“Father told me I’m broken.“
Lin is the Emperor’s daughter, but not necessarily his heir: her life is constant competition with her foster brother to see who can learn enough – and also remember enough of their past. Lin has no memories prior to five years ago, when they were both afflicted with a mysterious illness. Sensing her father’s disappointment, and the danger of Bayan usurping her throne and future safety, she decides to learn the secrets of Bone Shard magic behind her father’s back, thus proving herself worthy.
The bone shards are harvested from the Empire’s children in a tithing ceremony, used to power ‘constructs’ – magical creatures stitched together from parts. Unfortunately, the tithing doesn’t always go well, and worse: when a shard is used it drains life from the donor. Rebellion is unsurprisingly brewing, and we meet Phalue, an island governor’s daughter whose girlfriend is part of the rebellion, and Jovis, a smuggler searching for his kidnapped wife.
It’s been a long time since I read such a satisfying fantasy, but wow this was good! The parallel plot threads all work well, each with their own mysterious and tones. Lin is practically a prisoner in the too-empty palace, sneaking around trying to breach all the locked doors. The magic she’s trying to teach herself is so dark, and her life feels under constant threats, but she’s such a driven force. Jovis, on the other hand, is all rakish charm and devil-may-care attitude – except it might be more of a front than even he realises. Oh, and he rescues an adorable creature who ends up being full of surprises and my absolute favourite!
Phalue’s story is perhaps the least captivating (perhaps because it’s told in third person, unlike Lin or Jovis?), but it’s at the core of the Empire’s real issues: rich versus poor, unacknowledged privilege, and the choice between what’s right and what’s safe. But while it might seem obvious to be on the side of the rebels, turns out they might have hidden agendas, too.
Each thread builds its own drama, and then when things start coming together – oooh!
Absolutely glad I finally got to reading this, a year after buying it – just in time for the sequel being released next month! 🙂
Kindle: 448 pages / 49 chapters
First published: 2020
Series: The Drowning Empire book 1
Read from 21st-27th February 2022
My rating: 9/10