The Bone Shard Daughter: The Drowning Empire 1

Book Reviews / Saturday, November 27th, 2021

By: Andrea Stewart
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit/Hatchett Book Group

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Bone Shard Daughter is Andrea Stewart’s superb debut epic fanatasy in the Drowning Empire Series. As a debut novel, Ms. Stewart has captured the very essence of fantasy. The Bone Shard Daughter takes place in the The Phoenix Empire during the reign of the Sukai Dynasty. Having a fantasy set clearly in an Asian-inspired world, with LBGTQ representation, and a highly unique magic system, makes the Bone Shard Daughter an excellent addition to the fantasy genre. The prose was excellent, told from the perspective of several different characters. It allowed the reader to get to know the main characters, while keeping the story flowing smoothly. Ms. Stewart’s crisp prose weaves an amazing tale, detailed for the reader to immerse themselves in the world of the Phoenix Empire. It was a page turning, exciting novel from start to finish, with twists and turns I never expected. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and I highly recommend it.

The first aspect of the book to talk about is the bone shard magic, as it is the base for character development and world building. I was truly impressed with this imaginative system. The magic, which is wielded by the Emperor, takes shards of bone, carving instructions on each, and putting them back into the bodies of the organisms he creates; the constructs. They maintain order in the Phoenix Empire. Where do the shards come from? Each child must do the Tithing Festival, where a part of their skull, behind the ear, is taken to be used. Of course, over time, the vast majority of the population has had shard removed. One used, it drains the life of the person, who dies of “shard sickness”. It is exceptionally cruel. Children are supposed to be given opium to dull the pain of the procedure, but many are carried out without it, or children do not receive enough and suffer unbearable pain. Some die during the tithing. The Tithing Festival and use of the shards contributes to the unrest in the empire.

I am always looking for unique magic system in the fantasy genre and Ms. Stewart did not disappoint. She holds nothing back in describing the cruelty of the Tithing and helplessness of the parents submitting their children, as they too, have gone through the same process. The tie-in to the world building was brilliant. The empire is in trouble, people are unhappy, natural disasters are occurring, yet the tithing continues and the emperor remains in his palace, obsessed with his bone shard magic.

The characters were very well done. The book follows the arcs of several characters. Lin Sukai, the main character and daughter of the Emperor, craves her father’s love, as she competes for succession to the throne with Bayan, the Emperor’s adopted son. The next main protagonist is Jovis, who is involved with a smuggling gang, but only wants to find his wife who disappeared years before. There is Phalue, the daughter of the governor of one islands in the empire, trains as a guard, but knows her father’s policies are unjust. Ranami, once a street orphan and now Phalue’s lover tries to change the governor’s policies and will not marry Phalue until they change. Finally, there is Sand, a woman on the mysterious remote island of Malai, where the people there live in a “fog”, having no memories of their lives. They live in relative peace, gathering crops and doing other menial tasks.

Ms. Stewart captures each of the character traits of each perfectly. As the first in the series, we know their growth will continue as it progresses. We feel the angst of Lin and she has no memories of before a time when she was “sick”. It is the loss of these memories that anger her father as he considers her “broken”.  Her despair comes across so clearly as she wants to please him and have him love her again as a father loves his daughter. She goes to great lengths and puts herself in danger to try and please him. Bayan was taken is as the Emperor’s adopted son. He comes across as arrogant as he competes with Lin, and he is shown the bone shard magic. The rivalry the Emperor has created shows his cruelty towards his own daughter, and that which he extends to his subjects.

I found Jovis to be a very likeable character. He is the reluctant hero, but never feels like a trope. While he falls in with a powerful smuggling gang, he simply wants the money to search for his wife. He is desperate to find her, believing she was taken on a mysterious boat somewhere in the empire. Jovis becomes a folk hero as he travels from island to island, and in doing so, he saves many children from the tithing. He brings to a group called the “Shardless Few”, those who have escaped the tithing. Jovis has become an unwilling “legend”, when all he wants to do is find his wife. You also can’t mention Jovis without Mephi. Mephi is a strange creature Jovis rescued. They form an intimate magical connection which is wonderful and unique.  

The other characters are just as well done. They all wrestle with what they believe is best for the empire. Phalue and Ranami relationship is beautifully written, and Ranami’s strong beliefs prevents her from becoming Phalue’s wife. It frustrates Phalue since, as the governor’s daughter, there is little she can do about his policies. Representation in books, no matter the genre, is so important. LBGTQ relationships are simply part of the world these characters live in. There is nothing forced just to have this portrayal. Finally, there is Sand, perhaps the most mysterious of all, along with the others on the strange island of Malai. This mystery leads to many twists and turns in the plot of the book.

The world building is a refreshing change from some of the more typical worlds in fantasy. While the other worlds, Norse and medieval-like, are enjoyable, there is more representation with Asian-like world building. The reader gets a wonderfully clear picture of the setting, from the characters, the Imperial Palace, food and the islands of the empire. Ms. Stewart paints detailed picture, bringing it all together with her beautiful style of prose. The more representation only adds positivity into the fantasy genre.

Overall Thoughts

As a debut epic fantasy, The Bone Shard daughter by Andrea Stewart, is more than an impressive addition to the genre. All the fantasy elements are in place. The character development excellent. Each character, and not just the main protagonists, are richly developed and I hope to see more as the series progresses. Each character elicits a different response from the reader. The bone shard magic system is unique and well done. The Asian setting, along with LGBTQ representation only adds to how impressive this debut novel is, and certainly adds more representation into the genre. The prose is beautiful and paints vivid descriptions of all the elements; the magic system, characters and the world of the Phoenix Empire. The chapters are told from multiple points of view, but weave together the wonderful fantasy of Lin, Jovis, Phalue, Ranami, Sand. The Bone Shard Daughter was a great read from start to finish and I highly recommend it.


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 recognize 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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