I have a review for my stop of the Bone Shard Daughter Blog Tour hosted by Kate from Your Tita Kate. Towards the end I also have an interview with Andrea Stewart. She stopped by to talk about toppling some empires, animal companions and mad scientists. Just two fantasy nerds talking in an imagined kitty cafe with some drinks and treats. With no pandemic anywhere in existance.
So this is a first. Generally speaking I do not like math. I do not like science. I do not like tinkering and all that horrible stuff. I am the type of fantasy gay that does not have the interest.
Andrea Stewart is my very best friend right now. She makes everything feel seamless and fun in her world. And sure. Maybe you’re sitting there asking yourself ‘wait isn’t this a world where body horror and mad scientists order a piece of their citizen’s bodies for nefarious uses?’ Yes. That is fun. That is a good time for me. I want to see all the characters scramble and revolutionize and betray each other for my sick enjoyment.
The way this book unpacks imperialism is just like catnip. Complex catnip.
The Bone Shard Daughter has gay ladies in love with their armour, a frankenstein daddy, dumplings, rebels, a cat daddy and animal companions! It is absolutely everything that is fun about fantasy, especially fantasy that takes us away from traditional tropes. It does not feel like anything I’ve read.
Andrea Stewart introduces us to multiple characters and perspectives in this first installment of her series.
- Let’s talk about Lin and the Frankenstein Emperor
Characters told that they’re broken inside are just everything I want in my goodie bag of book things. It’s why I loved Maggie from Trail of Lighting, Tali from the Chronicles of the Bitch Queen, and Ryx from Rooks and Ruin. I am here for the determined heroine that just wants to live their damn lives and knock down all those asses calling them broken.
Lin, the daughter of the Emperor, seeks approval from her father, a rather sadisitc man that uses bone shards to create humanoids out of animal parts. She vies for power and fights her way out of a memory sickness, preventing her from recalling her past.
Long ago, the Emperor’s ancestors drove their enemies, the Alanga, from these lands. He is convinced they will return. This magic is his obsession against this fear that they will one day return to these lands. Using the shards of his people to create beings of both human and else, he uses this magic to control his Empire and Lin in the way many real rulers have hidden away and normalized their corruption..
Lin wants to sucker punch her way into convincing the Emperor she is not broken. That she is worthy of his throne. Worthy of practicing Bone Shard Magic.
She tinkers and finds her way past all the locked doors that hide away his mysteries of her past and of his Empire. I fully appreciate the fact that Stewart makes these keys and unlocking doors and what lies underneath the constructs, as if she’s rummaging within what the Empire is hiding. Where is the source of the corruption and how does it function? All of the messages in the magic and in the plot all unfold in what Stewart is saying.
- Jovis, the bestest of Cat Daddies
Jovis is my beloved. I would absolutely slash every single thing in existence to protect him. We have all these interconnected characters from various places within the Empire. All of them are integral to the little parts (the keys or parts if you will) of experiences within the Empire.
Jovis is Empirean and Poyer. Not seen as Empirean but as other by his society, Jovis is treated differently, as a 2nd class citizen, in his society. This has him struggling with who he is and whether he even wants to consider himself Empirean. The question “So What are You” becomes a theme for Jovis’ plotline and something that gives his character layers and complexity.
We find him searching for his love, his wife, among the waters where he searches for a ship. What starts as a journey for a lost loved one turns into an animal companion storyline, magic, and the spark of revolution.
What I love about Jovis is most summed up by his relationship with Mephi, a magical kitty sorta mystery. Jovis starts out grumpy barely tolerating the cute little monster to willing to burn it all to the ground for Mephi. He is the softest grumpy cat papa. One of the most endearing things about Jovis’ chapters is the humor. Jovis uses humor to deflect all the loss that he has felt.
And people always talked about habits like they were a thing that would kill you one day. “Jovis has a habit of gambling” or “Jovis has a habit of drinking too much melon wine” or “Jovis has a habit of steering his ship into storms”.
This is also one of the very first adult fantasy books I’ve read where I’ve read a male character being keenly aware of his sexual orientation. He notices that he likes women. That creates a normalized idea that heterosexuality is not the default. Characters discovering their heterosexual identity treated as normally as a woman discovering she like girls.
Speaking of which
3. Ranami and Phalue: Lets talk about my favorite sapphics
One of the things I am ever grateful for in this book is seeing a gay woman courting other women as normal. Phalue is the daughter of a nobleman and encouraged to court someone, doesn’t matter her interest is the ladies. While I do see LGBTQIA people represented in SFF, I don’t see it as normalized as I would like. I more often than not see pain and suffering rather than LGBTQIA people treated as normal and just like anyone else within that society. It’s fantasy. I want to see some escapism.
Phalue’s relationship with Ranami is one of the things that made me the most happy when reading this book. Ranami and Phalue are so complicated. As they discuss privilege, poverty, and rebellion they are always there for each other. They’re just two ridiculous sapphics yelling at each other and then making out within a minute. I love that.
