Ok. Now that I have your attention.
I’m just going to jump right in because no matter how many times I tried to cut down my review of The Bone Ships (Goodreads Because Add It To Your TBR), book 1 of The Tide Child Trilogy, By RJ Barker (Q and A) ? I couldn’t get it shorter than it is now.
The bone ships are exactly what they are called, ships made of ancient dragon bones, and manned by crews of the damned, criminals sentenced to fight a war with no end, by lands with little natural resources due to toxic land and a dwindling population.
Thank You to Orbit for an ARC in exchange for an honest review
Fertile women rule the caste system and have full courts of fertile men at their disposal while all the rest are sent out to fight this endless war. They have no choice, are given no other purpose. If they can produce children, they must stay in service of the women to fertilize women at the will of the women that rule. If not, they are sent to fight the wars. Criminals on bone ships painted black, infertile men on bone ships of white.
The Tide Child’s fleet only means of redemption being a great heroic act that has pretty much never come to pass. But when it becomes rumored that the ancient dragons long since thought extinct may be near, the fleet of The Tide Child sees a shot at redemption by capturing one of these lured beasts.
Barker immediately hooked me by literally breathing life into the Tide Child. It could have been just a ship, a vessel in which the fleet was sailing. However, it was both built as a character and a world. Whether it was the significance of the bones, which grew even more in weight with the realization that the dragons are not extinct, after all or the center piece of action-packed duels on the seas, the Tide Child was handled brilliantly on both fronts.
Barker is deftly able to create a world around The Tide Child that lends itself to combat with others seeking the capture of these magnificent ancient dragons, fighting the wills of mother nature, and magnificent sea creatures. One such creature, Gullaime, is a windtalker that assists ships by controlling the winds. Despite the crucial part it can play in the journey of a ship, its unnatural demeanor restricts many from calling upon it unless the fleet is in dire straits.
The fleet manning the Tide Child equally jump off the page. Uniquely written from a third person point of view, Joron, a man whose hopelessness and despair have sent him straight to the drink. Joron’s character arc is one of the most compelling in The Bone Ships.
Having quite enough of Joron’s letting The Tide Child rot, stuck in a bay, dilapidated by rot, covered in human foul, he is challenged by Lucky Meas and she easily beats him to take over as Captain, “Shipwife,” of The Tide Child- and not a moment too soon.
Lucky Meas is swashbuckling sonofabitch with all the force and might one would need to get the Tide Child to resemble a ship more than sewage. Then there are the boarders. I say boarders because it is no fleet. A fleet works together. A fleet has each other’s back. Hell, a fleet doesn’t take room and board on a ship and just dock it in a bay to rot.
To make these pirates an actual fleet, sparing Joron’s life, which she did not have to do, would be her last show of mercy. From then on it would be, direction given, direction followed. And Joron would learn, too. He would not just find his voice as a leader with men he didn’t even know but strength from the people of his lineage.
Lastly, it is impossible to talk about The Bone Ships without discussing the Goddesses worshiped in The Bone Ships. Of the mother, the Maiden and the Sea Hag, it is the Sea Hag that is most feared. Being the darkest and most violent of them, she is believed to grasp the dead in the sea.
Within the first 80 pages or so of The Bone Ships there are a lot of characters and terms thrown at you, but the glossary at the back easily guides you through it. Once that passes everything comes together with great ease and the story takes off. It is impossible to put down. The characters are larger than life, the world is one to get lost in and despite being a fantasy, the action never stops.
Barker’s take on dragons was both unique and evoking of an array of emotions. It truly pissed me off that an ancient creature’s bones were used for ships (thinking also of elephants and ivory, for example), and don’t get me wrong- not mad in terms of not liking the book, but that it brought an evil aspect to the society, and new lens to how the dragons were treated that I hadn’t encountered before. And then when they became hunted, to ultimately what happens upon encountering them.
As remarkable a read as The Bone Ships is, I would be shocked if the next installment didn’t build on and continue the high bar set by its predecessor.