THE BONE SHARD DAUGHTER by Andrea Stewart – READALONG Week 4
This year, the Wyrd and Wonder crew are hosting a read-along of Andrea Stewart’s The Bone Shard Daughter.
Nils, Beth and Filip have been 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.
You can find our previous discussions in the links below, featuring questions set by Beth, as well as Imyril and Lisa. You can follow 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
A huge thank-you to Imyril, Lisa and Jorie of the Wyrd and Wonder team for organising this fantastic read-along – safe to say, we’ve had an absolute blast!
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 : Ch36 – End
This week’s questions by Beth and Mayri
There’s going to be a lot to unpack this week!
This week’s chapters open with two prisoners. Both Phalue and Lin come to important realisations – what are our thoughts? – Beth
Beth: I loved how these chapters mirrored each other and invited us to draw comparisons between these two characters confronting and questioning their existences. I felt for Phalue, it was a turning point. Both women have been subjected to conditioning – Lin literally through the bone shards, but Phalue equally as successfully through the emotional manipulation of her father – and reading their struggles against it was quite moving!
“I was like a doll who laments the way a child moved her limbs.”
Poor Lin! Again, this section really made me think of AIs – I wondered how much of her love for her ‘father’ is programmed, I wondered whether she was trapped by Asimov’s First Law.
Nils: Oh my heart broke for Lin, all throughout the book all she wanted was her father’s love and approval, and then to come to realise that she was made, literally engineered, for a different purpose, it completely shattered her.
Beth: The quote you included in the section below, that she’d never have been able to earn his love… I mean presumably that’s something that’s been coded into her – he created her to strive for something he knew he’d never give her.
Nils: That’s just so goddamn cruel.
As you mentioned Beth, both Phalue and Lin have been conditioned by their selfish fathers, yet both of them now have to break free from their father’s rule and look beyond their own existence to envisage a better future for the population, because if they don’t, who will? They’ve both been thrust into new roles of leadership and are now weighted with heavy responsibilities, which I’m eager to see how they both cope with in the sequel.
I think Lin will adapt quite well, but I’m concerned about Phalue. As I mentioned last week I’m starting to feel sorry for her, and I wonder whether the Shardless Few will use Ranami to manipulate Phalue, or whether Ranami will manipulate her of her own accord. I don’t quite trust Ranami anymore.
Beth: Same here Nils! I do worry for Phalue! How are the Shardless going to react when they discover there’s a new Emperor whose goals align with what they claim are theirs? I think there’s going to be friction there and Phalue will be caught in it.
Filip: I actually think we might see Ranami grow to head a less radical faction of the Shardless Few, now that she’s wizened up to Gio’s intentions. I closed this book with the impression that Ranami and Phalue’s bond has been strengthened by the ordeal, and a consensus has finally been reached between them, a change began.
Nils: That’s interesting Filip, I wonder if Gio will let her make changes though?
Beth: I think there’s definitely going to be some issues with Gio!
Lin’s a construct, Bayan’s a construct, the people on Maila Isle are constructs … Let’s talk about constructs! We now know far more, but still not enough. What are your thoughts and feelings on the nature of constructs? – Mayri
Beth: I think we’ve already discussed this a fair bit, but like I said above, I’m really looking forward to reading what happens when Sand meets Lin. How is Lin going to be able to keep her secret when a whole island of constructs turns up on Imperial? And then for the constructs, are they going to be able to get the answers they need? I thought I understood what was going on in terms of the shards and the commands, and when the Emperor died, the constructs descended into chaos. But then what does it mean that Bing Tai and the people on the island didn’t??
Nils: I wonder that too. There has to be something fundamentally different in their engineering compared to the other constructs. I also wonder if Nisong made Bing Tai differently too – did she add some human aspects into him? Is that why he still lives like the constructs on Maila Island? There’s so much more still to come!
Beth: Oh good theory Nils, maybe Nisong had a different way of working!
Hot on the heels of the revelation that she was not born but made, Lin has learned why she was made *shudder*. Reaction shots, please. – Mayri
Nils: I find that it’s both creepy and incredibly sad that Lin’s purpose was for the emperor to bring his late wife back to life.
“I hated myself for leaning into his touch. All I’d wanted was his approval, his love. I’d wanted to feel like a daughter, like part of a family. But there was something strange in his touch, the way his fingers trailed across my cheek.”
