The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart
A good fantasy creates a world; this fantasy creates an empire of islands and more distinguished by the power of an autocratic Emperor. Much of this engaging story concerns a magical force wielded by that Emperor in a truly terrifying way. Much of the story concerns a young woman, the daughter of the title, who is beginning to understand the power that her father holds, and who realises that she must learn how to work it herself. This story features Lin, Emperor’s daughter and independent thinker who has apparently lost her memory of her childhood, and during the progress of the book has to discover the basis of her father’s power. The Bone Shards are used to power “constructs”, strange hybrid creatures who fulfil different roles in the empire depending on the level of sophistication of their construction. Other characters appear in the narrative, including Jovis, smuggler, thief and searcher for a woman who is introduced in the most dramatic of fashions. Phalue is a warrior, governor’s daughter and more, but she begins to realise that her life of entitlement is not sufficient when she meets some people of the settlement where she lives in a palace. This is an intriguing and very special book, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
The book begins with Lin negotiating the difficult line of dealing with her father who seems determined to cut her out of the succession in favour of her foster brother Bayan. Much of his antagonism towards her is the result of her having been ill and therefore unable to remember much of her life. He continues to work on the constructs that administer, spy on and generally run his empire. Lin realises that if she is ever going to succeed her father and improve the situation for the people she must discover what is really going on at the palace and begin to find out about the constructs. Meanwhile Jovis is trying to discover where his much loved wife is, and his dissolute way of life has got him into frequent trouble. When he is asked to help with a truly disturbing rescue mission he picks up more than he intends to from a truly terrifying situation. His progress brings more trouble to him and those around him a lot of trouble, and the complex story builds with some violence as the very basis of the Empire is questioned.
This is a diverse and challenging story of an unusual world. The main characters are complex and powerful portraits of people trying to do their best in extremely difficult circumstances including physical challenges . Each element of the story is consistent and well thought through, and the characters’ actions work well within their context. It is a effective narration of an entire world with carefully constructed society and physical details of a world under threat, as well as internal pressures from the way the empire works. Stewart has been successful in creating a world made up of islands and seas which truly works in so many ways. This is a sophisticated and brilliantly worked through story of loyalties, ambition and more in a variety of locations. I recommend it as a complex and challenging read with enormous inner logic and written in a very engaging style.