Book Reviews

Call of the Bone Ships by RJ Barker Book Review.

  • Call of the Bone Ships (The Tide Child #2).
  • RJ Barker.
  • 512 pages.
  • Epic Fantasy.
  • My Rating: Hellyeah Book Review.

Book Blurb.

Dragons have returned to the Hundred Isles. But their return heralds only war and destruction. When a horde of dying slaves are discovered in the bowels of a ship, Shipwife Meas and the crew of the Tide Child find themselves drawn into a vicious plot that will leave them questioning their loyalties and fighting for their lives.

Book Review.

I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

About a year has passed since the ending of The Bone Ships and the return of the legendary arakeesian sea-dragons/keyshans to the seas of the Scattered Archipelago. In that time, Tide Child has been undertaking solitary missions in the outlying and far reaches of the Hundred Isles. On one such mission, during a ferocious storm Tide Child comes across a badly damaged ship in trouble, stranded and near to breaking against rocks that surround an island. Tide Child pulls the ship away from the rocks and tows them to safety, but something isn’t right with the ship. The ship, a brownbone merchant vessel is too small to have been that far out in the ocean and there is a rank stink, a rotten odour of corruption emanating from the ship that permeates the sea air with a smell of festering decay and sickness.

On further investigation, Lucky Meas Gilbryn, Joron Twiner and their chosen crew members leave the decks of Tide Child and enter the bowels of the ship where below they find a horror awaiting them. In the hold, there is a human cargo (also including some Gullaime) numbering in the hundreds and kept in appalling conditions. There are rows upon rows of people who are barely alive and near to death having been left to wither and rot alongside many who have already perished on the journey. Life in the Hundred Isles is precious and Meas is enraged by the discovery and the dark business of mass kidnappings of the sick and the weak and sets out aboard Tide Child to find out where the cargo came from, where their destination was and for what foul purpose the cargo was intended to be used.

The Bone Ships, the first book in The Tide Child trilogy started quite slowly and was very information-heavy (for the first part of the story) taking its time with laying the groundwork, introducing readers to the characters and establishing the world of the Scattered Archipelago before the pacing picked up in the second half. With the foundations already built and the knowledge gained from its predecessor Call of the Bone Ships is fast-paced from the very beginning with Barker unfurling the sails and never letting up until the emotionally-charged ending and final page. The story, that raises the stakes, expands and progresses what began in The Bone Ships starts with a raging storm that highlights the merciless and unforgiving nature of the sea, its immense power, the brutality and the ravenous hunger that will never be sated. It is an action-packed opening with some stellar imagery conjured by Barker and sets the scene perfectly for the unfolding danger and hard times that lay ahead. You could even say that the wrathful storm is a symbol and that the opening is an augury, a portent and that it is indicative of the oncoming storm that Meas, Joron and Tide Child will face themselves on the brutal, dark and perilous journey into the unknown that they undertake in their search for the truth behind human cargo in Call of the Bone Ships.

Call of the Bone Ships is written in the third-person and the story mostly unfolds through Joron, but, on occasion, Barker hands over the tiller to another character to steer the story, bridge gaps and fill in events with what they have been doing. Though few and far between, this allows the reader to see some more of the crew and gives them their own moment in the spotlight and their own time to shine as the focal point of the story. Tide Child is a black ship that is crewed by convicts, criminals and the condemned, a hard bunch for a hard and harsh world. If they die in service to the black ship, then their sentence will be fulfilled. There are some stellar characterisation and character development on display in Call of the Bone Ships. The complex characters are very human with their actions and motivations. Bonds are made, broken and relationships continue to change, evolve and grow between the characters, some in ways that you aren’t expecting with Barker wrong-footing you with certain characters and their surprising actions. With the characters, Barker has a way of making you really care about them, the motley crew that are weathered, worn and tough as old leather, but still, they manage to worm their way into your heart. Even if you don’t necessarily notice it during the calm moments when the storm arrives, you are hit with the realisation that you have come to care about not only about Meas, Joron, the Gullaime and Tide Child, but many of the other crew members too.

One character that deserves a special mention is the magical and mysterious avian creature the Gullaime. Simply, the ever-curious and enigmatic Gullaime is a truly wonderful character. In Call of the Bone Ships we see the significant relationship between Joron and the Gullaime blossom and bloom, they are bonded, connected and we see a deeper level to that connection and relationship begin to develop over the course of the story.

Joron is really put through the wringer with Barker hanging him out, beating and stretching him thin on numerous occasions. It’s not how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you pick yourself up and carry on and Joron battered and bruised both emotionally and physically keeps getting back up, carrying on and he endures what he is put through time and time again. Joron was weak, he had lost everything and lost himself, drowning in the bottom of a bottle and wallowing in the depths of self-pity and his own despair. Under Meas, his steadfast and loyal Shipwife (captain) he has found himself, the bravery within, risen up, become better than he was and though he still suffers from moments of insecurity he has changed. He has weathered the storms of the sea and of life. He has been shaped by events, by those around him and through his own personal growth. His role as Deckkeeper (first mate) aboard Tide Child is his salvation and on the ship, he found a place to belong and with the crew he has found a family.

