The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart (The Drowning Empire #1)
In an empire controlled by bone shard magic, Lin, the former heir to the emperor will fight to reclaim her magic and her place on the throne. The Bone Shard Daughter marks the debut of a major new voice in epic fantasy.
The emperor's reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire's many islands.
Lin is the emperor's daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognize her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.
Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright - and save her people.
CONTRIBUTOR(S): Natalie Naudus (Narrator), Feodor Chin (Narrator), Emily Woo Zeller (Narrator)
LENGTH: 448 pages (13 hours 44 minutes)
Queer Rep Summary: Lesbian/Sapphic Main Character(s), Gay/Achillean Minor Character(s).
There's a pretty large cast of narrators, listening via audiobook helped enormously with keeping track of them since there are three audiobook narrators to handle all the perspectives. Those performances are great, making helping keep the characters distinct even when the same performed voiced multiple characters.
The plot has several threads, following each of the main characters. The blurb implies that Lin is the only main character, but Jovis plays an enormous role (meeting all but one of the other main characters at various points), and the romance between Phalue and Ranami felt complex and real. Lin is the daughter of the emperor, trying to get her father's approval by getting back memories she lost in a sickness several years ago. Jovis is a smuggler who is trying to find his wife who was kidnapped five years ago. He ends up rescuing children from having their shards taken. Phalue is the daughter of a governor on one of the islands, and Ranami is her girlfriend who keeps turning down Phalue's marriage proposals because Phalue doesn't seem to understand the enormity of her privilege in comparison to everyone on the island. There's a woman called Sand who is trying to escape her current situation, I don't want to spoil anything about her but she seems set up to do much more in the sequel.
Lin has spent years trying to get her father's approval, and is frustrated by his ableist insistence that she's not whole unless she can get back the memories she lost. Desperate to get him to pay attention to her as she is and not as she was, Lin starts copying his keys to get access to rooms that might hold knowledge of the magic he should be teaching her. She's in competition with her foster brother Bayan since he regained more of his memories and seems to continually be one step ahead of her in getting the emperor's attention.
The relationship between Phalue and Ranami briefly dips into some toxic territory as Phalue doesn't seem to understand or know how to take seriously Ranami's concerns. It definitely helps that both of them are narrators, so their perspectives are shown directly at various points.
Jovis ends up with an animal companion after he saves it from the water during a disaster early one. Mephi is pretty cool and not annoying, which is a relief because sometimes I end up detesting animal sidekicks.
The magic system is based on using bone taken from the empire's citizens as children. The shards can be used to power constructs, and once in use they slowly drain the life force of their original owner. The emperor uses an elaborate array of constructs to do all the imperial bureaucracy which could be done by people, but he doesn't trust anyone else to do it right. This setup means that the way the lower classes are exploited is more than just cruelty and resource hoarding by the rich, but that their very lives can be taken, slowly, by an emperor they'll never see, if he happens to pick their shard from a drawer and use it to fuel a construct. I love the way the magic system is inseparable from the political structure and brewing uprising.
Graphic/Explicit CW for classism, grief, child abuse, emotional abuse, violence, medical trauma, murder, child death, death.
Moderate CW for ableism, racism, bullying, toxic relationship, kidnapping, confinement, physical abuse, injury detail, war, animal cruelty, animal death.
Minor CW for drug use, sexual abuse, vomit, parental death.