The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart
My Rating: 4.7/5 stars
Ages ago, the Empire was saved from the clutches of the tyrannical Alanga by the ancestors of the current ruler. But a new evil looms over the islands.
The emperor is slipping. He is leaving more and more administrative responsibilities with his constructs—magical automata created from parts of human and animal carcasses. These constructs can be programmed to follow any sequence of commands. But they are powered by bone shard magic.
Every year, young children of the islands are rounded up for the Tithing festivals. A small shard of bone is taken from each child’s skull and stored in the emperor’s vault. One day the shard might be used to power a construct. Then the owner of the shard will start to feel their life leaking out of them slowly until years later they die.
On the Imperial Island, Lin, the emperor’s daughter, suffers from amnesia after an accident. She knows her father is failing to protect the people of the empire. She wants to become the next emperor and save the empire, but she must regain her memory before the emperor can trust her to be an effective ruler. Meanwhile, she has to wait and watch Bayan, the emperor’s foster son, get trained to be the heir.
Jovis, an infamous smuggler with a price on his head, is out on a boat after finding a clue that might lead him to his missing wife. He plans to search every island and every other boat in the Endless Sea till he finds her. But he inadvertently rescues a boy from a Tithing festival and finds himself the new face of hope for parents and guardians of young children.
On Nephilanu Island, Ranami and Phalue are struggling with their relationship. Ranami steps into a dangerous path to alleviate the condition of the people of the island; a path on which Phalue, as the governor’s daughter, cannot easily meet her. Phalue is empathetic but obtuse due to her privilege. She sincerely believes the tax and ownership rules imposed by her father on farmers are fair. But she is scared of losing the love of her life, so she decides to risk her position and her father’s trust by reluctantly joining Ranami in her mission.
As the first book in a trilogy, this post-adolescent fantasy novel is inviting and engaging. I found the concept of using bone shard magic to power constructs particularly fascinating because it sounded like an ancient form of artificial intelligence. The engravings on a bone shard determine the commands that the construct will follow. These engravings can be combined in different ways to form a more complex set of instructions. This is just like programming an AI agent!
The young adventurers in this story are all interesting in different ways. They have had a variety of experiences and each one has a unique skillset. Their names suggest their ethnicities also differ slightly, which is uncommon in a medieval-based fantasy novel.
The backdrop of the story is an empire on the verge of collapsing into anarchy. Against that, the dialogues on social justice and equality taking place in the story make it clear that the narrative has a strong inclination to democratic principles. The dynamics between the monarchy and the revolutionary element among the people will make the next two books interesting to read, especially if new forms of magic are introduced. It would also be interesting to meet new characters in the next book. I am looking forward to the sequel.
Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC
in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.