THE BONE SHARD DAUGHTER by Andrea Stewart – READALONG Week 1
This year, the Wyrd and Wonder crew are hosting a read-along of Andrea Stewart’s The Bone Shard Daughter.
Nils, Beth and Filip will be joining in; for Beth and Filip, it’s a re-read and re-listen along, but for Nils it’s her first time reading Stewart’s epic debut. Which makes our whatsapp chats quite difficult…
We’ll be sticking to the following reaching schedule, and posting a weekly discussion of that week’s chapters every Sunday. Imyril will be doing the same on her blog, and everyone is welcome to join in! If you don’t have a blog, feel free to join in the conversation on Twitter, or you can check out the Goodreads topic!
- Week 1: Beginning through Chapter Eleven
- Week 2: Chapter Twelve – Twenty-three
- Week 3: Chapter Twenty-four – Thirty-five
- Week 4: Chapter Thirty-six to the end
SPOILERS AHEAD: This post is a book-club style discussion of the novel, rather than a review to tempt new readers in. We do discuss plot points, character motivations, and twists – if you have not read the book and do not want it spoiled, please do not read further! You can check out our reviews and interview with Andrea Stewart here instead.
The Sukai Dynasty has ruled the Phoenix Empire for over a century, their mastery of bone shard magic powering the monstrous constructs that maintain law and order. But now the emperor’s rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.
Lin is the Emperor’s daughter, but a mysterious illness has stolen her childhood memories and her status as heir to the empire. Trapped in a palace of locked doors and old secrets, Lin vows to reclaim her birthright by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.
But the mysteries behind such power are dark and deep, and wielding her family’s magic carries a great cost. When the revolution reaches the gates of the palace itself, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her throne – and save her people.
Week 1: Beginning – Ch. 11
Welcome to Stewart’s glorious world! What are our initial impressions?
Nils: BETH!!! Why did you not make me read this sooner?!! Eleven chapters in and I’m loving it!
Filip: *Cleans throat.* Oh, don’t mind me, it’s not like I YELLED ABOUT HOW GREAT IT WAS!!
Nils: Ah yes, sorry Filip, you had been shouting about this one for a while! Glad you’re enjoying the reread via audiobook!
Beth: I mean, I’m pretty sure I did? At some point somewhere?
Nils: Haha!! Okay, okay, it’s totally on me then!
So I’ve been on a bit of a high with fantasy books lately, I’ve been enjoying so many, and the opening of The Bone Shard Daughter certainly promises to be another fantastic read.
Immediately Stewart’s prose, characters and her worldbuilding hooked me into the story. The narrative begins with a shroud of mystery, within the opening chapters the first character we meet is Lin, and we quickly learn of her memory loss (an important theme which I can see will play a key role throughout) caused by a childhood sickness, but we know very little else. We see Lin was desperate to get hold of keys to unlock secret rooms within the palace, and along with her character I too wanted to discover what lay behind each door.
We learn that Jovis’ wife has disappeared, and so has Phalue’s lover, Ranami. Stewart throws us into the middle of these characters’ lives and as we read on she slowly drip feeds tiny pieces to the puzzle which either work to heighten the mystery further, or give us small amounts of revelation. This effectively kept me eagerly turning the pages wanting to know much more.
Filip: The way you’ve juxtaposed the disappearance of Jovis’ wife and Ranami’s gives me a new appreciation for the way Stewart presents these two disappearances and teases a similarity between them – now, we know by the end of chapter 11 that the case is not the same, but it’s a nice touch!
Beth: I hadn’t connected the two disappearances either!
I remember the first time reading this I got so swept up. I really feel it’s one of the strongest beginnings of a novel out there. Lin’s memory loss and fractured home life in which she must compete for keys to her own home, paired with this smuggler disguising himself as a soldier to find his missing wife… these are strangers, I’m only just meeting them, but by the end of chapter two I was already completely invested.
Nils: Exactly, we get wrapped up in their lives so quickly.