Lin would never be a daughter to Shiyen, and he would never see her as one.
Beth: You’re right Nils it was so many levels of creepy! I also found it creepy he was trying to remake himself? The first time I read it I did feel a pang of sorrow for him, for having loved someone so much that he tried to make a facsimile of her. But this time round, my reaction very much is he tried to make a facsimile of her – he cut up other women to make a new woman WHAT THE FUCK. I think that first time round I kind of zoomed through the ending, eager to find out what happened, and it didn’t properly sink in!
Nils: My initial reaction was to feel sad for him, but then I thought of the way he manipulated both Bayan and Lin, how he made Lin feel worthless because she wasn’t quite Nisong yet, how he beat Bayan, and then I felt nothing but rage towards him.
Beth: He really was unnecessarily cruel.
From rivals to friends – did you anticipate Bayan and Lin would end up on the same team? – Beth
Filip: I figured it was heading that way pretty early on, once it became obvious the Emperor was playing them against one another. As they say, “The enemy my fake dad wants to be my enemy is my friend”…or something?
Beth: I’m not sure if it’s something I anticipated exactly, but I was so glad they did! I love it when characters grow past their animosity and learn to assist each other. It’s a message I love seeing played out in general – we can get so much more done together.
Nils: Yes, I was the same Beth! I really hoped they would team up against the emperor all throughout the book because I knew together they could puzzle out exactly what was going on.
Beth: For Bayan and Lin in particular of course, their story is so twisted, their experiences brutal; I find it heartbreaking they’ve been struggling against each other for five long years, each utterly isolated and alone. There are so many layers of cruelty in play at what the Emperor has done altogether.
Nils: I’m especially heartbroken that when they both finally get along and could both trust and understand each other, that’s when Bayan dies. I’m almost certain Lin will attempt to bring him back but I’m doubtful whether he will be the same? I hope some part of him will be, and that Lin is able to share the burden of what she is with someone, but there’s a part of me that questions the morality of it?
Is it fair of Lin, knowing all that she does about Bone Shards and their consequences of use, and knowing that perhaps the real Bayan died long ago, to bring Bayan back into existence because she needs him? Does that not make her similar to her father? I’m not certain it does, but it is something which I’m pondering over.
Beth: I really really hope she doesn’t go down that path. If she’s striving to be better, to be a better Emperor, then she can’t repeat that cycle of grief and attempts at reclaiming someone they’ve lost.
Speaking of heartbreaking moments…
“ I told a great many lies to others, and I told a great many to myself. This perhaps was the greatest lie of all. Emahla is alive.”
How did we feel when Jovis finally confronted the truth? – Beth
Beth: I was side-swept a little by this – not only the first time round, but the second too! I must have repressed this part of the story! I remember asking in week 1 whether we thought Jovis would be a reliable narrator as he lies to himself, and as it turns out, he had me utterly fooled. I didn’t once question that Emahla might not actually be alive on that island. I think this may be one of Stewart’s cleverest twists!
Filip: I was also a huge fan of that twist – it’s very logical, if you think about it, yet you’d never be able to guess it. Stewart plays with our expectations in the most delightful way possible.
Nils: Beth you’re just trying to set me off crying with these questions, aren’t you? I’ve said this phrase twice now, but once again I was heartbroken!
Beth: There was so much heart break this week!
Nils: There really was! Like you Beth, I refused to believe Emahla was dead, I was convinced Sand was Emahla, and even when you said you couldn’t remember, I was certain I was right.
Beth: I genuinely couldn’t remember! I remembered something vague about how Sand wasn’t actually Emahla, so I assumed she was someone else on the island!
Nils: All along I was rooting for Jovis to travel to Maila Isle, so when he decided to go to the Imperial Island instead and actively help in the revolution, I was screaming inside for him not to give up on Emahla.
Stewart floored me with her twist and I have to applaud her for it. As much pain as I felt for Jovis, I had to admire how she kept me utterly fooled right until the end.
Beth: Same! Even though he repeatedly tells us he’s a liar!
“It’s hard to remake one’s view of the world, to admit to complacency. I thought thanking myself for you was hard enough, but doing that was something I wanted. I didn’t want to realise how much I’ve hurt the people around me, and that’s what confronting my beliefs meant.”
How do we feel about Phalue and Ranami now? – Beth
Beth: I have so many feels! First of all, Ranami’s vulnerability which manifested after she’d finally come to terms with understanding what she had in Phalue when confronted with losing her. I’m still not entirely sure I like her? Or her path to where her relationship now stands?
