- The Bone Ships (The Tide Child #1).
- RJ Barker.
- 496 pages.
- Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Fiction.
- My Rating: Hell Yeah Book Review.
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.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Joron Twiner, once a fisherman is condemned to crew Tide Child, a black ship, a ship of the dead on which he is made shipwife (captain). He is uncaring, disconsolate, consumed by melancholy, insecure, wretched and drowning in the bottle. He is a useless and unworthy captain for a useless and unworthy crew. A crew of rough convicts and the deck of Tide Child is a place rife with disrespect and filled with anger, disgrace, shame, simmering resentment and threats of violence.
Lucky Meas Gilbryn is famous, revered and some would say the greatest shipwife in the history of the Hundred Isles Bone Ship fleet. But, she has recently fallen from grace and found herself condemned to serve on the black ships where she challenges Joron for the rank of shipwife on Tide Child. Lucky Meas easily wins the duel, Joron’s skill with a sword being almost as slovenly as his captaincy. Instead of killing him Lucky Meas spares his life and makes him her deckkeeper (second-in-command).
There is a rumour that the first arakeesian/keyshan/sea-dragon to be seen in generations has been spotted in the oceans of the Scattered Archipelago. The bones of the arakeesian are used to make the Bone Ships and they were thought hunted to extinction, long gone, faded from the world to fable, to myth and to legend.
Lucky Meas and Tide Child are given an impossible mission, hunt the arakeesian. But, there are others who covet and who hunt the arakeesian too. Those who prize the glory, the power and the wealth that killing the arakeesian will bring them and those who wish to fan the flames of war with the new Bones Ships that would be made from the bones of the beast.
Tide Child is a black ship, a ship of the dead, the sentence for each crew member has already been passed and they are sailing the sea in the knowledge that one day, that sentence will be fulfilled, that they will die and that the sea will claim their body. There is a very slight chance of redemption for the crew of Tide Child. If they perform a heroic act, an act of bravery and valour, or, a renowned deed that will carve their names in the history of Hundred Isles (like single-handedly killing the arakeesian). Then, the crimes of the crew would be erased, wiped out and from death, they will be given a return to life. Though, it has been lifetimes since anyone managed to reclaim their life and leave behind the black ships.
With that knowledge and rumoured return of the legendary arakeesian the race is on to hunt the sea-dragon, to become part of the Hundred Isles history and to win glory and renown.
The Scattered Archipelago was created by Skearith the Stormbird as a place to lay her eggs. The inhabitants worship the Stormbird but, many also worship the three goddesses, the Sea Hag, the Maiden and the Mother. It is a world rife with superstitions. For the crew of a Bone Ship, they constantly throw paint on the deck, the gallowbows, the ship for luck and offer prayers to the Sea Hag to keep them safe, to protect them and to ward off ill omens. The Scattered Archipelago is a world of two warring nations, the Hundred Isles and the Gaunt Islands. The two are stuck in an endless cycle of repeated attacks, of repeated raids on the other with the original reasons for the war having been lost in time but the conflict, the hatred still abides. The two nations are separated by Skearith’s Spine, a vast mountain range that runs through the middle of the Shattered Archipelago. And, it is a world where water holds sway, where the sea, where the ocean dominants and what land there is to be found is made up of islands.
The Hundred Isles are made up of two classes. The Bern, the ruling class who are the women that survive childbirth and who birth healthy, strong and whole babies. They have men who are the ‘kept’ of the Bern, the chosen to serve them. Then, there are the Berncast, the lower class, the second class citizen. The Berncast form the majority of those born in the Hundred Isles, either those with no physical defect but of ‘weak’ blood whose mother died during childbirth and then, those with deformities, missing limbs, etc. The first-born child, if born healthy, strong and whole allows the women to become ‘Bern’. But, the first-born is also cursed born and every first-born child is sacrificed to the Bone Ships. The child dies but their soul lives on as a corpse light above a Bone Ship, giving life to the ship. It is a society where the more healthy children you birth, the more power you hold.
