Sunday, August 23, 2020

Review: THE BONE SHARD DAUGHTER by Andrea Stewart

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

The Bone Shard Daughter is a fun, new debut fantasy with a richly imagined setting and a unique magic system. On Imperial Island, one of many islands of the Empire, the Emperor’s rule is failing, yet he refuses to give up the throne to either of his children, still claiming absolute power. Outside the palace gates, however, a rebellion is spreading as citizens are dissatisfied with his tyrannical rule and his style of governing. In this book, we get to see snippets of this revolution from the eyes of a few different groups across the land who are planning to overthrow the Empire. 

We have five points of view here:
Lin, 23, the daughter of the Emperor, trying to earn her father’s respect and prove her worth to become the next heir to the Empire while also secretly practicing the forbidden art of bone shard magic.
Jovis, a smuggler who escaped from the sinking of Deerhead Island. In between time spent looking for his lover who has been lost for seven years, he smuggles children away from the Emperor’s trepanning rituals. Jovis has an animal companion of sorts named Mephi who aids him on his journey.
Phalue, the daughter of Nephilanu Island’s governor and next in line to be governor. 
Ranami, a girl who grew up on the streets, is a member of the Shardless Few, and is Phalue’s lover.
Sand, a girl on Maila Isle, trying to uncover her lost memories. 

Even though we have five POVs, the story is mostly about Lin, as she is who the title is referring to, and Jovis. I never felt like I really got to know any of the other characters very well during the entire story. I feel like this book was just a snapshot into each of their lives but we didn’t go very deep with any of them, aside from Lin and Jovis. I do hope future installments will remedy this though, as this book set up for some interesting situations to occur later on involving each of the POV characters. 

I did struggle to differentiate between Ranami and Phalue as I felt like their voices were very similar despite them being from completely different backgrounds. Even though they have an established relationship in this book, The Bone Shard Daughter is not romantic at all. The relationship exists and that’s about the extent of the book’s romance. I like romance sub-plots in books, but I also really enjoyed the story here without it. To be honest, it has been a while since I read a fantasy that didn’t have a romance as a main part of the story and it was really refreshing. 

The magic system in this book was my favorite part of the story. Even though the Emperor is the only one allowed to practice bone shard magic, all the citizens know of it and see its effects every day. Every child has to undergo a trepanning ritual as a tax to the Emperor, in which a bone shard is removed from behind their right ear and stored for future use. The Emperor uses these shards to create constructs—beasts created from pieces of dead animals sewn together and reanimated with magic. Commands are etched into the bone shards and placed inside the constructs, who then roam the Empire gathering information for him as his guards and spies. When someone’s bone shard is in use, the person who it belongs to can feel the effects of it, and it can even cause someone to become shard-sick and eventually die. I found the explanations surrounding the magic and what can be done with it really fascinating.

The pacing in The Bone Shard Daughter was really well done in my opinion. Almost every chapter left me wanting more from that character, and I never felt like any scenes were boring. There were parts of the story and some characters’ POVs that I just wasn’t as interested in, but nothing that made me feel like any part of the book was dragging on too long. 

For the first three-fourths of the story, my feelings were rather indifferent.  I liked it—but it didn’t wow me. It held my attention the entire time but it didn’t go above and beyond. I expected to love it, especially since the concept of bone shard magic is really interesting to me, but it felt like there was hardly any magic present at times; the bone shards were mentioned in passing, but we didn’t see the magic in action too often, which was a little disappointing. Plus, I was a little confused about some aspects of the plot and historical background that I won’t mention for the sake of spoilers but that left me feeling somewhat distanced from the story. 

Then, however, my outlook completely changed about 80% of the way through the book. Up until that point, the story was fine, but it seemed just average to me. But then something happened with the plot that I thought I expected the outcome of but I was completely blindsided by the reality of it, and it made me so much more invested in the book. I flew through the end, whereas I had merely been meandering through the beginning and the middle. I was feeling rather nonchalant about the story almost the entire time I was reading it, but after that last quarter, I’m now a fan. For most of the book, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read the sequels or not, but after that ending, I can now safely say that I am eagerly anticipating the next installment. 

I loved that this was a clean fantasy. I’m always on the hunt for fantasy books with unique magic systems, descriptive settings, engaging plotlines, and realistic characters, but without so much violence (I don’t like reading action scenes), and that’s exactly how this book was. There was no swearing or dirty talk here either, which I really appreciated. This is definitely a book I’d recommend to readers looking for a fantasy story more involved that what one would normally find in young adult titles but is wary of the grittiness and violence that is prevalent in many of the adult titles nowadays. This has all the intricacies that you’d expect from an adult fantasy, but it would still be good for younger or more sensitive readers. There’s still death and other sad scenes in this book, but it’s not overly gory or descriptive. 

One major complaint I had: this book desperately needs a map. I know that it’s very likely that the finished edition will have one, so I can’t fault the book for that since I read an early copy, but this is a story that relies on the reader knowing the placement of the islands in the Empire in relation to each other. I was constantly itching to reference a map that wasn’t there, so I’m looking forward to seeing what it will look like once the book is published. 

The Bone Shard Daughter is hard for me to rate because most of it was three stars for me—I liked it but I wasn’t wowed—but parts of the middle were two stars, when I thought it was just okay but nothing special, and parts of the end were four and even five stars, when the reveals started happening and I started getting more invested in the characters and their journeys and really started enjoying the book. I’m going with three, maybe 3.5, stars since that is the average of my feelings, but don’t look at that as a bad rating. This is still a fantastic debut that I would definitely recommend. 

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