A rich and rewarding novel, original and thought-provoking, and I didn't want it to end.
This was a great book, up there with The Unspoken Name as my favorite debut of 2020.
One question, a central theme to the story, kept popping up: what the value of a human life? Can it be measured by degree of importance, intelligence, or skill? Is a person worth less in a society when their trade becomes obsolete?
All five character POVs were taking a different approach to the question. Lin, the daughter of the Emperor, was raised under the pretense that her father's life and leadership was of greater importance due to his so-called ability to protect his people. The reluctant Phalue and the vigilant Ranami used their political position and injustice-fueled passion to spread equality throughout all the lands, so that each individual had an equal say and treatment. The smuggler Jovis and his mystery animal companion Mephi, the story's MVP--yes, Mephi is the MVP, and this is objectively true, it is not up for argument; I can prove it on a chalkboard--they fight against the tyranny of the empire to save children from a despicable yet mandatory tithing ceremony. This ceremony allows for citizens to be treated as spare parts for the empire's golem-like constructs to thrive as the country's most reliable workforce. It's not a very far leap to compare this to modern day machines displacing workers in recent years... except delivery drones don't use bone shard magic to drain the life source from its people like batteries. This presents an interesting look at the economic value of humans versus constructs, which is the only value that some of the ruling class cares to see. And then there's Sand, a mysterious character with no long-term memory who has a special kind of value, and may end up having the biggest character arc of the series. We'll see, as there's lots more story to tell!
Stewart has chosen a interesting approach to her narrative POVs. We get five POVs in the first six chapters of the book, which was a lot to take in. On top of that, two of the narratives were in first-person, while the rest were in third-person. It took a couple of passages to get used to, but it wasn't long before each narrative voice was distinct and had their own unique strengths and fears. This was one of the many cool tricks that Stewart has in her writing arsenal, and I was all-in for it.
The Bone Shard Daughter is full of surprises. It has a lot to say about our own society, as many great novels have the tendency to do. But it also pulls at your emotions through great character work, strong world-building, stomach-turning revelations, and hopeful paths toward the future. It a rich and rewarding novel, original and thought-provoking, and I didn't want it to end. One of the year's best.
Review by Adam Weller
fantasybooknerd from UK
The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire #1) Andrea Stewart's gothic fantasy tale of love, obsession and secrets is intriguing and delightful. Andrea Stewart weaves a complex tale that keeps you guessing and turning the pages to uncover the secrets at the heart of the book just like the character, Lin, who is searching for the answers of the bone shard magic that her father wields and guards jealously. The story centres around Lin, the daughter of the tyrant Emperor Shiyen who rules his house and his kingdom with cruelty and mistrust. They live in the crumbling and oppressive castle that is as much a representation of the empire that they rule as it is the relationship that the Emperor has with his children. The book has a distinct gothic feel to it when it tells the tale of Lin's life with her father, her brother and the soulless servants that surround her.Her father is cruel and just as soulless as the servants, continuously fostering competition between Lin and her brother as they claw their way to be their way into their father's affections. In as much as Lin and Bayan (Lin's foster brother) are the characters, Stewart also makes the environment that they are in as much a character as the people that reside in the castle. There is a palpable air of cloying oppressiveness that reminds me of Shirley Jackson's work. However, the story regularly shifts points of view to other characters and the wider world outside of the castle in order to show the effects of the Emperor's rule and provide some world building and backdrop to the other protagonists of the story. Jin is a smuggler who is obsessed with searching for the answers as to how his wife disappeared eight years ago. He is a man that has made bad choice after bad choice, getting himself embroiled with the shadowy underworld of the Ioph Carn, a crime organisation that rules with the same amount of fear as the Emperor on his search for his wife. We meet Jin as he is following a lead for his missing wife when a disaster strikes one of the islands of this world. Prior to the disaster, he agrees to smuggle a child to another island in order to save him from the horrific trials of the Tithing Festival, a terrifying ritual in which bones are chiselled from the heads of the islands children so that the Emperor can use their power to bring life to his twisted creations that populate the islands, carrying out the orders that the Emperor commands.As disaster strikes he saves the life of the young boy and also rescues a strange cat like creature who is as much as a child as the one that he is carrying. The creature becomes part of his life and the boy that he saves names the creature Mephisolou which gets shortened to Mephi. However, things do not go as planned and the creature the he selfishly saves from death, so that he can stop the child he has saved from crying forms a strong bond with Jin. As the relationship grows between Jin and the strange creature, Mephi changes him in ways that he doesn't realise. There are other characters in the book, Pahlue, the governor's daughter of one of the other islands of this strange world, and Sand. A mysterious occupant of another island whose importance at first is hidden, but becomes much more of a character as the book progresses. I enjoyed this book immensely, devouring the story of Lin, Jin and Mephi and definitely cannot wait until the next installment of this story. Stewart has crafted a world full of mystery and intrigue that promises to get better and better.
9/10 from 2 reviews