I was thoroughly impressed by Stewart’s attention to detail. For example in the first chapter with Lin, we are shown of her strained relationship with her father, of her own insecurities of not being good enough to be her father’s heir, and her need to prove her worth. When we meet Jovis, we instantly get a sense of his loneliness, of the deep longing he has to be reunited with his wife. The tone was poignant, it spoke of loss and regret for both of these characters and in turn it made me feel for these characters right from the onset.
Beth: BRILLIANT points Nils. I loved Stewart’s skill at the show not tell, but also her ability to make you connect and feel for these characters, without her prose actually reading like it’s very emotional or prosaic or purple.
Nils: I also have to admire Stewart’s bold choice of narration. Honestly speaking, I never thought multiple first person narration could work, I expected to be confused by who each character was, to find it jarring whenever we switched POV, but I needn’t have feared. Both Lin and Jovis’ POV are nuanced enough for me to recognise who they are. I’m so pleased to be proven wrong! Even then with Sand, Phalue and Ranami who, as Filip reminded me, have a third person narration, each have their individual stories, they are all set on separate paths, almost all the characters are actually on separate islands too, so I never found myself mixing them up.
Beth: First person narration is my favourite, but I get what you mean about multiple POVs and how the voices need to be distinct for it to work. Thankfully, Stewart has managed to capture a different tone for each of her five POVs, whether in first or third person narrative. The blend of the two different narratives is so smooth.
Do we have a character we’re particularly drawn to so far?
Nils: Definitely Jovis for me! I found myself most invested in his story arc, I felt such emotion seeping from his chapters, I truly began to care for him, and I almost instantly became caught up in what had happened to his wife – was she really missing or had she left him? Is he pursuing her in vain? Gosh, I hope not! We explore much of Deerhead Island through his character too, and when the earthquake hits and he’s tasked with rescuing the young boy Alon, things become tense and I found myself eager to get back to his chapters whenever we switched POV. Not to mention in later chapters he has MEPHI with him, who is the most adorable, fascinating little creature! More Mephi please!
I also felt drawn to Lin’s character, her determination to explore the palace, to learn its secrets and to best her foster brother Bayan was something which really intrigued me. I’m curious about Bayan too? What’s his game?
Filip: Oh, Nils, you’ll have a field day with it!
Beth: On my first read, Lin was definitely my favourite. That feeling you have of wanting to get back to Jovis’ chapters was how I felt about her, I needed to know what was going on in that palace.
This time round, I’m finding myself appreciating Jovis’ chapters more. I loved him the first time round, his humour through his heart break, his reluctance to help and his inability to do anything but. However this time round his chapters are the ones I’m most enjoying being back in. Not least for Mephi of course. When he puts his paws together and looks “like a worried auntie” I felt myself squishing up, unable to control the “aaaaaaaaw”.
Nils: Oh my god, Mephi’s little gestures!! *squee*
Beth: I think Phalue and Ranami are more complicated characters; Lin and Jovis hook you in for their mysteries, but Phalue and Ranami offer a perspective of the Rebellion that in turn is affecting Lin and Jovis. Their relationship is complex and raises plenty of thought-provoking moments and commentaries on social responsibility, social classes, the ideals of rebellions…
Nils: Really good point, Beth. Phalue and Ranami show us the conflicting sides of privilege and poverty.
Filip: It’s only the first few chapters, too–Stewart digs much deeper into this one dominant difference between the two lovers.
The magic system is pretty unique, what’s our first impressions of it?
Nils: If you know me, you’ll know I love a good mysterious, complex magic system – hello Sanderson! So it won’t be a surprise that I absolutely adore the magic system which Stewart has presented in these opening chapters.
Beth: It’s so unique isn’t it! Almost always these days when I read a new magic system I can think “oh, it’s a bit like such and such”. But there’s nothing out there like the constructs powered by shards of bone.
Nils: Absolutely, I can’t really compare it to anything I’ve come across.
