THE BONE SHARD DAUGHTER by Andrea Stewart – READALONG Week 2
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 : Ch12 – Ch. 23
This week’s questions by Beth and Imyril
We completely failed to talk about Mephi last week!
Nils: WHAT?! How very dare we!
Filip: Not good.
Beth: A very not good
How much of a surprise did he come to you?
Nils: Mephi definitely came as a surprise to me, I mean I knew Andrea Stewart had included an animal companion, I roughly knew he’d be cute and I’d love him from hearing you talk about him Beth, yet I had no idea how unique of a creature he’d be.
Beth: Mephi is a tricky character to talk about to people who haven’t read the book. I really felt limited to “he’s an animal companion! But he’s *really* special and.. I love him… and… god just read it okay?”. How can you even begin to convey him??
Nils: That’s very true! He’s described as having traits of a cat/otter with horns, which is bizarre and awesome in itself, but then Stewart threw in some magical powers of which Mephi could use, for example to blow wind on the sail of Jovis’ boat to make it go faster, or to give Jovis’ extra human strength and fast healing. Who doesn’t love a fantastical creature like that?!
What kind of creature is Mephi? Where do his powers come from and how do they work? Once again Stewart has my undivided attention, I’m eager to discover the answers, whether that be in this book or the next.
Filip: Mephi is what we in the trope business like to call a mixture of the ol’ Bond Creature and Morality Pet. The more we delve into the novel, the further his bond with Jovis deepens, the more magical shenanigans we witness! And Nils, you’ll love the shenanigans in store! “Yeah, Filip, but” I hear legions of readers exclaim, “What about that whole more-alley-tie thing you mentioned?” It’s morality, reader, pardon my accent – bad jokes aside, Jovis is a man who has spent years of his life with a singular obsession, to chase down the boat with the blue sails. He is a decent man, but that kind of obsession tends to twist you up until conscience’s voice is drowned out. Enter Mephi, who has an intuitive understanding of right and wrong, whose role becomes that of guide away from Jovis’s obsession and towards a deeper regard for those in need of his help.
Nils: Excellent point, Filip! Mephi really becomes Jovis’ moral compass.
Beth: *nods sagely along with Filip* yep, uh huh, conscience guide, yep also OMG WHEN HE PATS JOVIS WITH HIS ICKLE PAWS AND STARTS TO SPEAK AND *dies*
Nils: I KNOW! Too adorable!
Beth: It’s the love Mephi displays too, that’s what absolutely gets me. Jovis is his chosen one, and his little gestures of concern and reassurance and affection, they just absolutely get me. Especially when I start to think about just how lonely Jovis has been, the little hints at how desperate and bleak he sometimes feels that slip out…
Our readalong opens with Jovis lamenting over his choice to put Mephi above chasing the boat and finding Emahla. Do you think he really had a choice here?
Nils: I can immediately sense it was a hard choice for Jovis, I mean his sole purpose from the beginning has been to find Emahla, yet at every turn something has waylaid him, whether that be rescuing children from the Tithing Festival or dealing with the Ioph Carn pursuers. I absolutely adored the flashback scene where Jovis remembers the first time his and Emahla’s relationship progressed from friendship to something more romantic:
“I always knew we could laugh together, that we could do fun things. But I never thought I could tell you what was in my heart, to share pain and disappointment and to have you cup that in your hands. To breathe back your own sorrow.”
This scene was held with so much heartache, so much longing, it shows that Jovis’ decision could have gone either way. Yet, as Beth has mentioned, you can also see Mephi and Jovis’ bond growing, Mephi’s presence begins to quell his loneliness, they become friends, and I don’t think losing Mephi would have been something that Jovis could put on his conscience. Deep down to his core Jovis is fundamentally a decent man, no matter the cost to himself, he will do the right thing, and the right thing was to put Mephi’s well-being above his own desires.
Beth: I think he knew, to a certain degree, that it would be hopeless too. I think he knows deep down that there’s no way Emahla is on that boat, there’s no way he catch up to it; and even if he did, how would he get the sailor to tell him about Emahla or take him to her? I think he uses Mephi as an excuse not to face just how hopeless his mission often is. And again, he can berate himself for “choosing” to spare Mephi, and he can marvel at the pull this creature has on him, but there was never any hope of him catching the boat so it’s something of a moot point. It’s almost like the lies he tells himself – like this is a lie he doesn’t notice telling himself.
