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

(9.0/10) A rich and rewarding novel, original and thought-provoking, and I didn't want it to end.

Book of the Year 2020 (see all)

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.

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Andrea Stewart's The Drowning Empire series

The Bone Shard Daughter

The Drowning Empire #1

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