Thursday, September 2, 2021

Book Review: The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart (fantasy)

The Bone Shard Daughter
Author: Andrea Stewart
Publication Date: Sept. 8, 2020
Genres: Epic Fantasy
Protagonist Gender: Female
Sexualities: Straight, Lesbian

I thought I knew what I was expecting when I cracked the spine on The Bone Shard Daughter, but Andrea Stewart surprised me in more ways than one. The characters, the narrative structure, the thematic focus, the plot twists . . . so much of it played contrary to what I was expecting. Aside from the fact that it sometimes felt like a YA novel, especially with Lin's personality and status so often playing contrary to her age, I was delighted to discover what surprises lay in store next.

This is a story told from 5 POVs, which means we spend a lot of time wondering how/if those characters will come to interact. Those interactions were one of the surprises I appreciated so much, though, especially as we raced towards a climax, with a confrontation that, at the risk of hyperbole, changes everything. Lin and Jovis, as you can tell from their first-person POVs, are the heart of the novel. Lin is Emperor's Daughter, a young woman forced to compete with an adopted rival for her father's affections as well as his inheritance. Jovis, on the other hand, is a smuggler who just wants to find out what happened to his wife, a woman stolen away in the night by a mysterious boatman, but who increasingly gets drawn into matters of import, accompanied by an adorable magical creature named Mephi, who has surprises of his own.

Secondary to Lin and Jovis are Phalue and Ranami, two young women from another island who find their affections for one another often competing with their ambitions for the empire. I thought Stewart did a spectacular job of portraying their dynamic, giving us moments of tenderness and intimacy, but always within the context of being manipulated politically. Finally, we have Sand, a woman seemingly trapped on another island, with no memory of how or why she came to be there. Even though she gets the lowest page count, she becomes increasingly more interesting and important as the book goes on, forcing me to discard one guess after another as to who she might be.

Beneath all of that - or, rather, holding it all together - is the concept of bone magic, and that's what makes this debut stand up. It seems like such a simple thing at first, being forced to sacrifice a small shard of bone from behind your ear to help the Emperor protect the empire from the legendary Alanga, but the more we learn about that magic, about how it's used and what its use does to the donors, the creepier and more monstrously magnificent it gets. If the revelations of the final few chapters are anything to go by, I suspect this book has only scratched the surface of bone magic potential.

As for reservations or concerns, I only have a few, and they're all things I expect to be dealt with in subsequent volumes. We never really find out who or what the Alanga are, or why they're so feared; we never find out why an island sinks into the sea; and I didn't feel as if we got a good picture of how all the islands are connected in terms of politics.

The Bone Shard Daughter is an easy, comfortable read, one that flows well and lends itself to late-night binges through chapters, but its greatest strength is that it sticks with you, forcing you to turn it over and over in your mind, realizing it's deeper and more complex than it appeared on the page. 

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ 

My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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