Bad luck follows Joron, he is a beacon for it and it dogs him with every step that he takes. He is tormented and tortured countless times on his way to accepting himself, to his redemption and while he has come a long way, he still has a distance left to travel. Meas gave Joron a chance and he doesn’t want to let her, the crew or himself down. Through struggle, perseverance and overcoming adversity he has drawn the crew of Tide Child to him earning both their respect and their trust. He is well-liked by many, not all, some have grievances, hold grudges and have hatred in their heart, but for most, he now inspires them, a failure redeeming himself and a leader where before he was a layabout and a drunk. Joron hasn’t been forged in fire and flame, but through the crashing waves and the churning maelstrom of the sea, tempered and reborn in the water through hardship, pain and suffering, from a wastrel to a man.

Meas’s dream, her hope for peace and that the futile and never-ending war between the Hundred Isles and the Gaunt Islands will finally end seems further away than ever after the return of the arakeesian’s to the seas of the Scattered Archipelago. The first in generations of creatures thought to be hunted to extinction by the inhabitants of the Scattered Archipelago. Creatures that had been consigned to the past and lost to time. With the return of the sea-dragons comes the renewed hunting of the legendary creatures to make the bone ships from their skeletons. The world-building in Call of the Bone Ships is tremendous as you sail through The Hundred Isles and the Scattered Archipelago voyaging on the high seas. The world is full of wide-open spaces, the sea, vast and enormous with various islands, some larger and some smaller and sea-ports spread throughout. We return to Bernshulme, a location that was first visited in The Bone Ships, but we also travel to new islands, ports and locations and delve deeper into the world. We are also introduced to the Windshorn, a slightly different species of Gullaime and there is a rivalry between the two with the Gullaime vehemently disliking the Windshorn.

The writing in Call of the Bone Ships is magnificent and Barker has a way with words that is poetic, descriptive, captivating and he utterly mesmerises you in the story that he is telling. There is a high level of attention to detail surrounding Tide Child and the running of the ship which runs through the blood, sweat and tears of the crew and you feel like you are walking the decks of Tide Child alongside Joron. Another thing that Barker does exceptionally well is to highlight the beauty and the brutality of the sea. The majesty of the ocean, the expanse of open water where you need to be ever watchful and respectful as the seas are fraught with danger and monsters that dwell in the deep.

There is plenty of action spread throughout Call of the Bone Ships both on the land and the sea. With his action scenes, Barker doesn’t shy away from depicting the visceral nature of the battle and the fights have a weight to them, a heft to the blows dealt where you can feel the bite of the blade into flesh. There are some absolutely stunning cinematic and large-scale set pieces throughout Call of the Bone Ships, dramatic moments too, but there are also smaller and more personal moments, ripples in the water that are weighted and have a huge impact. The settings are all vividly realised and Barker manages to easily evoke images of the locations allowing you to picture them in your mind. With his writing, Barker’s words are able to convey the emotions that the characters feel and there are moments that rend your heart. In Call of the Bone Ships, you find yourself cursing Barker for what he puts both his characters and his readers through as he breaks them in the name of the story.

I have nothing negative to say about The Call of the Bone Ships. Yes, it ends on a cliffhanger, but it is the middle book in a trilogy and that is to be expected. While I may have channelled my inner Gullaime and screeched “Not Want! Not Want!” as I finished the book, I can’t fault the endpoint as it felt like the natural place for Barker to conclude this volume. Call of the Bone Ships and its story that is full of action, betrayal, dark deeds, drama, duty, emotion, mystery, prophecy, sacrifice and tension is the type of book that has you conflicted. On one hand, you want to fly through the pages as you are engrossed in the story and eager to find out what happens next, but on the other hand, you want to take your time and savour every moment that you spend in the company of Joron, Meas, the Gullaime and Tide Child.

For me, Barker is a must-read fantasy author, if you aren’t reading him, why not? He consistently delivers to an extremely high standard and is putting out some phenomenal work from his completed The Wounded Kingdom trilogy through to The Call of the Bone Ships the second book in his outstanding Tide Child trilogy. He keeps getting better and with each new release, he somehow manages to top and improve upon the previous book.

I loved The Bone Ships and put quite simply, Call of the Bone Ships is even better with Barker absolutely nailing it, hitting it out of the park, expanding the story, ramping up the emotional attachment to the characters and raising the stakes for all involved as he delivers a spectacular sequel.

Purchase Call of the Bone Ships (The Tide Child #2) by RJ Barker.

Amazon UK  Amazon US Book Depository

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16 thoughts on “Call of the Bone Ships by RJ Barker Book Review.

  1. My only “disappointment” with this book was that the third volume is not here yet, because I can hardly wait to see how this magnificent saga will close. Although, at the same time, I’m a bit afraid of what will happen to many of the characters…
    Great review, thank you so much for sharing this! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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