Nils: Once again I’m thinking along the same lines as you, as I mentioned I don’t entirely trust Ranami and I’m not sure she has the capability to think of Phalue before her own desires and plans. Dare I say she’s a little selfish?
Beth: It’s a weird kind of selfish, isn’t it? Her desires and plans are all for the betterment of the island and the farmers, but she absolutely puts that above her love for Phalue. Whereas for Phalue, nothing comes before Ranami.
Nils: EXACTLY! Their relationship seems to be one sided.
Beth: Phalue would literally topple a government for her. Chose her over her own father.
But having said that, maybe it wasn’t all for Ranami. Phalue’s growth is wonderful, and I’m so relieved that she has finally truly understood what was happening and her role in it. I guess what this understanding will mean in terms of her leadership is yet to be seen, and whether that will actually mean she’ll achieve something good for her people, I’m not sure. Apologies for the cliché, but actions do speak louder than words.
Nils: That’s a fantastic point though Beth. Although I feel Phalue may get used in her eagerness to please Ranami, can she rise above that and see what is best for her people as opposed to what is best for her wife? I also wonder how she will deal with her father?
I really enjoyed Phalue and Ranami’s story arc in a sense that my feelings at the end of the book were completely different from what they were at the start. I sympathised with Ranami at the beginning and disliked Phalue, and now it’s vice versa! Who knows how Stewart will make me feel in the sequel.
The Emperor is dead. (Hurray!) Phalue has successfully usurped her father as governor. (Yay?) Change is on the wind and those Alanga paintings have opened their eyes… Care to make any predictions for what’s coming? Do you think the Alanga are really a threat? – Mayri
Nils: I think with the build up to the Alanga throughout the whole book they must surely be a great threat, perhaps worse than the emperor himself. How creepy is it that their eyes on paintings and statues have all suddenly opened at once? I’m not 100% certain, now knowing how twisty and sneaky our Andrea Stewart is, so she could yet surprise me once again, but with the emperor and governor now both disposed of, I do wonder who the ‘villain’ will be? My guess is that the Shardless Few may rise to fill this role, along with the Alanga too. Or perhaps they will be pitted against each other.
Beth: I don’t think the Alanga are evil at all. History is written by the victors; I don’t think the Emperor has been remotely honest about them and I can’t wait to find out the truth! To be honest, I found there was so much in the story to occupy me, that I didn’t really pay all that much attention to the mystery of the Alanga, it was very much a background thread for me.
Nils: I forgot about the Alanga in the last 100 pages, right up until the eyes on the paintings opened!
Beth: Glad it wasn’t just me!
We’ve also discovered the identity of Sand. Possibly. She has memories that suggest she is Nisong, but she is a construct just like Lin. What does it all mean?? (Not a rhetorical question – please tell me what it all means!) – Mayri
Nils: During a WhatsApp conversation, Beth suggested that Sand may have been either an early version of Nisong or actually Nisong, and the emperor was lying about burning her body. I’m leaning more towards Sand being an early and failed version of Nisong, but it would be really interesting if the real Nisong was actually alive.
Beth: Like I said above, why didn’t she stop working when she felt the Emperor die??? So many questions still!
Nils: I never thought of that! I think I read that chapter a bit too quickly, I may need to reread the ending!
Jovis and Mephi have arrived on Imperial Island and come face to face with Lin and Thrana. This is an Interesting Development. What are your theories on Mephi and Thrana? Also on the Emperor’s laboratory and what he was using Thrana for? – Mayri
Nils: I loved the mystery of this. Mephi and Jovis’ bond has been one of my favourite story arcs to follow, I’ve just completely fell for them both. As of yet I don’t really have any theories, I’m just glad we have more animal companions and I’m eagerly awaiting to discover what will be revealed. Beth and Filip, do you have any theories?
Beth: Personally I’m really intrigued by Filip’s theory of … whichever week it was. On how the Alanga were just people who still had their shards and had bonded with a Mephi/Thrana creature. I think there’s a strong chance it’s connected to the shards in some way, as that’s where the magic comes from? So in leaving the shard in people, it gives them the potential to have powers?
