Before I start – I was so so jealous of all the people who received the B-E-A-U-tiful ARC copy of this book last year! I wanted to read it from the first moment I saw that elegant golden wave on its plain dark cover, not knowing anything about the story or the author, but just needing this book. When the Fantasy Hive did an interview with Andrea Stewart I was even more intrigued, so I am massively grateful that this was picked for this year’s Wyrd and Wonder read-along (about which all details can be found here). Just so you know that I’m not in the slightest bit objective going into this!
Appropriately, our prompt questions for this first week have been set by Fantasy Hive’s Editor-in-Chief Bethan, which has a lovely symmetry to it, don’t you think? It pleases me.
Anyway, let’s get to it, shall we …
Chapters 1 to 11 inclusive
Welcome to Stewart’s glorious world! What are your initial impressions?
An empire of migratory floating islands. Magically created hybrid creatures used as imperial servants. A young woman with missing memories. A man searching for his lost wife. These things immediately grabbed me.
I’m enjoying Stewart’s method of drawing me into the story: slowly building up small details (whitstone, the constructs, the Emperor’s bone shard magic, shard sickness), but keeping the various characters at the front, so that the world is built up layer by layer. I realise some readers can find this kind of storytelling frustrating (I’m interested to find out what fellow read-along-ers think of it), but I’m liking it so far. I want so much more information!
What do you make of the magic system and the world-building?
Well I’ve never come across a magic system quite like this. I’m fascinated by the shard sickness in particular. Here’s how I understand it: these tiny bone shards are taken from people when they’re children, and when the Emperor employs them in a construct, the person whose shard it is is sapped of energy, and of life, faster than normal. So the shard is somehow connected to a person’s life force, and acts as a conduit between the magic and the person. Meaning that the Emperor uses people like batteries.
Am I the only one disturbed by this?
I don’t think the Emperor is a good person.
As for the world-building – I am clutching at every little detail at the moment. I’m half in love with the idea of an empire spanning many small islands. I want to learn so much more about the migratory nature of these islands.
Is there a character you’re particularly drawn to so far?
I’m burning with curiosity about Sand, out on Maila Isle. Whose memories is she carrying around in her head? (First suspicion: does she somehow have Lin’s memories? How? Why?)
And I liked Jovis straight away. I like the mess he’s in, I think because it’s very human. And he’s compassionate, even though he doesn’t want to be. That goes a long way, no matter what lies he may be telling us or himself.
I am interested to see when Phalue’s storyline goes, although I haven’t immediately warmed to her. I share Ranami’s frustrations with her that she is happy to accept the way things are.
Of everyone we’ve met so far I am least fond of Lin. Again, I’m interested, but I don’t really like her…
What do you make of Lin’s motivations? How much do you think she’s driven by a desire to save her Empire – or are her motivations more selfish?
…because I feel she’s driven to dig up the Emperor’s secrets for the wrong reasons. Or, not the wrong reasons exactly, but for a kind of clinical need to know, rather than an emotional reason/need that I can empathise with. Does that make sense? She seems systematic and intelligent, but not warm. She is driven by competition with Bayan and a desire to prove her father wrong about her being broken, not by any love for a person or people, or an ideal. And she’s walking around with a huge part of her life missing, so she doesn’t really know who she is. Consequently, we’re not getting any of those small details to colour in our view of her. She’s … odd.
OMG! I’ve just had a weird thought – what if Lin isn’t really the Emperor’s daughter? And that’s why he keeps questioning her and won’t make her his official heir. And why she doesn’t have any memories. And why no-one’s really seen much of her. ??? !!! In which case, who on earth is she? And wtf? (Am I reading too much into things? These are late Friday night thoughts, I could be building on sand here…)
Jovis tends to tell lies when faced with truths he doesn’t want to face. As a first-person narrator, how reliable do you feel this makes him?
Hmmm, I don’t know. I don’t feel like he’s super unreliable … so far. I think because he’s aware that he lies to avoid the uncomfortable truth. Maybe I should be more suspicious rather than less, but at the moment I’m inclined to trust him.
Watch me regret this in a couple of weeks’ time!
Mephi! Any guesses/wild theories about Jovis’s new furry friend?
My first suspicion was that Mephi was a construct because he seems to be a cat-otter-with-tiny-hands (squeak!), who can talk, and constructs similarly seem to be blends of different creatures and capable of speech from what we know so far. Also, that bit of whitstone Jovis had has disappeared and part of me thinks Mephi ate it, which is how he was able to fill the sails with wind. I don’t even know if constructs are fuelled by whitstone, I’m just making this stuff up! All I really know at the moment is that Mephi is another oddity that I want to know so much more about. But I frigging love him and his tiny hands!
My next post for this read-along can be found here: