THE BONE SHARD DAUGHTER by Andrea Stewart – READALONG Week 3
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 : Ch24 – Ch. 35
This week’s questions by Beth and Lisa
This week, we open with our first chapter from Ranami’s perspective:
“You were doing the right thing.”
“It’s lovely that it’s that simple for you.”
Last week we discussed Phalue’s inability to understand the dilemma of the farmers, but what do we now make of Ranami’s simplification of matters? Is she less of a realist than she thinks? – Beth
[Ranami got something of a taste of her own confrontational medicine in another discussion with Phalue, this week. What do you think the future holds for these two? Are either of them really in the right here? – Lisa]
Nils: We had glimpses of Ranami being quite manipulative of Phalue in the previous chapters, but it’s interesting that we now learn she hadn’t even considered what she was asking Phalue to sacrifice.
Beth: Yes Nils! The difference between the two really is quite stark, isn’t it? Phalue’s thought processes are all driven around Ranami, whereas Ranami herself isn’t on the same page at all. Knowing exactly what Phalue wants and why she’s doing what she is, and knowing it’s not what Ranami herself wants or is prepared to give, yet forging ahead anyway… After being so annoyed with Phalue last week, I felt sorry for her this week. Ranami’s like, “just overthrow your dad. Help us out with this coup why don’t you.” I’m not at all convinced she’s thought it all through.
Nils: It certainly shows a partly selfish side to Ranami, doesn’t it?
Filip: Ranami is the very opposite of a realist, I’d argue–she is an idealist. Though she sees much more clearly than Phalue the issues that besiege the lower classes of the Empire, she is incredibly naïve in the way they must be handled–mirroring Phalue in a roundabout way. Neither can step outside themselves and understand the other; though Phalue seems more willing to try, if anything.
Nils: As I said last week, I thought Andrea Stewart would soon show a different side to Phalue and I can see now that she’s in such a vulnerable position. Lose her father, or lose the woman she loves? What kind of a choice is that for anyone to face, let alone have that choice forced upon her by Ranami.
Beth: I think Phalue herself is also quite a vulnerable person? She doesn’t agree with how her father runs the island, she hates his opulence. But he is still her father. And likewise Ranami; she’s not someone Phalue can just hand over to the guards – she truly loves her, but the way that love clashes with everything Phalue thinks she knows, she obviously doesn’t know quite how to reconcile it.
Nils: That’s a very good point, she’s so conflicted and doesn’t quite know how to strike a compromise without hurting anyone.
I think Ranami is definitely an idealist and in a way that’s understandable, she had an awful childhood, so you can understand her need to make the governing rule fairer for the poor. Yet she doesn’t really think outside of her own desires, even when Phalue is taken by her father’s guards, she’s more relieved that she’s not been imprisoned than she is worried about what will happen to Phalue. Her cause is the righteous one, and as you say Beth, I don’t think she’s quite thought through what the consequences of that cause will be.
Beth: Nor the practicalities of it? The whole point of keeping the poor uneducated and ignorant is that if they do try to rise up against you, they won’t know what to do. And this is painfully the case with Ranami. What do any of them know about running an island? About trade and bureaucracy?
Filip: Her solution to align herself with the Shardless Few promises short-term solutions, but I remain unconvinced she’s thought about the consequences either for her and Phalue or for the Empire at large. Beyond the lack of knowledge you point out, Beth, the naivety also enters into her unwillingness to question Gio–do we see any proof she questions him at any point, thus far?
Beth: She does seem happy to just blindly follow him!
Thinking about Stewart’s characters as a whole – are they easy to divide into good guys and bad guys?
Nils: For me personally I see them all as morally grey. A phrase I like to use a lot is ‘they are people with reasons’ – we understand the motivations behind each character and the paths they are on, and that’s what Stewart does so well.
Beth: That is such a good phrase Nils!
Nils: I bet you’ve seen me use that phrase a lot in my reviews! I’m very much drawn to characters who don’t always do the ‘right thing’ and whether I agree with their choices or not, I always look for their reasoning behind it all.
Jovis will do anything for Emahla and now Mephi too, Lin will do anything to prove her worth, to earn her place, Ranami wants a better future for her people, Phalue wants to please the one she loves and protect her father. Some of these acts do come across as selfish, but are they evil? Does this make them bad people? I think it just makes them human.
Beth: It comes down to consequences, doesn’t it? In their own human ways, they’re trying to do what they think is right, but they can’t follow all the threads of their consequences back to how they affect people. “Selfishness” is a strong current that runs through everyone’s storyline to some degree, it’s interesting to see its different manifestations with different characters.
Filip: Perhaps the greatest depiction of growth are those moments when the characters find the strength to step outside themselves, to embrace the selfless act, no matter how great its difficulty. We see just this with Lin’s second-to-last visit to Numeen, when she initially lies and then realises she’s falling into the same pattern as her father, doing as he would. When she speaks plainly, promises to deliver on her word and commits to retrieving the bone shards of the locksmith and his family, Lin proves to us readers that she has the potential to succeed where the Emperor and Phalue’s father have failed.
Nils: That’s a brilliant point Filip, I feel both Lin and Jovis have shown us they can judge themselves, they can recognise their failures, and strive to do better. Yet as Beth says, selfishness does run through all of the characters actions, and in the world Stewart has presented to us, that’s sometimes necessary.
Even when we consider the ‘villains’, who I see as the Emperor and to some extent Gio, the leader of the Shardless Few, Stewart also gives us hints that they have reasons underneath it all too. For example Lin’s observation of her father here, gives us some understanding into his character:
“He ruled by fear, and was ruled by it.”
We all know that fear can drive people to desperate measures. I also think fear somewhat rules Gio too – a fear of a future where nothing changes, where the people continue to suffer, or perhaps there is another deeper reason we haven’t encountered yet. Whether these reasons are justifiable or not, and for the Emperor I certainly believe they aren’t, I appreciate that these characters are not just evil for the sake of being evil.
Beth: I felt perhaps there’s a good measure of anger in Gio too:
“This is the fate that awaits many of the Empire’s citizens. Not death at the hands of the Alanga, but death at the hands of the man sworn to protect us.”
People are no longer afraid of the Alanga, they’re afraid of their own Emperor.
Nils: Absolutely. The protector has become the tyrant.
Beth: But as for the Emperor himself, I don’t think it’s the people of his Empire he necessarily fears. To him, they seem an ends to a means. So long as he can collect their shards and go about their lives peacefully. His back seems turned to them and his view inwards to his own concerns. And I think that kind of neglect, also represented in Phalue’s father, is one of the greatest evils in the book. That people deserve better from their leaders.
What are our current theories on Sand? What’s causing the brain fog and how are they able to get out of it? Why can’t they think or speak about violence? And what are the memories haunting her? – Beth
[Sand appears to be organising something of a rebellion herself – but against what? Any ideas about what might be happening to the people on Maila, and why? For that matter, do you have any theories about who Sand herself might be/where she came from? – Lisa]
Nils: Oooh this is one twist I’m almost certain I’ve figured out! *potential spoiler* I’m positive Sand is Emahla! My theory is that the Emperor has kept the island of Maila for human constructs he has been experimenting with. I think their memories have been erased by the “memory machine” Bayan mentions to Lin, and the emperor has given each of the human constructs on that island simple commands to gather foods, perhaps to keep his trade business running smoothly? Yet much like Bayan, the human constructs are kind of ‘awakening’? The part of them that is still human is conflicting with the bone shards within them and making them remember parts of their life just before coming to the island.
Beth, I know you already know this, but did you have similar theories when you first read this? And this time around did you spot any clues you missed before?
Beth: It’s driving me crazy that I can’t actually remember? (How ironic!!) I remember the first time reading it I definitely thought she was Emahla, but I can’t remember if she does turn out to be Emhala or not! I can’t help pity Lin at this point; she thinks taking over the Empire will be as simple as learning the bone shard magic, but there are things going on that she has no idea about. It’s all so much worse than she realises!
Filip: I thought as you did, Nils, at this point in my first read-through–in regards to Sand’s identity as Emahla. That’s all I’ll say though!
“Fanatics were all alike, cut from the same cloth and dyed different colours.” Do you think this assessment of Gio by Jovis is accurate? And do you think it only applies to Gio? – Lisa
Nils: I love that quote, as I was reading it was one I immediately kept a note of. I think Gio is a single minded character as I’ve mentioned, but in a more dangerous way than the other characters because he has the means to spark a large scale rebellion, which could either successfully liberate the people or unintentionally suppress them further. I’m still untrusting of Gio, I can’t quite work out whether he genuinely wants to help others or whether his end-game is something more personal.
Beth: I was quite surprised by how many people he had mobilised. I’d been thinking his operation was on a smallish scale; I think both myself and Jovis were underestimating him. I do wonder why Jovis is so untrusting of Gio; he doesn’t seem to have any love for the Empire, and yet at the same time doesn’t trust anyone who claims to want to make a change.
Filip: Gio’s playing a game all his own, and I’ll once more indulge in some wild theorycrafting, but I think he might be an agent for the Alanga. Who would benefit more than they if the islands rid themselves of the Empire and the Sukais’ bone magic? It’s a little far-fetched, but it offers a plausible explanation as to how Gio would know about the secret Alanga ruins that act as base to the Shardless Few.
Speaking of Jovis, do you think his power really is connected to Mephi somehow, or is something else going on? – Lisa
Nils: I really want to say that I’m absolutely sure that Mephi’s bond with Jovis is what gives him his powers, and with Mephi now being ill (poor Mephi) and Jovis having seemingly lost his powers (right when he needs it the most!), this does seem to support the notion. Yet I’m beginning to recognise that Stewart likes to throw in as many twists and turns as she can, so who knows!
Beth: Either Mephi’s illness is preventing Jovis using his powers, OR something else is affecting both Mephi and Jovis? (I can’t remember which it is!)
Filip: I think Mephi’s illness might be caused from the separation of the two during Jovis’ little reconnaissance mission – “Alone is bad,” after all.
Nils: Oh good point there. Mephi really didn’t want to be separated.
Filip: But I’m convinced Jovis’ power originates with the little bugger, and I have one more crazy theory!
What if, as I mentioned last week, bonds between these sea serpent-y creatures like Mephi with humans do indeed produce Alanga; but humans can only bond with these intelligent sea friends if they never lost their bone shards? That way, the harvest of bone shards is not only a tithe to the Emperor, but a preventative measure, too! (One weakness I see with this theory is that the Emperor isn’t too worried over the Shardless Few, and if that were the case, he would be. But maybe the Emperor himself doesn’t know about it!)
Nils: Interesting! Wow, Andrea Stewart has really turned us three into little Sherlocks!
Beth: OH that would connect an awful lot of dots, wouldn’t it!
Nils: I am curious as to what happened when Jovis had an altercation with the palace guard when he and Gio were breaking into the palace. Did Jovis unintentionally use powers he didn’t know he had? Or was someone else on the scene? Stewart has me suspicious of everything!
Beth: I love how much the story is ramping up now! Some things seem to be coming together, but then we’re still having mysteries thrown at us!
“I lived in a dollhouse of my father’s making, a living graveyard.”
We get part of the truth about Lin (and Bayan!) revealed this week, following a rather harrowing massacre; how do you feel about this particular twist? And what do you think the Emperor’s goal here might be? – Lisa
Nils: I did guess the twist! I had suspicions for a while but the scene where Bayan’s face was melting, that’s when I immediately sent Beth a WhatsApp message half jokingly saying “I wouldn’t be surprised if the Emperor had made Bayan a construct” and then it was revealed he did! I also had suspicions of Lin when she found her birth and death dates in the book Uphilia was hiding, yet it still completely shocked me to discover I was right.
Beth: I remember the first time round those are the times I began to suspect too!
Filip: I figured that would be a pretty big twist somewhere along the line from the title. It’s just too on the nose!
Beth: *slow blink* omg…
Nils: Lin and Bayan both feel so human, nothing like the constructs we have encountered so far, and this makes what the Emperor has done even more horrifying.