The concept is that shards of bone, taken from behind the ears of young children during the Tithing Festival, are then used to create constructs, I’d say they’re like mutated sentient creatures? Constructed monsters?
Beth: It made me think of robots Nils. When they started talking about writing commands on the bones, and it’s these commands the constructs follow, and the way in which Lin looked for loopholes and contradictions in the commands… it reminded me a lot of software development and AIs.
Filip: There are definitely more than a few moments which play around with Asimovian “Three Laws of Robotics” concepts — one example would be Lin considering which of the two of her father’s commands takes precedence within the
Nils: I never thought about that Beth, but yeah I guess they are rather like computerised robots.
From the small sections we see of Bayan trying to make a construct we see it’s no easy task, the constructs have their limitations and have to be given a series of commands to function, so they each have their own purpose. Then Stewart reveals the consequences to the use of Bone Shards – which is something that’s always important to me, magic which comes at a cost – when the shards are used they slowly drain the life of whoever the bone belonged to, a disease known as Shard-Sickness. I loved the way this instantly created a conflict, obviously the general population of each island feel this is an abhorrent unnecessary ritual, they never see how these constructs are used to protect them. I feel there is so much more to come and I’m very curious to discover more.
Beth: This is one of my ticks too – that whole dystopian narrative of “we are doing this Bad Thing for your own best interest” and you get that feeling that it’s absolutely definitely not in their best interest. You begin to question the myths and traditions they operate upon, like how much of this have they been fed to shut them up?
Nils: Yes, it feels as though there are more sinister reasons for the use of these constructs rather than ‘for the good of the empire’
Another point I’d like to make was how deliciously creepy the constructs were:
The construct looked like nothing so much as a giant spider, dark brown and glistening, as tall as my chest when it stood to attention. Human hands were attached to the end of its spindly legs, and an old woman’s face adorned the abdomen. I wanted to look away from the creature but always, inevitably, found my gaze tracking its every movement even as my spine prickled.
How beautifully atmospheric is this description?! *shudders*
How about the world building?
Nils: Well first of all I love that the book is set on various islands, I find that such a refreshing change. So far we’ve seen glimpses mostly of Imperial Island, where Lin resides, and Deerhead Island where we meet Jovis. They both seem to be contrasted in the way the Imperial Island seems rather well developed and prosperous, whereas Deerhead felt rather rustic.
Beth: Yes! And yet it one of the richer islands – says a lot about the state of things, doesn’t it!
Nils: It does… it says a lot about the Emperor’s rule.
My favourite scene so far was the collapse of Deerhead, what had caused the island to suddenly sink? Would Jovis and Alon escape in time? Could anyone survive that level of destruction? As you can see my intrigue peaked. We then learn from Jovis that the Islands migrate according to the seasons and this concept made me immensely excited. I’m looking forward to discovering more details.
Beth: It really made me think of Pacific islands and the destruction meted out upon them by the Pacific ring of fire – volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis. What I found heart-breaking was when Lin discovered her father’s response to the disaster was to have Bayan check the shards to see which ones still worked. Again, it was very much a “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” moment.
Nils: Oh yes, that moment stuck in my mind too. Shows where the Emperor’s priorities lie.
What do we make of Lin’s motivations? How much do you think she’s driven by a desire to save her Empire, and how much do you think her motivations are more selfish than that?
Nils: I think Lin’s motives are shades of both. I feel that she does have a genuine concern for the well-being of the Empire, she does believe she could help protect her people better than her father, but she also has this strong desire to prove her own worth, and even to earn her father’s love, which I find rather sad.
Was there a time when this man stroked my hair and kissed my forehead? Had he loved me before I’d forgotten, when I’d been whole and unbroken?
Beth: Yes! Her trauma resonates from the page.
