by Andrea Stewart
Publication: September 8, 2020
Series: The Drowning Empire #1
**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**
**Also, let me apologize ahead of time because my review for the book feels a bit disjointed. (bones…joints…harharhar…sorry again.)
Bone Shard Daughter is told from the perspective of multiple characters, with the bulk of the story alternating between the emperor’s daughter Lin and smuggler Jovis. Having suffered from a sickness that erased her memories, the emperor is unwilling to give Lin the throne and has her compete against her foster brother instead. Lagging behind her foster brother in the competition, she takes things into her own hands to prove to her father she is the rightful heir. In a different part of the country, Jovis, a wanted smuggler, searches for his missing wife but his search is delayed when the people begin asking him to smuggle their children out before bone shards can be taken. As Lin struggles to retain her title and Jovis tries to find his wife, rebel forces gather to overthrow the emperor.
The book immediately pulls the reader into its world and into Lin’s current problem—trying to convince her dad she does remember things, at least enough to stay in competition with her foster brother. Multiple questions formed as soon as I began reading. What is shard magic? How does it work? What exactly is going on here? Why can’t Lin remember anything? Answers to these questions are slowly given in here and there, which frustrated me mostly because I wanted them right away but worked well to keep me moving forward. Even when the book ends, there will be many questions that remain unanswered along with new questions that arise, leaving readers aching for the next book—unfortunately that won’t be for a while.
There is much to like about the world Stewart has created.
Sex, for instance, doesn’t appear to be a barrier to ascending the throne nor is one’s sex viewed as a setback for different occupations. Women are not set into the traditional gender roles and are not viewed only as pawns to garner alliances with other nations or families. Lin can become the emperor and it is unlikely that this would be called into question simply because she is a woman. The emperor’s concern over Lin being named heir is not due to her sex but her memory.
Sexual orientation is not viewed negatively either. The book has an established same sex relationship and it is out in the open. People do not question it. It does not appear to serve as a barrier to holding office either. I liked that these are not specifically pointed out in the book but are just the norm. It was refreshing in this sense.
Stewart adds novel elements to make the old new again. Piecing parts of creatures to form constructs is a plot we’ve seen before like Frankenstein or The Island of Dr. Moreau—there’s probably newer stuff out there but these were the first two I thought of. Stewart’s twist on this is the bone shards that make up these constructs, particularly how they are collected and how the constructs receive their instructions. Shards are taken from children in a ceremony and commands are written on the shards when used to create constructs. It isn’t exactly clear whether shards are taken from all children or if those who are wealthy are exempt. There isn’t very much information given about how these constructs are animated either. Is it magic or is something else powering them to give them life?
While I did like the book, I expected the book to be about Lin and told from her point of view and was a bit disappointed when there were multiple perspectives, five to be exact—Lin and Jovis in first person and the rest in third person. With so many perspectives, less time is allotted to Lin and to finding more about her. Each chapter ends on a cliffhanger, again encouraging readers to continue reading to the end. Eventually about mid-way, I settled into the structure of the book but I would have liked more from Lin.
I found the emphasis in the book is not so much on the ethics of creating these constructs (to an extent, I think we are to assume it is); it is more about agency. Do these constructs have independent thought? Do they have free will? If they do, can they act on their free will? Should they be treated as more than constructs? If they are to be viewed as more than just a construct, what happens to the owners of those shards? Should the owners also have some opinion in the matter? I hope future books will delve into this some more.
I liked the book a lot and thought it to be an excellent debut. The book touches on themes of class inequality and agency that I hope will see more of in the later book(s). The novel kept me engrossed and I am ready for the next installment. I’m badly suffering from having so many questions that need answers.