They are willing to talk through their privileges and talk through their fights. They are so soft.
Hers was the beauty of ospreys, of sea serpents, of a wave crashing against rocks.
Phalue is not described conventionally. She’s not described with those horrible misogynistic descriptors ‘plain’ or ‘average’ or even ‘homely’. She’s described as being beautiful but without the notion that she needs the expected face and body of what a society may view as beautiful . I don’t often see muscular women described as being beautiful but as unimpressive. In any other book I would expected the men around her treat her as abnormal and weird. Stewart did not do that. I kept being so surprised by that and then remembering how much I hate that I would expect that. The amount of self inspection Andrea Stewart forced me through *fans self*
Andrea Stewart makes all the other fantasy novels look like they dusty old books that were put back on the shelf for a reason. This book is raw, dark, intraspective and drips nuance and complexity from every page. It’s the type of novel that you want to read to see how all the parts work and let that mystery unfold.
Thank you to Orbit books and Your Tita Kate for a review copy in exchange for an honest review. Any quotes used are from an advanced readers copy and may be different from the published copy.
Andrea Stewart is the daughter of immigrants, and was raised in a number of places across the United States. Her parents always emphasized science and education, so she spent her childhood immersed in Star Trek and odd-smelling library books.
When her (admittedly ambitious) dreams of becoming a dragon slayer didn’t pan out, she instead turned to writing books. She now lives in sunny California, and in addition to writing, can be found herding cats, looking at birds, and falling down research rabbit holes.
Hi, Andrea! Congratulations. The Bone Shard Daughter is almost here. Welcome and tell me a little about yourself! And if you want to throw in some other goods? Any pets, the book you most loved recently, and something funny about yourself.
Hi! It’s lovely to be here! Hmmm…a little about myself. I’m probably excessively silly, very nerdy, I used to work as a compliance officer for contracts and grants, and I have two cats. My husband picked out one cat, and I picked out the other. He picked an incredibly mellow kitten and I picked out the smartest, most mischievous kitten I could find. HSo I guess I like to torture myself a little! The book I most loved recently was The Vanished Queen by Lisbeth Campbell, which also has a corrupt leader and a revolution, and is just a wonderful, compelling read with main characters who are trying their very best.
Something funny about myself…well about this whole pandemic. My mom is an amazing seamstress, and offered to make me, my siblings, and our spouses some masks. Of course I took her up on the offer. My mom also repurposes a lot of things. So she gives me a packet of several masks with various patterns. One had a hamburger pattern on it, which I thought was hilarious. I immediately start wearing that one around, only to be told by my sister that her husband had politely turned that mask down. It had been repurposed. Not from an old shirt, or a handkerchief, but from my brother’s old boxers.
(Don’t mind the editor cackling over here). Moving on.
One of the aspects of this book that immediately drew me in is the horror. You have an emperor using his people’s bone shards to animate beings called constructs. This reminds me of Frankenstein but also the Island of Doctor Moreau, a book of a mad scientist living on an island. Moreau creates humanoids from animal parts, sort of like Lin’s father. Would you talk about your inspirations for the Bone Shard Daughter?
I’ve always had a fascination with the intrinsic horror of being consumed in some way. Plus a fascination with body horror. So…I sort of combined that into bone shards being used to power constructs. This consumes the life force of those who contributed the shards. It’s not just horrific, it’s practical and makes sense for the Emperor. At one point, it probably did for his people. Tithe a bone shard and have it used to power a war construct–at least you don’t have to go fight in-person, right? In another sense, there’s this constant dread hanging over the people of the Empire. Is your shard in use? How quickly will your shard be consumed? That weakness you’re feeling…is it the beginnings of shard sickness or just a bad day? I wanted the Emperor to be something of a mad scientist. He’s constantly locking himself behind various doors in his palace, more concerned with his bone shard experiments than with actually ruling his people.
One of things in fantasy that I get very tired of is the way LGBTQIA characters are always having to grapple with identity, as being strange or unusual in a fantasy world. Fantasy authors often have monsters normalized but not gay people being happy. SFF is not absent of LGBTQIA authors writing normalized identities in fantasy. You had Phalue courting women and treated that as normal as Jovis knowing he liked girls. Phalue’s previous pursuits of women are even described as akin to a rake or a scoundrel. Would you mind talking about what you wanted to see added in fantasy when regarding LGBTQIA characters?
There is SO MUCH material out there that deals with LGBTQIA characters grappling with their identities, or where the whole center and focus of their story is on their identity and/or their experience of coming out (or not coming out). While I think that material is valid and has its place, I’d been doing a lot of thinking regarding this. I’d written in some queer tragedy in my prior manuscript, and had that pointed out to me by a good friend. I’d been absorbing all this problematic LBGTQIA media without really examining it and had, without intending to, reflected it back in my own work. But people who are LGBTQIA have lives outside of this one aspect of their identities. And historically, there were plenty of cultures where queerness was normalized. Why do we keep regurgitating this one cultural norm? I wanted to explore a world where queerness was normalized, and to give my characters space to have other concerns, worries, and hopes.
You’ve mentioned on twitter that you did not want to stick to either Western or non-western inspirations for your book, especially where Jovis is concerned. Jovis is biracial, Empirean and Poyer. The Empireans do not see him as Empirean and treat him differently. SFF has a long history with white supremacy and tends to box books in depending on culture, skin color, place, and time period. For your characters and your world what did you want to set out to do in your fantasy world?
I did know I wanted to write something in an Asian-inspired landscape. My mom is from China, and I grew up attending Chinese school on Saturdays. But the world in my book is not meant to be an alternate China! I pulled some things from my experiences of growing up: the emphasis on good food, the expectations set for children and the sense of duty to parents, some of the feels and textures of the surroundings. But other things I needed to be different. The landscape of my world–an archipelago of moving islands–necessitates different cultural norms. I’m hoping that the world feels familiar enough to anchor people, but strange enough to intrigue them! I did set out wanting to write a biracial character when I started this book, since I’m biracial myself. I don’t see many biracial characters and I get sort of excited when I do. It’s a strange experience to sometimes feel accepted in two societies and to also sometimes feel rejected from both. While Jovis moves through the Empire without too much backlash, there are always things that crop up to make him aware he doesn’t quite belong.
I love the relationship of Mephi and Jovis. He’s like a cat daddy. 100/100 would die for both of them. Mephi has an unusual character development with Jovis that I am in love with. What about animal companions do you love? Did you just want some additional fun?
Well, as a person with two cats, I may be biased when I say that animal companions are the absolute best! They bring so much richness to our lives, and it’s only fair that our fantasy characters get to experience that too! But really, it’s an element of fantasy I’ve always enjoyed reading–from the fire lizards of Pern, to the desert horses of Damar, to the daemons in Golden Compass–the idea was just so appealing to me. I had a list of things I really loved reading that I wanted to incorporate into this book, and animal companions were on that list. As for Jovis’s relationship with Mephi…I think we all have heard stories of someone who said, “The dog/cat can’t stay!” and then end up being completely besotted with the creature. Animal companions have a way of softening our harsh edges and revealing that we are all absolute cinnamon rolls beneath.
You seem to be saying something about empires, tyranny, memory, identity, and rebellions. There seems to be cyclical nature to what is occurring in the political landscape. What about empires and imperial rule is so interesting to you, regarding your world and our own?
I think there’s something seductive about imperial rule. Put someone in charge, let them deal with the big decisions. And without having to consult anyone, they can make these decisions quickly and efficiently. Words can turn to actions nearly overnight. Bureaucracy and democracy can seem weighty and tired in comparison. But when you let someone have all that power, it means giving up your own. So there’s always a tradeoff. I get a little deeper into the history of the Empire in the second book, but at one time, it seemed like a good tradeoff for the citizens to make. Of course, time and circumstances always change…
There’s a lot of humor in the Bone Shard Daughter. Jovis has such great timing with humor. What about his character did you find so endearing and why did you put so much humor in your book. Legit found myself laughing out loud.
Oh, that’s good to hear! I think Jovis’s sense of humor is a lot like mine, where he’ll unabashedly find himself amusing even if no one else does. If there’s a circle of Hell for people who laugh at their own jokes, I’m headed there. I really wanted Jovis to not be one-note. He’s dealing with and working through this immense grief, but he’s not tragedy personified. He had a sense of humor before his wife went missing, and he still has it. And while there was a lot I wanted to say with this book, I still wanted it to be fun!
I love seeing non-stereotypical descriptions of women in fantasy books. You don’t put people in boxes. Phalue and Ranami are both gay and have very different ways of presenting themselves. I loved seeing so many different ways of characters presenting themselves through what they wear and what makes them feel like themselves. Why did you wanted to make this an important part of your characters.
I think this came out of a lot of years of frustration of reading women in fantasy books described the same ways–conventionally beautiful of course, with large, unusually colored eyes and long, shining hair… I grew up feeling really plain. Unruly short black hair, brown eyes, awkward and broad-shouldered. People used to think I was wearing shoulder pads and would be surprised to find out those were, indeed, my actual shoulders. And then I’d read about these women who were inevitably more feminine than I was. But actual people come in all shapes and sizes and their worth or ability to protagonist shouldn’t be based on their looks or how they present themselves. A person who can seem plain to one person can seem really beautiful to another. It’s all about context. I don’t have anything against the conventionally beautiful protagonist–I love them too!–I just think there’s such a variety of people out there and we don’t all fit what people might expect.
Thanks for stopping by Andrea. And congrats again. Do you have anything else you’d like to share for the future? Anything readers can look forward to?
Thank you so much for having me! Oh, I have so many plans for the future! I’m excited to show readers what happens in the second and third books in this trilogy. I know where it all ends up and I’ve been laying out some little hints which are very amusing to me. I have a sci-fi I’m working on with time bubbles and an illegal assassin robot. And I’m brewing up some more epic fantasy ideas in strange new worlds. Can’t wait to share it all!