Nils: That’s a great point, Beth. I hadn’t really considered that, but I’m starting to see it now.
Lin’s description of the palace paints a picture of a place falling into disuse – a spotless ruin. The halls are full of constructs performing jobs and filling roles of people. Any theories as to why the Emperor has replaced all the people in the palace?
Nils: I think the Emperor is fully aware of threats, and rebellion within the empire. I believe he knows his rule hangs by a thread and what better way to control and have ultimate protection within his palace than have a horde of constructs who never tire, and can never betray because their very existence is to serve you.
Beth: Ah this is an interesting take on it Nils! I hadn’t considered it from this angle.
Nils: They are literally conditioned by commands etched onto Bone Shards, so they can only do as the shard instructs them to, and the Emperor guards the bone shard magic closely to himself, Bayan and now secretly Lin is learning it too, but nevertheless the risk of corruption is very low. Servants and palace staff can betray, machinery can’t.
I also think the reason for the use of constructs throughout the various islands is a ploy for ultimate control too. These constructs must be a sore sight to look at with them being mutated animals hideously merged together, the people must fear them, and I can see this being an effective way of keeping order.
Beth: That’s certainly the case later when Lin is sharing a meal with the Smith’s family and a construct turns up, they all seem horrified by them. It seems less because they’re mutated animals and more because it’s part of them that powers them?
Nils: Ah yes! I remember one of Numeen’s children, or his brother, touches the scar where his shard was taken as soon as he sees the spy constructs. So yes, that’s definitely a major reason for their fear.
Beth: You can’t really blame them D:
Nils: Perhaps also the Emperor is downplaying the threat of the Alanga, he denies their return but something’s brewing there… the Alanga are being mentioned far too often so I’m expecting them to turn up pretty soon, or as a cliffhanger… so maybe instead of fixing the Imperial palace, or housing people in the unused buildings, or repairing the streets and the empire, the Emperor is instead secretly preparing for war, or an alliance?
Beth: See this is closer to where my train of thought was going – I was suspicious of the Emperor. I was wondering why there are so many locked rooms and why people weren’t allowed in the palace. It made me wonder if he was hiding something.
Jovis has begun to show strange new strengths since escaping Deerhead Island. What do you think is going on? (Imyril)
Nils: I have a theory about this… could Jovis have caused the destruction on Deerhead island? Was his powers manifesting then? Perhaps fuelled by Mephi already being somewhere nearby? I could be completely wrong here, but it’ll be so tragic if I’m right. I don’t think Jovis will be able to live with the guilt of killing all those people.
Filip: I think Mephi’s appearance was a result of the destruction rather than the cause of it. If I had to guess, Jovis’s powers are tied to his bond with Mephi – the further it deepens, the greater his strength, the more abilities he might gain in the long run.
Nils: Ooh, I like that theory Filip! I also really like his powers though, it’s filled with a lot of mystery which I’m enjoying puzzling out, and enjoying watching Jovis explore what his limitations are. It’s so cool he can stamp his foot and make whole rooms tremble!
Beth: I loved when Jovis questioned Mephi if it was his doing and Mephi was just like “perhaps” – you didn’t seem to like that answer though Nils! I was picturing that Frodo and Gandalf meme, with Jovis replying “fine, keep your secrets!”
Nils: Haha! That meme is perfect! Oh yeah, when Mephi said “perhaps” I thought he was being a bit sinister, a bit creepy. But reading on, it’s merely that Mephi doesn’t understand what’s happening either.
Beth: I’m happy going along with it and attributing it all to Mephi, it’s the effect it’s having on Jovis himself that’s fascinating me:
“Back in that drinking hall, among the ruin I’d made of the Ioph Carn, and their awed faces, I’d felt larger than I actually was. A sparrow who’d mistook himself for an eagle.”
He’s always made more of his ability to smooth talk his way out of situations, he’s always been upfront about not being a fighter and not being strong, so it’s interesting seeing him try to adapt to this. And also, importantly, he doesn’t try to kill anyone. Everything he does he’s trying to stun or put off guard or knock out temporarily. He doesn’t get sword made, he has a staff. There are all these little nudges towards the fact that, despite his attempt to the contrary, he isn’t a bad person.