The Bone Ships are highly valuable, highly sort after and with a dwindling stock of arakeesian bone are extremely rare. The Bone Ships of the fleet are blinding, bright and brilliant polished white bone with lights adorning them showing that the ship lives. While, the Bone Ships that are the black ships, the ships of the dead are painted the colour of death, pitiless black and have no lights as they have no life.
The Bone Ships are referred to as ‘he’ and their captain, whether male or female is the shipwife a ‘she’. Apart from the officers, most of the crew are referred to as either ‘deckchild’ or ‘deckchilder’ and they are the children of the ship and the shipwife, like a marriage between the two and both, are to be respected by the crew.
Lucky Meas is a strong-willed character, confident in her ability as shipwife and determined. She is a force to be reckoned with and Joron is her opposite. Where Lucky Meas is strong Joron is haunted, resentful, weak and lacks confidence in himself. There is a contrast between them and throughout The Bone Ships, you see him flourish, grow and bloom under her captaincy. He finds a sense of pride, of self-respect and of worth that he had previously been missing. becoming someone better, someone so much more than he was at the beginning of the book.
As shipwife, Lucky Meas moulds the crew, shapes them, restoring discipline and a sense of order to the deck of Tide Child. You see the crew change, transform and become familiar with the ways of the ship. The crew were lost and under Lucky Meas, they find a purpose, redemption and they unite. Learning duty, honour and loyalty to each other, to Lucky Meas and taking pride in Tide Child they ultimately become worthy of the name ‘crew’.
The characterisation on display by Barker is terrific. Not just for the main characters of Joron and Lucky Meas either but for the whole of the crew of Tide Child. I really liked Black Orris, only a small role but when he appeared he never failed to make me smile. Also, the fascinating bird-like Gullaime, a windtalker who controls the wind aboard Tide Child and the unlikely friendship that developed between Joron and the mysterious Gullaime.
The harsh world created by Barker is richly detailed and vivid. The bright and lush flora of the islands and the dangerous creatures, only glimpsed that inhabit them. There’s a brutal hypnotic beauty to the sea, the treacherous waters that are rife with myriad monsters that dwell, that lurk in the depths. Each ship, even the mighty Bone Ships are only a single drop in the ocean, each crew member even less, a mote of dust, they don’t own the ocean, the ocean tolerates the ships.
The action in The Bone Ships is stellar. There is some fighting on land but the majority of the action takes place on the high seas and is ferocious ship-to-ship combat. The conflict is exhilarating to read and gets the heart-pounding. The concussive collisions between ships and the massive gallowbows on the decks that thrum to life and of the death, destruction and devastation that they rain down with there deadly bolts all has a heft to it and you feel the impact of the violence.
There are a lot of terms (there’s a helpful appendix located at the back) and information is thrown at you at the start of The Bone Ships. In the beginning, it can feel like you are adrift and cast on stranger tides. Like you are caught in the undertow as you navigate through and become accustomed to the various terms on display, become acquainted with the characters, the wealth of information and the world that Barker has created.
After about the first quarter everything comes together. Barker is a magnificent storyteller and one that can keep your attention. From the first page through to the last his ability to craft a spectacular story that you can lose yourself in really shines through in The Bone Ships. Your perseverance pays off rewarding you with a rich reading experience. You see that by crafting a story that is dense and information-heavy in the beginning he was laying the foundations for what is to come. From that point on the sails unfurl and the narrative moves at a far faster pace with Barker taking you on a dangerous and exciting nautical adventure that is filled with thrilling seafaring action. A stirring finale completely satisfies whilst leaving you eager for the next book in the trilogy and the further adventures of Tide Child and his crew.
When reading fantasy it takes you to another world and that’s what Barker does with The Bone Ships. He transports you into a fully-formed, alive and immersive world that is populated by characters that feel real and allows you to get lost in the story that he is telling. The bite of the blades, the thrum of the gallowbow strings, the briny air, the salt spray, the crash of the waves, the creaks, the groans, the hustle and bustle of ship life aboard Tide Child all come to life on the pages and I didn’t want it to end.
The Bone Ships is a sublimely crafted epic voyage and everything that I want in a fantasy book.
Pre-order The Bone Ships (The Tide Child #1) released September 26th, 2019.
Follow The Tattooed Book Geek on: