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Review: The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

Review: The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

‘In an empire controlled by bone shard magic, Lin, the former heir to the emperor will fight to reclaim her magic and her place on the throne.

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.’

Between work and my laptop quite literally melting down few weeks ago (hello, melted components), it’s been a while since I’ve been able to sit down and write a review, and I’m glad to be writing about Andrea Stewart’s ‘The Bone Shard Daughter’ today! The story follows Lin and a varied cast of point of view characters to build a world with a good deal of dark goings-on, much of which can be linked back to the emperor’s hold on his subjects and his quite literal hold on their lives.

For the purposes of this review, I’m going to be sticking with Lin’s point of view and what the reader learns of the world through her eyes. If I were to pick the points of view that I enjoyed the most, I would have to choose hers, along with Phalue and Ranami, but I can honestly say that the use of so many characters with their own, clearly defined, narrative threads works well in this novel, as does the switching from first person to third person narrative. I’ve mentioned before that I tend not to be a big fan of books that switch from character to character all too often, but the fact is that The Bone Shard Daughter doesn’t include any point of view simply for the sake of it, but to demonstrate the impact on the world of the emperor’s decisions and the consequences of others’ choices, knitting their various plotlines together in a manner that manages to avoid being jarring (which is generally my biggest issue with frequent PoV shifts). This said, I have to admit that not all of the PoV characters held my attention equally, but I can appreciate the need for each of them.

Lin lives in a world that truly isn’t one. She’s largely limited to a solitary life within the palace walls, where she has so little information about herself and what lies beyond the palace that she struggles to understand the motives of those around her and what her purpose in life truly is. Having lost much of her memories and suffering through interrogation about what she cannot remember, she battles with her father’s judgement that she’s internalised – that she is broken – and a determination to prove precisely otherwise and claim her position as heir to the throne. Faced with the prospect of the throne passing to the boy her father has adopted, her focus becomes reclaiming more of herself than him (for he too suffers with memory loss) and learning all that her father has repeatedly refuse to instruct her in. Namely, the bone shard magic that maintains the constructs that work in the palace and maintain functions in the world beyond. It is easy to feel sympathy for Lin, who spends her life faced with the disappointment of a father who doesn’t bother to temper his behaviour towards her, sharing all too often how frustrating and lacking he finds her, while clearly favouring another as his heir. Lin has no-one to turn to and, it would seem, no-one who truly cares for her, her existence a lonely one that leaves her fending for herself both in terms of the investigation she conducts and emotional support. Having gained glimpses of what those beyond the palace grounds are suffering because of her father, her motivations are not entirely selfish, but it’s also difficult to describe her actions as for the good of others. If nothing else, Lin wants to learn so that she cannot be discarded and passed over for someone else – and because she wants to understand what has happened to her and why.

The concept of bone shard magic is one of the most intriguing I’ve seen in a long time – and I read a lot of fantasy! What it entails is shards being harvested from the general population in a ceremony when they are children; one that can cause irreparable damage and death from the outset or mean a slow and painful death when an individual’s shard is put to use powering one of the emperor’s constructs. The shards are inscribed with a series of commands in a system a little like computer programming, using if/when variables and other sequences that work together to create a distinct personality and purpose in the more complex constructs that require multiple shards, or more simple functions in those with fewer. It’s this that Lin attempts to learn over the course of the novel, determined that she will be in a position to control the constructs, particularly because she needs them as it becomes more and more apparent that her father isn’t going to tell her even half of everything that she wishes to know.

All in all, The Bone Shard Daughter is an enjoyable read with some of the most effective twists and turns that I’ve seen executed. There are a few gaps in the narrative that are glossed over and that I hope are revisited in more depth in future instalments, but the world remains unique, convincing and well put together in a fashion that makes it easily believable and immersive. I look forward to the next book! Thank you, Orbit Books, for sending me a copy!