What is your understanding of witstone, and the strange effect it has on Mephi? (Imyril)
Nils: I’m actually a bit confused about what witstone is and how it helps to fuel things like boats. Beth or Filip can you help clarify it please? Or at this point am I not meant to know anything about it?
Filip: I think of it as magical coal, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to end up having some relation to the Alanga. This is just speculation on my part, but it’s either connected to that ; I also have a theory that creatures of Mephi’s kind, bound with humans, make for Alanga?
Nils: oh that’s an interesting theory Filip, what makes you think of that connection?
Filip: I don’t believe in coincidences, Nils. The Alanga statues awaken only a few precious months before our adorable sea serpent kitten appears on the scene? Nuh-uh, I say thee nay, madam! Some of this is motivated by the purest conjecture, mind, and I am absolutely willing to accept the possibility that I’m way off the mark. There are a few other events later in the book which lead me to this line of thinking but nothing definitive, note – so no spoilers here!
Nils: It’ll be interesting to see if you’re right!
Beth: I don’t know if I rushed the middle to ending sections the first time round, but the rest of the book is actually a bit blurry and I genuinely can’t remember if it ever gets explained. “Magical coal” is excellent though, that’s exactly how I imagine it too. In my imagination, it’s some kind of white, chalky substance (I don’t know why it’s chalky) that is mined from the ground and burned to create wind. I have no idea why it affects Mephi so badly, but considering he can also make wind, I’m not sure if there’s a connection?
Nils: Ah ok, magical coal is something I will think of it as then, and that would explain why it powers the boats. And I guess it would also explain why the Emperor wants the monopoly on it, if it’s something magical as well as their main source of fuel.
Beth: I mean yeah, controlling the fuel will always ensure your soldiers can out-maneuver anyone else!
Filip: That it affects Mephi as badly as it does is why I think it’s something strange and icky, like dead sea serpent bone. It’s sure to be something icky like that, mark my words!
Lin attends two rather different – and rather awkward – family dinners. Why do you think her father invited her to eat with him? What do you make of Bayan now? (Imyril)
Nils: Oh I loved the two contrasting dinner scenes! I know both ended in a bit of a disaster, but Andrea Stewart really showed what kind of cold environment Lin was living in within the palace, she may have been surrounded by luxury but there was very little warmth. Whereas Numeen, who had only known Lin a short time, had been far more welcoming and his family were far better role models.
“Children often learned their trade from one of their parents, or at times from a close and trusted friend. But knowledge was meant to be shared, one generation to the next. Instead my father locked it away from me, guarding it more jealously than he did the piles of whitstone in his storeroom.”
Beth: Yes! It was such a clever contrast. I couldn’t help but think of the wealth of the Emperor but how it clearly doesn’t buy love, and compared to Numeen in that regard, Lin is very poor indeed.
Nils: Exactly! Although perhaps when the Emperor invited Lin to dinner it was because he genuinely wanted her company, after all he did make a point of commenting how she had missed quite a few of the dinners before. So I think underneath the Emperor does still care for her. I can’t quite see an ulterior motive, unless the Emperor was suspicious and wanted to see if he could find out what Lin was up to?
Beth: He still needs to train her and test her on her memories?
Filip: I agree, Beth, the old man is looking to “train his pet,” to extend a metaphor Lin herself uses in Chapter 18. He is such a cold, calculating man – there’s an element of control there, and the constant testing of his heirs as if they were tools doesn’t, frankly, make for the most healthy environment for a growing kid.
Nor does the beating.
Nils: Oh god, that was really brutal of him.
And yes, it could have been for that reason too, Beth. Good point. He did start grilling her about her memories during that meal. He certainly didn’t call Lin and Bayan to dinner to discuss politics though, seen as though he so blatantly brushed away the warnings of his high constructs.
Beth: Again, more evidence that he seems less and less capable of actually ruling this Empire. Who does rule it? The Emperor? Or his constructs?
Nils: Another good point. Who is actually looking after the empire’s well-being? And again why is the Emperor downplaying all these threats?
Filip: I think that’s where a lot of Lin’s frustration is coming from – she cares, truly, about the Empire. The Emperor…only cares about his experiments. We’ll have to wait and see whether that’s justified in…two weeks, if I’m not mistaken.
