The Bone Ships by R.J. BarkerThe Bone Ships by R.J. BarkerThe Bone Ships by R.J. Barker

Joron Twiner, an ineffective drunkard with low self-esteem, is the shipwife (captain, basically) of Tide Child, a bone ship made of the bones of a supposedly extinct species of sea dragons. When we meet Joron, he’s in port, sleeping off the booze, when a fierce woman named Lucky Meas attacks and easily subjugates him. As the new shipwife of Tide Child, with Joron as her second-in-command, she plans to whip the pathetic crew into shape and to redeem the reputations of both Tide Child and herself.

When Tide Child is given orders to chase down the rumored sighting of a sea dragon and secretly work with enemies to escort it to safety, Joron wonders who his new commander is really loyal to. After acquiring a new crew of mostly prisoners and outlaws, Joron and the Tide Child set off on a (slightly) Moby-Dick-like adventure which will involve dangers that come from both onboard and outside the ship.

The fantasy world of R.J. Barker’s The Bone Ships (2019) is intriguing with its island nations, bone ships, supposedly extinct sea dragons, corpse-lights, and enslaved wind-talkers. I enjoyed spending time there.

The TIDE CHILD trilogyI also liked Joron. It’s satisfying to watch him develop under the tutelage of his new shipwife. At the beginning of The Bone Ships he is drunk, lazy, unproductive, and impotent. Once he’s given a mentor, a purpose, and some inspiration, he begins to grow into his leadership role and to realize that an effective leader is also a servant.

Though I enjoyed many aspects of The Bone Ships, including the writing style, I thought the plot of this first book in the TIDE CHILD series was a bit simple and slow-going. But there were definite bright spots when the tension ratcheted up due to a battle, a plot, or a mutiny. The ending was absolutely spectacular.

Overall, The Bone Ships didn’t thrill me (except for the ending), but I’m intrigued nonetheless and am likely to pick up the next book, Call of the Bone Ships, which will be released in November. I’d like to explore more of Barker’s world and continue to watch Joron’s growth. There’s a lot of potential here.

Hachette Audio’s edition of The Bone Ships is beautifully narrated by Shakespearean actor Jude Owusu. It was so good!

Published in September 2019. A brilliantly imagined saga of honor, glory, and warfare, The Bone Ships is the epic launch of a new fantasy from David Gemmell Award-nominated RJ Barker. Two nations at war. A prize beyond compare. For generations, the Hundred Isles have built their ships from the bones of ancient dragons to fight an endless war. The dragons disappeared, but the battles for supremacy persisted. Now the first dragon in centuries has been spotted in far-off waters, and both sides see a chance to shift the balance of power in their favour. Because whoever catches it will win not only glory, but the war.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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