Nils: I think you and Filip might be onto something there. As for the emperor’s laboratory, again I don’t know why Thrana was there, but actually thinking about it, I do believe he was trying to grow clones of himself. As his body was failing he was perhaps growing a younger more agile version of himself to continue his rule. With Lin/Nisong by his side. Maybe he knew that creatures like Mephi existed and through their bonds one could gain powers. So maybe he was hoping the bond between Thrana and his clone self would give it the powers of strength and healing.
Beth: Oh that’s an interesting theory Nils, would explain why they were both in the lake together? I definitely think he was trying to clone himself, that Bayan was some kind of practice thing? Maybe? Argh I don’t really know!
Let’s just have a free-for-all – did any of your theories turn out to be right? Were there any twists in particular that caught you completely by surprise? – Beth
Nils: So the only theories that turned out to be right of mine was that Bayan was a construct, and then later I suspected Lin was too, but I wasn’t as sure. My favourite twist however, and Stewart you are one devious author here, was when Jovis looks at Lin and recognises Emahla’s eyes. It’s shocking as well as incredibly sad because it must mean Emahla has been killed and harvested for constructs.
Beth: I didn’t see that one coming at all and it is SUCH a clever touch!
Filip: There’s an element of body horror to it, churns the stomach.
Nils: Absolutely. I felt there were horror elements towards the end, which I thought was very clever. My second favourite twist at the end was meeting Thrana! I did not expect another creature like Mephi to turn up right at the end, but I’m excited to see where that particular thread leads.
Beth: Again, same here! I wasn’t expecting a second mythical creature, but I was so glad another turned up, and I kind of hope that means there may be more?
Nils: That would be awesome!
Filip: Let’s get one for each of our main characters!
Beth: Oh no what if Gio got one though??
Finally, what was your overall impression of the novel? – Beth
Nils: I’m thoroughly impressed, it’s quite a unique novel isn’t it?
Beth: I’ve never read anything like this!
Filip: I was very much engaged throughout, too, and I’d have to shoot myself if I didn’t once more praise the PHENOMENAL performances of Emily Woo Zeller, Feodor Chin, and Natalie Naudus. I’ll admit, I don’t think Stewart is working with ideas never before seen, but I thoroughly enjoy the execution, character work, and setting at display here; the sheer skill in each of these aspects makes for one of my favourite debuts.
Nils: There’s so much mystery, and I never stopped being suspicious and questioning
everything throughout, so Stewart clearly always kept me engaged.
Beth: I love a book that engages you in this way, that invites you to theorise. I thought Stewart balanced it perfectly, in that things were neither obvious nor too difficult that I felt frustrated ?
Nils: Oh yes, I agree. It was just the right amount of mystery. I enjoyed the worldbuilding too, the creepy magic system which by the end bordered on the sci-fi and horror genres, and I admired that blend. The characters were all ones I felt for in various ways, and I think the focus on Lin and Jovis, and the decision to have both characters written in first person was fantastic because those two were definitely my favourites to follow. Their chapters held such a melancholic tone, and I especially loved that.
Beth: I thought it was a little strange that Lin and Jovis were set apart in that way from Ranami and Phalue, I definitely connected stronger with Lin and Jovis; but I can see that five first-person perspectives would have been quite heavy!
Nils: It would have, and I think because Jovis and Lin both had the most complex storylines it made sense to be inside their heads more than the others.
Last but by far not least was Mephi, I adore animal companions and Mephi was so “good”, there is just a lot to love about his and Jovis’ bond and so much to puzzle out too.
I know the ending left with readers asking even more questions, however this didn’t feel frustrating to me, the opposite really, I’m now longing for the sequel.
Beth: Mephi was definitely one of my favourite aspects of the book, and I can’t wait to see where Stewart takes his character, I can’t wait to learn more about him and his connection with Jovis.
Like you Nils, I really loved the world building, I thought it was so special and like Mephi, I hope we learn more in the next book! This was a great aspect about the story though; although I had loads of questions by the end, I still felt it was a satisfying read that held conclusion and resolution. It just has it all though, doesn’t it? Writing? Check. Characters? Check. Worldbuilding? Check. Plot and mystery? Check.
Nils: Yes! It has the right amount of everything!
“no one, it seemed, was too small to turn the tide.”
“Hope bloomed in Ranami’s chest, unfolding gently gently as a flower in a wet season rain.”
I loved Hao! This line from Lin really made me feel emotional.
“ All my life I’d spent trying to earn his approval, and the only way I could’ve done so was by being someone else.”