The Bone Shard Daughter is the first installment in Stewart’s epic fantasy trilogy The Drowning Empire. It covers a lot of ground with a total of five point-of-view protagonists spread all throughout the islands of the Empire. Despite this ambitious scope, the story flows well and maintains a consistent pace. I was never confused by the switching point-of-views, and I felt that I got to know each of the protagonists well. Despite the distance between them, the character's stories were intertwined in a number of ways. And instead of a single culmination at the end, the mysteries in this novel were continuously unraveling, allowing time for me to create my own theories.
Lin’s determination and conflict between doing what she needs to and not putting others in danger makes for a compelling primary character. Her chapters are filled with suspense and surprising revelations, however, my favorite point-of-view by far is Jovis, in no small part due to Mephi, his adopted animal sidekick of unknown origins. While most of our characters are actively trying to dismantle or takeover the Empire, Jovis is much more of a reluctant hero. He wants nothing more than to be left alone and find his wife, but his plans are constantly derailed by people seeking his help.
Though we don’t see as much of Phalue and Ranami, they are no less important. It was a treat to see their pre-established sapphic relationship that, quite realistically, underwent a fair amount of friction, primarily due to the class difference between them. Rebellion and oppression are common topics in epic fantasy, but it’s much more rare to find a main character like Phalue who has to address their own privilege and how to overcome the biases it gives them.
Stewart’s worldbuilding in this novel was top-notch for several reasons. First, it was delivered from a multitude of perspectives, which allows us to begin to develop a conception of the whole of the empire, from the palace to the Endless Sea. Secondly, there were a number of components that felt fresh and contributed intricacies to the plot, such as constructs made from bone shard magic (at no small cost to the empire’s citizens), floating islands that migrate, and relics from an ancient civilization. And finally, the worldbuilding was delivered gradually and naturally, in large part through the mysteries that Lin and Jovis were each individually working to solve. This means that even at the end of the book, there’s still a lot left to discover about this world.
If you’re looking for a new epic fantasy trilogy to jump into, The Bone Shard Daughter is an excellent choice that provides complex mystery, a unique magic system, and a satisfying ending that will nevertheless leave you wanting more.
Many thanks to Netgalley and Orbit for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.