The Bone Ships by RJ Barker

TheBone ShipsI have to say that I loved The Bone Ships, it was just chock to the brim full with all the goodness that really rocks my boat (sorry)!  The world building is excellent, the characters even better and this is a story predominantly set on the high seas with plenty of action.  It’s an excellent read and one that clearly demonstrates the confidence the author feels in being able to take the time to establish the people and place in such a way that they come away fully rooted in the reader’s mind.  Very impressive.  I will try to show restraint but there may be gushing.

The story gets off to an immediate start.  We meet Joren, who will in effect become the storyteller.  Joren is a Shipwife aboard the Tide’s Child.  The Tide’s Child is a black bone ship which effectively means it’s sailed and manned by those convicts sentenced to death.  They sail on the sea and go where commanded, no matter how risky, until they die and the sea hag claims them for one of her own.  A stay of execution if you will but a death sentence all the same.

Anyway, I say that Joren is a Shipwife but that role is a very short lived one for him as his command his challenged, and taken, by a newcomer, Meas Gilbryn or Lucky Meas as she is more often known.  Now, at this point we know little of Meas or her motivations but all will be revealed as the story progresses. The one thing we do know about her is that she has confidence, skill and knowledge and coupled with a certain privileged self belief in her own worth and substance she’s a character that is difficult to ignore.  All of this is just as well because getting this bunch of reprobates, that currently pass as crew aboard the Tide’s Child, ship shape will not be easy.

So, Meas selects Joron as her second and immediately embarks on making the ship ready to sail.  At this point we discover exactly what it is that Meas seeks to achieve and it’s no small feat, it’s also a mission that demands secrecy and so there will be no spoilers here.

I’m not going to go too much further into the plot.  Suffice to say that there is a good deal of fighting caused primarily by the desirability of dragon bones.   Those ships made from bones are stronger and faster and the disappearance of the dragons has caused a shortage of materials to work with causing a rift and constant wars between the two nations at play here.  It’s one of those vicious circles, each nation craves the bones to make their ships the best, so that they can win the wars caused by the desire to own the bones in the first place!

The world building here is really quite something.  We have the (almost) extinct dragons and the whole supply and demand market that their extinction has driven.  On top of that this is a world where certain needs have created a harsh class system.  I’m not sure exactly the history or whether I missed something, but this is a place where women who have proved themselves capable of birthing healthy children become revered and are looked after in comfort – although to be honest, they’re really little more than breeding machines by all accounts.  The Kept are similarly those males of society who are perfect specimens and are also kept in relative comfort awaiting selection as ‘mates’ by the women.  Joren’s mother, for example, died in childbirth therefore meaning that Joren became the lowest of the low.  There is so much more to this world, the climbers, the politics, the in-family fighting for superiority and the reasons why these two nations are constantly at war but, again, these things are best discovered by the reader for themselves.

For me, this is a great adventure on the open seas.  There is very little land action although occasionally the Tide’s Child does put into port.  I loved all the seafaring adventures though and I particularly enjoyed seeing the crew and the characters change as the story progressed.  The bonding and pride that started to grow as each person started to gain self-worth.  Joren in particular has a great character arc in which he goes from resentment and scheming to gratitude and an ability to forgive.  Meas – well, she’s a great character and I absolutely loved her.  I couldn’t help it.  She’s just so self assured, she pulls this crew together in a way that was almost unbelievable and she just has this swagger that could be annoying but actually is endearing.

And, lets not forget the sea dragon – wow.  I loved this beast.  Loved.  It.

If you’ve read RJ Barker before then you will probably expect to find characters that you can love and similar to the Wounded Kingdom we have a very strong female lead who acts almost like a mentor to Joren.  We also have a critter to fall in love with that may not have antlers but does have sea horns.  The similarity ends there though.  This is a totally new world and the characters themselves are also unique and stand proudly on their own.

In terms of criticisms.  I didn’t really have anything but I will point out that the story, the world and the abundance of characters and seafaring do take some time to get underway.  In some respects it feels like we’re thrown head first into the world but then at the same time it feels like the oars are raised and the ship is at sea waiting for a strong wind.  Personally, I loved that the story took a little time to develop because it gave me time to build my own relationships with the characters and to become familiar with everything else.  I only mention this as a small warning to temper expectations.  Like I said, I loved the build up and thought it was necessary.

What more can I say, sometimes you just read a book and it fits.  It feels right.  You sink into the world and you have difficulty stopping reading and returning to reality.  This book just took me on a really immersive journey.  It had whisperings from the classics, particularly as crew members muttered and conspired to mutiny and also in terms of the sea dragon and the intelligence it seemed to demonstrate.  Reading this I could almost feel the author’s love of adventure and it took me back to some of my younger reads although I will say that this book does not attempt to mimic anything that has come before but stands admirably on it’s own merit.

I just loved this world and the characters and can’t wait to see where the author takes us next.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks. The above is my own opinion.

I would rate this 4.5 of 5 stars.



15 Responses to “The Bone Ships by RJ Barker”

  1. Tammy

    Awesome review, Lynn. And congrats on your use of sea metaphors🤣 I hope to catch up with this next month.

  2. evelynreads1

    I’ve read so many amazing reviews for this one, I can’t wait to pick it up!


  3. Captain's Quarters

    x The Captain

  4. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    You are perfectly right when you say this is such an immersive world that it’s difficult to come out of it and back to reality while we read it – and that it takes a while to readjust to the real world. But on the other hand, that’s what we look for in really good books, isn’t it? 😉
    Great review, thanks for sharing!

    • @lynnsbooks

      It is – I just loved that I sunk so deeply into this world when reading and I think it’s so impressive in that respect.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Glad to hear you enjoyed this, I agree with pretty much everything you wrote here. The pacing dragged a little in places, but I’m always prepared for that when it comes to the first book of an epic fantasy series 😀

    • @lynnsbooks

      I found this such an immersive read, I completely see the areas where the pace slowed but I just kind of fell into this one so easily.
      Lynn 😀

  6. waytoofantasy

    Never apologize for a great pun! 🙂
    Really glad you had such a great time with this one.

  7. LizScanlon

    Hahaha, nice start with the pun! 🙂 Well done! I would have done the same thing 🙂

    I love how all of the reviews I come across are singing praises to the book, as I fully intend to read it myself 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I couldn’t resist.
      I hope you get a chance to pick this one up – I really liked it, a lot and would love to know what you make of it.
      Lynn 😀

  8. Best of the Best list : 2019 | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] The Bone Ships by RJ Barker […]

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