Call of the Bone Ships (2020) is the second book in R.J. Barker’s TIDE CHILD trilogy. The first book, The Bone Ships, introduced Joron Twiner, first mate to a tough and effective sea captain named Lucky Meas. Sailing and politics collide when their disreputable ship Tide Child was assigned to find and protect the last of a valuable but possibly extinct sea dragon species. The Bone Ships — dark, moody, and beautifully written — was slow-going until the final scenes, which were spectacular. By that point I was eager to read this second book, Call of the Bone Ships.
Call of the Bone Ships takes place about a year later and plunges us again into Barker’s harsh and vividly portrayed maritime world. This time there’s a mystery to solve. When Joron, Lucky, and their crew of convicts discover a merchant ship with a hull full of dead and dying humans, they assume it’s trading in slaves. Dangers mount as they try to figure out why these people are being trafficked, and who is responsible for the crime.
The plot of Call of the Bone Ships keeps moving as the crew of Tide Child travels from port to port, gathering intelligence and trying to protect innocent lives, all while dealing with formidable foes and some atrocious weather. But not all of Lucky and Joron’s crew are on the same page, and there are a few who are just waiting for their chance to carry out dastardly plans of their own.
As in the previous book, it’s a pleasure to watch Joron’s development. When we first met him, he was drunk, ineffectual, and full of self-loathing. But the trials he’s been through, and the guidance of a wise and experienced mentor, are changing him. Gradually he’s becoming a leader, though he still doubts himself. Everyone knows he’s not the best sailor on board and sometimes he decides not to give a command for fear it won’t be obeyed.
Now that the pace has picked up significantly, the TIDE CHILD trilogy has become a beautifully written and engaging fantasy epic with some breathtaking scenery, a few likeable characters (I wish there were a few more), political intrigue, plenty of action, some surprises, a bit of humor, and several touching moments.
I’m looking forward to the final TIDE CHILD book, The Bone Ship’s Wake, when it arrives in September. Again, I’ll choose the audio format. I love Jude Owusu’s performance of Hachette Audio’s version.