Sequel Prep: The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire #1) by Andrea Stewart

While trying to come up with an intro for this review, my brain decided to spin up its internal record player with the slightly altered “And so it is / The colder water / The Bone Shard Daughter / The pupil in denial” from Damien Rice’s “The Blower’s Daughter.” To cut the repetition off at the knees I wrote it down with the plan to replace it once I figured out something that actually works as an intro. Did that ever happen? No. Am I still singing the song days later? …And so it is.

Now let me spin it: when you think about it, these lyrics aren’t actually that far off base from the story within Andrea Stewart’s series opening book. You’ve got Jovis, a smuggler desperately hanging onto the hope that his lost love is somewhere out there across the open, cold waters of this map full of drifting islands, aided by a mysterious creature (who I would die for) with equally mysterious air expulsion powers (he’s no one’s daughter, but he’s a blower so shh let me have this). And you’ve got the Emperor’s daughter Lin, a woman who craves inspiring a look of pride on her father’s face, a look she rarely, if ever, sees, as she hopelessly claws for any hint of the memories she’s lost, and the identity and truth of self that was taken with them. These two storylines (along with Sand’s) are all about finding a way back to a time when each character felt whole; and the mysteries that abound as they struggle to recover what was lost is where this book really shines.

Honestly I could’ve spent the whole book just with Lin, because it was her chapters that I found the most fascinating: from her journey of hobbling together an understanding of her Dr. Frankenstein father’s chimera-esque creations, to the slow discoveries of what happened to her, who she is, and the true depths of what is happening right within the walls of her home. Is she in denial about the truth as it slowly unfolds with each new discovery (I will continue to force the comparisons to “The Blower’s Daughter” if it’s the last thing I do so I don’t need to write a new intro)? Maybe a bit. Goodness knows she’s more than intelligent enough to make certain connections with what seems so obviously right in front of her, but I appreciate Stewart giving us these “AHA!” moments to balance out all the reveals I didn’t fully see coming.

As for what is without the walls of the palace, well, that’s what Jovis is for, taking us island hopping among all the discontent people beholden to a man who claims to be the only one capable of holding back a force whose return could bring on world altering shifts of power and destruction. The book remains largely in the shallow end of the pool when it comes to exploring this magical group of beings who were overthrown before disappearing, which is shocking considering how concerned I was about their return after a cataclysmic event kicks things off. I was instantly put on edge waiting for the ripple effect to immediately come into play; and I waited, and waited, and waited for the second ripple. Apparently this preoccupation was mine and mine alone, while the book and its characters moved onto other smaller scale things, things that did narry to assuage the nagging anticipation I felt for much too long, as so many questions went unanswered.

Answers I would definitely not get from Phalue and Ranami, the sapphic element of the book that I so desperately wanted to care about. Unfortunately, I struggled to become invested in their relationship as I grew frustrated with Phalue’s ignorance of how poorly those not living on high with her in terms of the economic/social hierarchy have it (or her complacency and ability to justify the inequality), as well as with Ranami, who may or may not be disingenuous with her feelings in order to manipulate Phalue to enact change in an “ends justify the means” sort of way. Long story short, the chapters dedicated to these two did not feel substantial enough for me to get a read on their feelings, nor was there enough there to make me care about the turmoil between the two due to the expanse of differences dividing them, and I basically spent their chapters reliving my exasperation at the similarly frustrating pairing in C. L. Clark’s The Unbroken, as I distractedly weighed the pros and cons of keeping my place on my library’s waitlist for its sequel, The Faithless.

I get that Phalue and Ranami’s chapters are important because they give us a closer look at the rebellion, the growing anger, and unrest catalyzed by the schism between the majority of the citizens and those who take advantage of them, but I dunno… these two just feel a bit extraneous when we have Jovis to expand upon Lin’s introductory glimpses at how the people of her Empire live, giving us the broader understanding of the discontent we need.

So there you have it for The Blowe- I mean The Bone Shard Daughter. A great intro to this fascinating new world of weird necromantic adjacent magic. Fingers crossed our view scales out a bit as these larger looming forces of yore become a more present threat, and that I warm up more to the characters whose names always brought slight disappointment when they appeared at the top of new chapters – a copy of The Faithless literally became available to check out as I was writing this, so who knows what impact that will have on my experience with The Bone Shard Emperor. Wish me luck!

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