I really enjoyed “The Bone Shard Daughter” by Andrea Stewart. It drew me in with an intriguing, logic-based magic system, flawed but compelling characters, and a deeply literary style.
I don’t know what makes fiction literary versus any other genre per se, but it is something about an emphasis on character development, interiority of a character and a lyrical way with language. Ms. Stewart’s writing style just blew me away. This is writing that sings with color and verve, vivid descriptions that are nevertheless short and sharp. Another thing I appreciated about this novel was the descriptions of food. In so much of fantasy, characters are just eating bread and cheese and the author doesn’t bother to get into the details of their dietary needs. This novel was a textbook on how to describe menus and cuisines. I could smell and taste the food as they were eating it.
The other stand-out element of the story is the magic system. I guess in fantasy parlance this would be considered a hard magic system. This is the story of an Emperor who hides in seclusion, working on experiments with bone shards. These bone shards are taken from his people in Tithing Festivals when they are children. He inscribes commands on the bone shards in order to make constructs of living things.
These constructs run his kingdom and defend it from the supposed return of the Alonga, a mysterious but powerful ancient race that disappeared. He is training his daughter Lin and his foster-son Bayan in the art of bone shard magic, but he is a cruel and possessive master. Lin takes matters into her own hands and tries to steal his secrets. She soon discovers that the cruelty of bone shard magic, while providing power to the kingdom, is also sucking its life blood dry.
Then there is Jovis, a smuggler in search of his lost love who befriends a mysterious cat-like creature and gains superpowers; and Phalue, a governor’s daughter who falls in love with Ranami, a true believer rebel allied with the Shardless Few. A revolution is brewing. But the Emperor is too obsessed with his experiments and grief over his dead wife to see it.
The sequel is coming out soon and I definitely plan to read it. This gripping opener stole my heart.