Nils: As for Bayan, I was quite worried for him when the Emperor turned his wrath on him. I’m glad Lin stepped in to remove the attention from him. I can see those two working together more often, as they both showed in the scene with the juniper cloud tree, they both only want to survive.
Beth: It was certainly an eye opener for Lin, wasn’t it! Something that struck me in her dinner with Numeen, was the fact that there were aspects of the family dynamics she was familiar with. Her recognition of that, and the fact she acknowledges it strange for her to know how to behave in that situation; this all struck a very strong suspicion-claxon in my mind.
Filip: There’s really no reason for their adversity, other than an old man’s delusions – I think the Emperor’s sick logic is basically, “Pitting them against one another will produce the strongest possible heir.”
What do you make of the rebel plan and the deal they offer Jovis? Do you trust them to deliver what they’ve promised? How do you think Phalue will react to their plan? (Imyril)
Nils: I really dislike the way the Shardless Few are using Jovis. I agree with their premise, rescuing children from the Tithing Festival, giving Caro nuts to the sick and poor farmers, is absolutely the right thing to do, but dangling a promise of information on the boat which Jovis is so desperately trying to find as bribery to manipulate him feels incredibly wrong.
Beth: Just, everything about Jovis breaks my heart. Why can’t people please just be fucking nice to him already.
Nils: Yes exactly!! Stop hurting our Jovis you monsters!
I also don’t trust the Shardless Few to keep their word either, as Gio himself states, Jovis’ powers are far too useful to let him go.
Beth: It very much feels like he’s walking into another Ioph Carn type situation, doesn’t it.
Filip: Gio’s got an agenda all his own and it’s so obvious he’s working an angle with every one of our protagonists on the island – using Ranami’s idealism to get access to her lover and destabilize the island. I hope we’ll see more factions among the Shardless Few – as is, it’s kind of a monolithic organization under Gio, isn’t it?
Oh gosh, I just had a thought — what if it turns out the Shardless Few have ties with the Ioph Carn? (I am doing some wild theorycrafting today, I know, but it’s fun to consider!)
Before we finish up for the week, what do we make of the contrast between Phalue and Ranami?
Beth: I think chapter 19 really highlighted the contrasts between the two characters, just how wide a gulf there is between their social standings and life experiences. I definitely felt frustrated with Phalue in this chapter and her apparent inability to understand Ranami, to see the issues laid out before her. Coming from a working class background myself, her attitude was one I’ve witnessed first hand.
Nils: I have to admit, I think at this point Phalue is my least favourite character. She reminds me of the kind of people who don’t like paying taxes for the NHS because they’ve never had to use it themselves because they’re healthy.
Beth: Yes Nils! Exactly! It’s a soap box I’ll happily preach from for hours, the inability of some members of the wealthier classes to understand or empathise with the experiences of others who don’t have the resources or means available to them.
Nils: Absolutely. And those are the kind of people who instantly wind me up, so I get quite frustrated with Phalue’s views. I think Andrea Stewart fully intended for this though, and that we will see some character growth from both Phalue and Ranami as the series goes on.
Filip: I agree, Nils.
Beth: I was a bit concerned that Phalue is only trying to placate Ranami at this point though? That she still doesn’t quite understand, but wants to keep Ranami safe and happy so will go along with it. I don’t think she’s actually learned anything yet, has she.
Nils: Yes, that’s a good point, Phalue’s only motive to help the farmers at this point is to please Ranami. But then Ranami isn’t perfect either as she manipulates Phalue, and then manipulates Jovis too.
Beth: Yeah… I get the need to help the farmers, and desperate times may sometimes call for desperate measures, but it raises the question of whether the ends justify the means? Like, no matter how good your intentions and how many people you’re going to help and save, there are going to be people hurt along the way.
Nils: I’m just grumpy because she’s hurting our bae, Beth!!
“And I would show him even broken daughters could wield power.”
Nils: I shouted YES LIN at that quote too! I also loved this one by Lin:
“I was Lin. I was the Emperor’s daughter. But still, I was sorry.”
And this one from Jovis, which makes a very valid point about the rebels who believe they are the saviours:
“The Empire was established to save those people from the Alanga. The Shardless Few is trying to save those people from the Empire. Who, after, will save the people from the Shardless.”
Beth: That’s a fantastic quote, and a really interesting philosophical question on the notion of freedom fighters!
We hope you enjoyed our first discussion – safe to say the opening of the novel was a big hit!