“I took a deep breath quietly and thought of how pleased Father would be when I finally showed him I was his daughter. I was the only one who could be his heir. I was a force to be reckoned with.”
Beth: Horrifying is the perfect word for it!
Nils: Had the Emperor etched commands into shards to force Lin to try to prove herself? Did he command the rivalry between Lin and Bayan? Or is this part of their human selves? He used his own child and foster child as experiments, and I have two theories as to why he has done this. The first being that both Bayan and Lin actually died of their childhood illnesses and the thought of losing his children was so unbearable to the Emperor, he made them into constructs in order for them to live on. Or he’s unbelievably power hungry, more than I gave him credit for, and the only way he could see to ensure his rule continued even after his body began failing was to have one of his children carrying out the orders which he had etched into their bone shards. Perhaps it’s a combination of the two, or maybe he’s just a ‘mad scientist’.
Filip: You’ll very soon get your answers, Nils. I like this element of the story, this questioning of human agency – it borrows very heavily from science-fictional questions based around androids and cyborgs and to have it examined through a fantasy lens is great fun!
Nils: Oh yes, coming up with theories all the way through this book, has been such a delight for me.
However on a more serious note, the scene where Numeen’s family were murdered was brutal, and the Emperor showed himself to be an utter bastard for it. It was one of those scenes I knew was coming, but hoped wouldn’t and felt so emotional when it did. When Lin held one of the children who had been murdered in her arms, I teared up.
Beth: My heart properly broke for Lin when Numeen and his family were killed. She’d finally learned to reach out past her own selfish drives and consider the lives of others. She’d finally learned that, to be his heir she’d need to know the bone shard magic but to be the better Emperor she’d need to know not to use it. And just when she takes steps towards achieving that – she loses them all.
Now that we know more about the Emperor’s constructs, particularly Ilith… what do you make of the nature of her bone shard commands? Do you think she might prove to be a wild card? – Lisa
Nils: Ilith has the most freedom as her commands give the most leeway for her to think for herself. In essence she can challenge the Emperor if she sees fit to, but I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t be able to overrule him in a major way, so who knows if she’ll be a significant wildcard or not.
Beth: I think she was a strong clue that the constructs could have an unexpected level of complexity; reading this the first time around, it only strengthened my suspicions. It all put me in mind of the movie Ex Machina; all the coding and testing, creating artificial intelligences and playing the imitation game.
Nils: Ooh I really enjoyed Ex Machina. Scary stuff though, AI’s can always go so horribly wrong.
Filip: I can definitely see Ilith nailing the Turing test, Beth! I find her a fascinating character, probably because I’ve always had a weakness for information brokers, those who work in the shadows and know far more about anything and everything going on than our point of view characters do.
Beth: Lin certainly passed it, she had us all believing she was human for a little while!
“Emahla, for you, I would drink a thousand lies just to see your face again.”
Beth: Oh god yes Nils I loved that quote! I loved this moment with Mephi and Jovis:
“Did a very good,” he said.
“No. You would say, ‘I did well.’”
“I did well.” And then I sighed. Was I really teaching the basics of grammar to this creature? “And you didn’t. I asked you to stay out of it.”
Mephi let out a snort that told me exactly what he thought of that command.
“Aren’t pets supposed to do what their masters say?”
He gave me a long look…
I love how Mephi is growing and evolving and it always comes as a surprise when he seems more conscious of things than you otherwise thought.
Nils: He’s gaining a good sense of himself isn’t he? He knows he’s not a pet, which means he understands the connotations of a pet.
Beth: Going back to that idea of the nature of evil, and what lengths the Emperor is going to and why…
“Mauga contained at least a hundred [shards]. It was a lot of lives to drain for one construct. A hundred men could easily do the work that Mauga did – though I knew Father would not trust those hundred men.”
That’s a gross waste of life, and it was quite a sobering moment to realise just how little the Emperor clearly thinks of his subjects.
We hope you enjoyed our third discussion – events are really starting to ramp up as we head into the final stretch!