The Bone Shard Daughter takes classic multiple-POV fantasy and breathes fresh air into it, offering a world of twisted magic and complex characters that had me racing to the final page!
Book: The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart
Read before: No
Ownership: Proof copy sent free of charge by Orbit Books. All opinions my own.
Release date: 8th September 2020
Content warnings: Magic system involves Frankensteining bones and body parts, for want of a better description; human and animal vivisection and experimentation; violence and injury, including on page stitches; child death; parental abuse/neglect.
I adored this book. Seriously, it blew me away! I approached it with some trepidation as a lot of the adult fantasy that I’ve been reading in the last couple of months has ended up not living up to its hype for me, and boy did this book get a lot of hype on Twitter. But as it turned out, it hooked me from the first chapter.
From the blurb, it’s really not clear that this has multiple viewpoint characters. I thought it was just going to be the story of Lin, the emperor’s daughter, fighting for her place as his heir and learning the secrets of the bone shard magic he uses – and I would have been thrilled with that. As you know, I love twisty, political court intrigue and a smart young woman out to snatch power, discover herself, and not get murdered, and Lin’s sections of the book deliver this admirably. The emperor’s court is deliciously dark, filled with the most bizarre reanimated creations made of sewn-together flesh and bone and magic, and I loved seeing Lin’s struggle with her missing memories and her jealous competition with Bayan, her cousin and the other potential heir to the empire. There are a lot of secrets hiding in the court, and I really looked forward to Lin’s chapters and slowly working out what was happening.
As well as Lin’s plotline, which I loved, there are a few other points of view. We have Phalue and Ranami, two young women in a relationship strained by their differences, who each have chapters. Phalue is the daughter of an island governor who doesn’t understand quite how corrupt the system is, and Ranami, a less priviliged citizen of the island who chafes against the disparity the governor perpetuates. These were probably my least favourite viewpoints, as their storyline seemed the most basic to me – the main conflict is whether Phalue, who talks the talk when it comes to wanting more equality between the island’s people, can bring herself to work against her father in order to make it happen. It’s valuable to both the book and to real life, and well drawn, but it feels like it’s a little more of a foregone conclusion than the other plotlines – there weren’t nearly as many twists or unknowns going on, which meant my mind wasn’t working as hard and the two characters felt a little detached from the rest of the story until quite far into the story. I really appreciated the inclusion of an established f/f relationship, though, and the way Phalue tries to balance her affection for her father with her dislike of the power he represents is an interesting foil to Lin’s darker relationship with the emotionally abusive emperor.
We also have a few chapters from the point of view of Sand, an amnesiac woman on a desert island – her chapters don’t seem to connect with the rest of the book at first, but after a while, the way she weaves in starts to become clearer, and it’s fascinating to watch as it is revealed. Her chapters are compelling because of the lack of information – they’re easy to overlook at first, but as you start to get an inkling of what’s going on from the other chapters, they become deeply unsettling to read. It’s very cleverly done, and I’m really excited to see if the second book does indeed bring what I think it’s going to.
My favourite of all the viewpoint characters, though, was Jovis. He’s a smuggler, and the only male POV character in the book, and I freely admit I rolled my eyes when he was introduced, firstly because I didn’t want to leave Lin’s perspective, and secondly because I didn’t think the book needed a man in the main cast! But he swiftly became the character I was most invested in – he is possibly the person who has the most character development, going from a man who only has one goal (to find his wife, snatched seven years ago in the night by a mysterious boat) to someone whose heart can’t help but get entangled in every cause going. He tries so hard to be ruthless, but he’s just too good a person, and nowhere is this better shown than in his relationship with Mephi, a kitten he rescues from drowning who turns out to be… well, no one knows, but definitely not a kitten! Jovis and Mephi’s dynamic really reminded me of Spellslinger‘s Kellen and Reichis, whom I really love, but a more adult, more wholesome pair (Mephi is not so much about eyeball eating!). I fell in love with both of them. It’s Jovis who functions as the needle that stitches all the different plot threads together, and his constant struggle to a) work out what the bigger picture is, and b) not to get killed along the way, makes him really easy to root for.
I honestly could rave about this book for hours, but probably not without spoiling some of the fantastic twists, so hit me up on Twitter if you want to chat about the amazing character development or just what is going on in that palace! This would be a great place to break into adult fantasy from YA – it shares a lot of its elements with traditional YA, from the wronged princess to the thief with a heart of gold, but elevates them to the next level. It’s got some dark elements – the magic, the governmental oppression, a lot of death, and a whole array of gaslighting and parental abuse – but it feels hopeful and light nevertheless. This is exactly the kind of fantasy I love. It’s twisty and full of weird magic and hugely complex interpersonal relationships, and it slowly builds from a bunch of seemingly disparate plots into one huge, world-changing tangle. It’s mind-blowingly brilliant, and I’m impatiently waiting for book two. Go preorder it right now. I think it might actually be this year’s rulebreaking TEN out of five cats!