The Bone Shard Daughter by @andreagstewart which is the first book in the Drowning Empire series was hands down one of my favourite debut novels this year. It was such an immersive and exciting read from beginning to end. To think this is a debut novel is baffling to me because the writing and story was nothing short of perfection.The novel is set across various islands controlled and dictated by the Emperor. The emperor has kept a tight hold on his people through the powers of Bone Magic and his ability to build constructs. These are essentially a mashup of the body parts of dead species put together. This power however comes at a great cost for the people of the islands. The emperor’s hold on the islands however is slowly loosening as whispers of a revolution flow across the Empires islands.In the middle of all this is Lin the Emperors daughter and future heir. Lin spends her time trapped in the palace where mostly all doors are locked and require keys to unlock the doors and the palaces secrets doors. To gain approval from her father who refuses to consider her the heir to the throne, Lin resorts to proving herself by delving into the forbidden art of bone shard magic.However, with the prospect of a revolution inching ever closer to the palaces gates and discontent for the Empires actions escalating, Lin must act quickly and decide what is more important to her. Her claim to the throne or saving her people from her fathers tyranny.Sounds amazing right? Well it absolutely fricking was people! As I said at the beginning of the review, this was such a brilliant and exciting read for me and not only is it my favourite debut novel this year but my favourite read overall so far this year. This book had everything from brilliant world building, a unique magic system and fantastic characters.Throughout the story, the novel is told from the point of view of different characters. At the epicentre of the story is obviously Lin. Lin is a very complex character and it was a joy following her inside the palace and unlocking its secrets. Lin’s memories are fragmented and all over the place. So throughout the story we follow her confined to the walls of the palace trying to regain those memories and find out how she was before.On top of that, what also increases the tension of Lin regaining her memory is her competition with her father’s adopted son Bayan. Both Lin and Bayan are trying to gain keys from the Emperor in order to discover hidden secrets and his favour. This need for approval from her father is what leads her to secretly attempting to explore the wonders of Bone Shard magic.This is what makes the story so gripping as Lin must outmanoeuvre her fathers spy constructs and her competition, Bayan in her attempt to learn about Bone Magic. There are many “heart in mouth” moments as just when you think Lin is about to get caught, she somehow is able to twist out of a sticky situation.As the story progresses Lin uncovers revelation upon revelation about herself and her fathers past and current actions. Usually it is pretty easy to put your thumb on the twist that is about to happen, but this wasn’t the case with The Bone Shard Daughter. Andrea Stewart does fantastically in making you think you think you know the whole picture but then incorporating a twist that has your mind spinning.We also see the story told from the POV of Jovis. Jovis is a smuggler who proclaims himself as “Jovis, Best smuggler in the empire”. Jovis is a wanted man and has caught the attention of both the Empire and the Ioph Carn a criminal organisation he owes money too who are hot on his tail. In the story Jovis is attempting to find his lover, Emahala who has disappeared. He has been trying to do this for years with the only clue being her boat with blue sails
“Clear skies, sunny. It was there i’d seen it again – the boat with the blue sails, a lone figure at the rails.”
I really loved the passion of Jovis to find Emahala and the wee snippets of memories he had of being with her were pretty emotional. I think if I was him I’d have done the exact same thing and try to find the boat!Anyway, right at the beginning of the story a wrench is thrown into his goal to find her due to the drowning of Deerhead Island. Jovis ends up surviving but only just as many fail to escape the island. However, while attempting to escape, Jovis makes a friend and probably the best animal companion I’ve come across in a while. That being Mephi. Mephi is an intriguing and wonderful creature who has magical capabilities which you soon discover.There relationship was very touching and seeing Jovis go from not wanting to have anything to do with Mephi, to him becoming his most trusted companion was great.
“Little by Little he’d (Mephi) become more than just an animal , but a companion he couldn’t see himself being apart from”
Andrea Stewart makes you root so hard for this unlikely duo. Their relationship develops at a really great pace and both soon discover how important they are to each other.Although not featured as extensively as Lin and Jovis, there are also the two other characters of Phalue and Ranami who are a couple. Unlike Lin and Jovis whose parts in the story are told from first person, Phalue and Ranami’s story is told from third person. Their relationship and what they go through is an important aspect of the story because both have a different outlook on what is going on in world. Phalue is the daughter of a governor whereas Ranami is from a much poorer background.Both of their arcs highlight how your social class within society can impact the way you perceive things and also the fact that an individuals status within society can affect the way they see things around them and in toe, their relationships with others.
“She did not want to be a governor’s wife. She couldn’t sit in that palace and live that life, knowing that she’d been raised in the gutter, that her heart would always hurt every time she saw an urchin on the street.”
You therefore get to see things from both perspectives and realise that there are two sides to every story. This is further heightened by the level of emotion in their dialogue with each other.In terms of the magic system, I really loved the whole Frankenstein-esque idea surrounding constructs and the ability to assemble monsters using parts of deceased animals and bone shard magic. Throughout the story Lin attempts to learn Bone Shard magic under the constant eyes of spies and her fathers. These scenes are so intense as Lin barely escapes getting caught many times.I also really liked the intrigue surrounding the lore of the world, especially the history surrounding Alanga. We don’t really know much about them but they are ancient beings. Throughout the story there is a lot of speculation of their return which again causes intrigue as not enough information is given away by Andrea. This for me is a good thing as it sets up the second book really well.
“There were whispers in the streets that this meant the Alanga would return and take back rule of the islands, and that it would happen first at Nephilanu.”
So overall, this book was just everything I had hoped for. An immersive character driven novel with a world that absorbs you in like a lemon drizzle cake. I also loved the writing so much, its vividness and depth made everything feel so real in my mind. I could picture everything happening effortlessly and as we know books that are able to make your imagination run wild are the bestest. I am super super excited for book 2 and can’t wait to continue the series. Andrea if you’re reading this, thank you so much for writing such a brilliant novel. Books such as yours are the reason I love reading and writing reviews 🥰Thank you to Orbit team for sending me early copies of the book! I really appreciate it!