please mark your calendars people! The sequel, The Bone Shard Emperor, is coming out on 9th November 2021. You can check out the cover below with pre-order links.