I’ve been struggling with writing this review of The Bone Shard Daughter for what feels like the longest time. As I read the other great tour stops for #BoneShardDaughterPH (hosted by Kate), I keep asking myself, “Did I read the same book?”
But don’t get me wrong! This isn’t to say that The Bone Shard Daughter is short of fantastic. Because it really is quite an impressive fantasy debut. It’s just that in my case, my feelings about this book are a little less straightforward and a lot more complicated than everyone else’s.
With that said, I’m hoping to write a nuanced review that will still allow you to see the many merits of The Bone Shard Daughter, and why I genuinely believe that it’s worth more than a second glance.
STRONG POINTS & HIGHLIGHTS
? Dark and cruel magic system. In The Bone Shard Daughter, magic is performed through the use of bone shards, which are forcibly taken from the kingdom’s children through a tithing ceremony. These shards are used to create and power terrifying magical constructs that carry out their maker’s commands. But this comes at a very steep price. In fact, shards under strenuous use can cause citizens to fall into shard-sickness, which eventually becomes fatal.
? Sapphic goodness and addressing class privilege. There is an established romantic relationship between two women, who come from opposing social classes. Specifically, Phalue is the vastly privileged daughter of a corrupt governor, while Ranami belongs to the poorest sector of society. Their differences in social standing contribute to the rough patches of their relationship. As they both strive to work out their personal issues, Phalue and Ranami are forced to confront larger ills on the island they live in. Phalue’s beliefs, in particular, are challenged as she faces the greed and corruption of her own father.
? Exploration of power, revolution, and free will. The key themes tackled by this book provoked a lot of thought. For instance, through Jovis, Lin, and Bayan, we learn about power, its sources, and its equally many forms. How far are we willing to go to obtain power? And how should power be used? Who should benefit from it? It is also through Lin that we start to speculate the complexities of agency and our perceived notions of free will. What governs our choices and our sense of purpose? Is our destiny designed by someone else or crafted by our own will? Are there limitations to freedom? Finally, through Phalue and Ranami, we are introduced to the critical role of revolution in overthrowing a corrupt system. What must be done and what must be sacrificed to actualize change?
? Secrets and twists that will have your skin crawling. At the onset of the story, I instinctively felt a sense of creepiness and inexplicable wrongness. Reading this book felt like roaming a haunted house at the darkest hour of the night and expecting a monster of some sort to suddenly appear. In other words, I was very tense as I anticipated the reveals. The Bone Shard Daughter is brimming with closely guarded secrets, creepy mysteries, and disturbing twists.
? A promising first installment to an addictive, high-stakes series. The story’s pacing is incredibly slow-going, and this sluggishness is maintained throughout the majority of the book. But everything quickly picks up steam once I made it past the 70 to 75% mark. Additionally, the last quarter of The Bone Shard Daughter shines the brightest for me. In fact, without giving anything away, the book ends with a spectacular finish that’ll leave readers wanting more.
BUT ON THE DOWNSIDE
? Unmet expectations due to marketing.* My biggest bone to pick (no pun intended) is how this book is marketed to readers, which leads to misconceptions about what it’s about. A lot of my expectations were unmet, which negatively affected my reading experience of The Bone Shard Daughter. For instance, since I wasn’t prepared for multiple points of view, the switching of POVs felt jarring. Also, it hindered me from connecting with any of the major characters.
* For example, the book’s synopsis solely pertains to the emperor’s daughter, Lin. Because of that (and the book’s title), I expected the story to focus on Lin’s determination to master bone shard magic. However, The Bone Shard Daughter is actually told from multiple points of view, which highlight different character arcs and personal journeys. Furthermore, among all these perspectives, Lin does not come across as the leading character. In fact, Jovis has more chapters than her. And I also have several more arguments supporting Jovis’ position as the real main character. But I digress. In addition to this, selecting The Poppy War as a comp title for this book is similarly misleading. Because the similarities shared by these two books are far and few in between.
? Frustratingly slow build-up to an impactful ending. As good and thrilling as the ending was, it sure was an absolute agonizing pain to get there. I’d compare reading The Bone Shard Daughter to a day-long, uphill hike. By the time I reached the summit, I was too exhausted by the hike to fully appreciate the great view.
Knowledge can only be wielded by those who dive into its depths and know the shape of it. Reading without true understanding is only wading in the shallows without a care for the monsters that lurk beneath.— The Bone Shard Daughter
Hauntingly eerie and disturbing, The Bone Shard Daughter is a solid adult fantasy debut with a very rewarding conclusion. It is an epic fantasy teeming with dark magic and much darker secrets. Its glacial pacing might be a dealbreaker for some readers. However, if you can power through and be patient, then you’re certainly in for a delightfully creepy treat.
Disclosure: I received a print ARC of The Bone Shard Daughter from Orbit Books in exchange for an honest review. I am also a part of the #BoneShardDaughterPH blog tour. Any quotes used in this review are subject to changes in the published copy.
The Bone Shard Daughter
by Andrea Stewart
read the content and trigger warnings.Violence; death of loved ones (off-page); depictions of blood, grief, and gore; torture (off-page); cutting into skin (not self-harm); amnesia or memory loss; drowning; murder and death
read the full synopsis.
In an empire controlled by bone shard magic, Lin, the former heir to the emperor will fight to reclaim her magic and her place on the throne. The Bone Shard Daughter marks the debut of a major new voice in epic fantasy.
The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.
Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognise her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.
Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.
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I’d love to hear from you!
? What are your thoughts about The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart? Are you planning to pick it up soon? (Also, isn’t the print ARC just shiny and gorgeous? ?)
? Aside from The Bone Shard Daughter, what other upcoming adult fantasy are you looking forward to? I’m personally excited for The Ikessar Falcon by K.S. Villoso!
? Does a story’s pacing greatly affect your reading experience? Do you prefer fast-paced or leisurely-paced fantasy?