The Bone Shard Daughter: A fast-paced, enticing adventure

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea StewartThe Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea StewartThe Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

The Bone Shard Daughter (2020) by Andrea Stewart is a fast-paced, enticing read, with an attractive world and a magical system that grabs the imagination with both hands and doesn’t let it go.

Stewart’s debut is the first book of a series, THE DROWNING EMPIRE. In an archipelago empire, the imperial Sukai dynasty defeated the powerful Alanga, who ruled it. The current emperor, Shiyen, uses bone shard magic to protect his citizens from the possible return of the Alanga. Shiyen runs his empire using constructs, chimera-like beings animated by chips of bone taken from every citizen of the empire, usually when they are children. At events called Festivals, chips of bone are chiseled out of each child’s skull, sometimes with fatal results. Those chips, later implanted into constructs, animate them. The magic allows the creator of the constructs to compel their behavior with directives etched into the shards — think “bone golems.”

Lin is the emperor’s daughter. Her father tells her she is broken, because she has no memory beyond five years previously, when she recovered from a deadly sickness. Lin must compete with her foster-brother to learn bone magic and regain her father’s approval. Lin resorts to desperate measures, but things she learns both inside and outside the palace make her question her father’s beliefs, his motives, and finally everything he’s told her.

Jovis makes ends meet by smuggling, as he searches for his missing wife who’s been gone seven years. When the island he is visiting abruptly starts to sink, Jovis reaches his boat with only a little boy he managed to rescue from the Festival. A little while later he saves a kitten that paddles frantically toward his boat. The kitten, it turns out, isn’t a kitten. Jovis doesn’t know what kind of animal it is, only that is seems to be magical and it won’t leave him.

Word of his saving the boy gets around and soon Jovis becomes a reluctant rescuer. Eventually he gets involved with the Shardless Few, a revolutionary group planning to overthrow a corrupt island governor.

Both Lin and Jovis wrestle with issues of identity and role, against a well-defined world. The magic of the Alanga — and the idea that they could come back — is mystifying, and Mephisolou, the animal, is a shining new light in the pantheon of Magical Animal Sidekicks. The bone shard magic is convincingly creepy, and the emperor keeps some secrets that are far, far creepier.

The Bone Shard Daughter held me riveted whenever Lin or Jovis were on the page. The story also dips into the viewpoints of Phalue, daughter of that corrupt island governor, and her lover Ranami. I found them less interesting. Phalue’s growth toward enlightenment seemed to happen quickly and easily.

The book also introduces us to a woman originally called Sand, who promises to play a larger role in future books.

Stewart has pretty descriptions of settings, both interiors and exteriors, and inventive creatures in the form of the various imperial constructs. Her prose gets the job done, and she’s set up a story I hunger to learn more of. The very islands themselves are interesting. The Bone Shard Daughter was a gripping, entertaining summer read.

Published in September 2020. Introducing a major new voice in epic fantasy: 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 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.

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Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town. You can read her blog at deedsandwords.com, and follow her on Twitter: @mariond_d.

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