Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I also purchased my own copy of the audiobook for the purpose of this review.
There is a lot going on with The Bone Shard Daughter: part fantasy, part political thriller, part mystery, part sea-adventure, part sapphic romance. If all of that sounds good to you, you’ll be even more please to know that the book emerges more than just a sum of these parts, delivering a page-turning debut that is brimming with potential. I just finished the novel a few hours ago, and I already long to dive back into the world of the Endless Sea, its twisty magic systems, and its numerous characters.
The novel begins with a solid start, introducing our cast of characters who are scattered across the Endless Sea and its ever-shifting islands. The current Emperor comes from a line of monarchs who harness power from bone shards to create constructs – magical creatures with instruction embedded into their being like code. This magic comes at a great cost, draining vitality from the owner of the original bone shard and shortening their lifespan. The cost is borne by the subjects of the Empire, so it’s little wonder that rebellions are afoot. Through the book, we shift through several point of views that paint a picture of these evolving conflict through their individual plot threads.
One of the main protagonists, Lin, is embroiled in a rivalry with her foster brother – one that will determine the Emperor’s chosen heir. She has amnesia and has no memories of her own childhood, her largest obstacle to gaining her father’s favour. What Lin lacks for in memory, she makes up in sheer determination in resourcefulness, and she’s not above scheming her way to the top. What I love about Lin is that while she is ambitious, there are further depths to her characterisation as we also see her vulnerability and ever-growing sense of self. Her story was riveting due to the exposition on the bone shard magic, and a thrilling mystery that surprised me numerous times due to its twist and turn.
Jovis is the other protagonist with the most page-time, he’s a smuggler who’s primary goal is to find his missing wife – until he encounters a certain magical creature. Move over, The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda – because Jovis and Mephi are THE iconic father/son duo of 2020. Their deepening bond is one of the most joyous thing to watch develop during this novel. If I had to pick, Jovis would be my favourite character – I do love a reluctant hero who’s so certain they have closed their heart off to the world. At the beginning, Jovis had convinced himself that he stands apart from all the kindling conflict – as a biracial man he’s never been wholly embraced by this world. His arc is in many ways a great foil to Lin’s narrative, and it was immensely satisfying to watch the two stories unfold in parallel to each other.
Phalue and Ramani is that established sapphic couple that we rarely get to see at front and centre in SFF. I love how queer characters and relationships are written into this world, as it’s taken as part of the norm. With Phalue and Ramani we get to see the two sides of a revolution, a reckoning between the privileged and the oppressed. While their love story is foundational to their story arc, I appreciated that their story is larger than their romance. More of this representation, please!
The last POV fleets in and out of the book, offering us a glimpse of a far flung island on the edge of the Empire. The way the story pieces together through the little nuggets we receive from this perspective is masterful, and the ending left me howling for Book 2!
This review is getting lengthy but I just have to say how much I love the bone shard magic system. I saw on one of Andrea Stewart’s online book launch that she compared it to computer coding – and I thought this was ingenious. The way the text explored the ethics behind these magical constructs, which are fuelled by human life force, is thought-provoking and nuanced. I can’t wait to see where it will take us in future books.
I wish I could have stayed in this world for longer. Whether it was drifting on the sea with Jovis and Mephi, or secreting through hidden doors in the oppressive Imperial Palace with Lin, or stoking the fire of rebellion with Ramani – every part of this world came alive for me during the reading experience. This was especially the case with the audiobook, which was narrated by Natalie Naudus, Feodor Chin, and my favourite Emily Woo Zeller! I thought the performance on Lin and Jovis’s chapters were especially atmospheric and noteworthy.
Without a doubt this is my favourite adult SFF debut of this year and I am so excited to follow these characters. Do not hesitate, run to grab your copy ASAP and come scream with me all about it!