Nils: I don’t feel that wanting to feel worthy is a selfish act in itself, it’s something many of us can relate to. There’s nothing wrong in wanting someone’s love, in wanting to feel whole. Her rivalry with her foster brother may seem borne of childish jealousy but personally I think under the surface it’s again mostly motivated by a lack of parental affection. Let’s not forget she has already lost her mother, has been denied even memories of her, it’s not surprising she strives so hard to regain her memories, to learn the secrets of Bone Shard magic and even to become her father’s heir. In proving her usefulness, to the Empire as well as her father, she would be also gaining a measure of control of a life she’s had very little control over so far.
Beth: I think Stewart’s presentation of Lin’s motives is quite clever; it’s easy to focus on the surface of her rivalry with Bayan and her desire to get more keys to unlock more rooms, and the lengths she’ll go to, to get more keys. But you’re right, filtering through that is the desire to prove herself, to be “whole”, to earn love, to find herself. And gradually as I got further into these opening chapters, I felt an anger from her towards her father: “It had been five days since the news about the island, and this was what my father worked on? No matter how complex his four tier-one constructs were, they couldn’t run an Empire.”
Filip: Lin is deeply motivated by a sense of duty towards the people of the Empire–we can see that very clearly whenever she interacts with the locksmith. Those scenes are a tug of war between her selfish drive, so underlined by her father’s lessons, and the common decency and responsibility Lin feels towards the sovereign’s subjects.
Beth: Her moments with the locksmith are so poignant, not least because he misinterprets so much of what she says. I feel like she’s so isolated, and there’s literally no-one who understands her or is on her side.
Jovis has a habit of telling lies to himself when faced with truths he doesn’t want to or currently can’t face. As a first person narrator, how reliable do you feel this makes him?
Nils: I kind of really like this character-trait, and we can usually tell when he’s lying to himself as it’s either italicised or he admits the lie as soon as he’s said it.
Beth: I think that’s definitely the important thing to take away here – that he admits it to himself. He knows he’s trying to fool himself. Like he’s operating on, powered by, these false narratives.
Nils: It’s almost like it’s his natural instinct to lie, and he knows this.
I like the inner monologues we get from Jovis, it adds some personality to his character and it is where we see his true self, but then again is it his true self or does a part of him believe his own lies too? I guess for now he largely is an unreliable narrator, we don’t know enough about him to be sure, but we’ll see as we read on how unreliable he turns out to be.
Beth: There’s a lot of conflict with him, isn’t there? He sees himself as this smuggler, as someone cold who hasn’t even contacted his mother, as someone who is driven to finding his wife above all else and damn the consequences. But he can’t say no to helping the auntie. And the sinking of the island shook him to his marrow. And he scooped up the kitten from the water. And there’s always something he tells himself he doesn’t need to do, but a higher calling within him guides his hand.
I’d done a good deal of terrible things in the name of finding Emahla; even so, there were lines I didn’t cross, even when I’d first been at my most desperate. Otherwise, how could I ever face her again?
Nils: Beautiful quote. It really sums up his character.
Emahla was a string in my heart that fate couldn’t seem to stop tugging
Nils: Beth, I love that quote! *sobs*
Here’s another one from Jovis which I loved:
One more life saved. It was pittance, unutterably small against the scale of lives lost. But it was there. And one life certainly made a difference to the one living it.
Filip: Nils! This is the exact quote I relistened to a couple of times as I was scribbling it for this section a few days ago!!! It’s such a powerful utterance (and delivered fantastically well in the audiobook by Feodor Chin!)
Nils: What a coincidence, we both loved the same quote! It really is beautifully put.
I felt splinters beneath my fingernails. “I can’t… I can’t keep doing this.”
It’s not much of a quote particularly but I just wanted to draw attention to this moment with Jovis because God, it really made me pause and my heart broke just a little for him. Stewart presents this moment in such a simple way, yet there’s something about it that’s so sombre, I can feel Jovis’ weariness deep down. What he wants is a simple thing – he just wants his wife back – and yet it’s an all-encompassing impossible thing and you feel the weight of it here.
We hope you enjoyed our first discussion – safe to say the opening of the novel was a big hit!