Read-along: The Bone Shard Daughter – week one

The Bone Shard Daughter Read-along

Welcome to the Wyrd And Wonder read-along! This year, we’re buddy reading The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart, with discussions over the next four weeks. This is a fantasy of magic and revolution, set in an island empire whose citizens donate their bones – and their life force – to power the strange creations the Emperor uses to govern them. Intrigued? Let’s get to it…

The Bone Shard Daughter

Book cover: The Bone Shard Daughter - Andrea Stewart

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.

Each week, a ‘host’ shares questions for discussion – although in an unexpected twist on proceedings, “my” questions this week have been largely written by lovely Beth of the Fantasy Hive. Thanks Beth! I promise to write my own next week…

Welcome to Stewart’s glorious world! What are your initial impressions? What do you make of the magic system and the world-building?

THERE ARE MIGRATING ISLANDS, PEOPLE. Ahem, sorry. Needed to get that out of my system: floating islands and seasons that last years are guaranteed to grab my attention.

Andrea Stewart drops us in at the deep end, introducing us to the Empire and its political situation through Lin’s secret rebellion and the events rapidly overtaking Jovis. There’s a lot going on, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed – she does a great job of introducing and reinforcing ideas. Some things feel more fleshed out than others: the imperial palace is all locked doors and shadowy passages and secrets, and Jovis’s passages are all burning sun and bright waters – but I don’t have much sense of architecture or the cities themselves yet.

Similarly, I feel like I’ve got a sense of history – the mythology of the former rulers, the Alanga, who seem to have been turned into bogeymen in part because they’ve been forgotten – rather than one of culture so far. Generally, I’m looking forward to seeing the world fleshed out a bit more; right now it feels a bit smoke and mirrors, a stage for the characters and tensions to be introduced on (which is fair, it’s only week one!)

I was chilled by the Emperor’s constructs even before I found out what they were doing to the people who donated bone for them (having a spymaster who looks like a giant spider? Not helping. Not helping at all). I’m fascinated by the underlying logic of it: it’s like programming with magic and bone, and the constructs are only as good as the instruction set. I felt almost sorry for the harbour construct, asking people to declare their exports as the harbour sank around them.

Fundamentally though, I have a great deal of rage for a magic system (not to mention the man using it) that literally drains citizens’ life force in order to tax them and spy on them. There’s probably a clever comment to make here about bureaucracies as parasites on society, but the question for me is why use obscure magical constructs to do jobs that could easily be done by people? I could get completely lost down the rabbit hole of how and when and why constructs are used rather than people, but I’ll be patient and see what is revealed next week

Is there a character you’re particularly drawn to so far?

I don’t particularly like anyone so far, but I do find most of them interesting. The exceptions are Phalue and Ranami – I can see where they appear to fit and what journey they’re likely to go on (and I’m here for it), but they’ve got a lot of work to do to come to life and make me care. I’m far more intrigued by mysterious Sand and her memory loss and compulsions. Me being me, I’m instantly waggling my eyebrows that we’ve got two narrators who have memory loss – consider me deeply suspicious. As for Lin and Jovis – well, let’s talk about Lin and Jovis…

What do you make of Lin’s motivations? How much do you think she’s driven by a desire to save her Empire – or are her motivations more selfish?

I have trust issues where Lin is concerned. These are both suspicions on her behalf – in terms of the cause of her illness and the nature of her memory loss, and also relating to the death of her mother (her dad burned all her images and killed all her handmaidens, wtf) – and of her motivations. Lin doesn’t seem to want to be the heir so much as she wants to be the Empress – and she may be driven by ‘the good of the Empire’, but I’m not convinced she and I would define that in the same way. For example: Lin knows exactly what cost the bone shard magic extracts, but she hasn’t indicated that she thinks that’s a bad thing or that she’d stop using it… and she wants to learn her father’s secrets so she can put things right and stop the rebellion. I have a terrible feeling that means by crushing it… So I can totally see her character arc being that of becoming a great and terrible queen – with Phalue coming round to Ranami’s point of view and opposing her.

In spite of all that, I empathise with her. Frankly, the Emperor deserves whatever comes for him for making his daughter feel broken. Fuck you, Dad.

Jovis tends to tell lies when faced with truths he doesn’t want to face. As a first person narrator, how reliable do you feel this makes him?

Ironically, more reliable than Lin! So far Jovis has at least called himself out whenever he has squirmed around the truth; I have put his temptation to tell lies in dire circumstances down to compassion rather than deceit. But then I’m an optimist and an idealist…

I was more amused by the way he initially seemed to have an awfully big opinion of himself for a man we kept seeing trip himself up (on Deerhead Island). However, once things kicked off in earnest, he has earned his reputation: he can spin a yarn under pressure, improvise with the best, and seems to have a good heart.

MEPHI 😍 Any guesses / wild theories about Jovis’s new furry friend?

Honestly, none. I’m just enjoying Mephi enormously and this is absolutely an excuse to share this amazing art card that arrived in my Goldsboro edition:

Art card: pencil drawing by Andrea Stewart of Mephi, an otter-like creature
Artwork by Andrea Stewart

Thoughts from around the Endless Sea

But wait, this is a read-along – what did everybody else have to say?

Links will be added once they go live.

Don’t see your blog here? I may have missed you are joining us – add your post to the Wyrd and Wonder master schedule and I’ll pick it up and include you here!

Reading Schedule

We’ve got a suggested reading schedule (although everyone is free to read at their own pace) and we’ll follow our traditional approach of a blog post each week to talk about what we think so far. If you don’t have a blog, you can join the discussion via the comments on the week’s host blog or the Goodreads topic, or start a Twitter thread and tag us in. Wherever you post, please avoid spoilers for future weeks if you read ahead (or have read it before).

  • Week 1: Beginning through Chapter Eleven
  • Week 2: Chapter Twelve – Twenty-three – hosted here @ There’s Always Room For One More
  • Week 3: Chapter Twenty-four – Thirty-five – hosted by Lisa @ Dear Geek Place
  • Week 4: Chapter Thirty-six to the end – hosted by Mayri @ BookForager

Discussion prompts will be posted on the dedicated Goodreads topic midweek each week. I’ll be posting on Sundays, but you can post any day that suits you – just add your link to the Wyrd and Wonder master schedule.

Want to join us in the read-along? Jump on in!