The Bone Ships – by R.J. Barker (Review)

Tide Child #1

Epic, Fantasy

Orbit Books; September 24, 2019

513 pages (ebook) 17hr 3m (audio)

3.4 / 5 ✪

Many thanks to Orbit for the ARC! Sorry it took so long, y’all. I was provided with a free reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Though all in all an interesting, often exciting read, The Bone Ships didn’t tick all the boxes for me. Though occasionally I found the dialogue wandering and the description exhausting rather than thorough—most troubling was the realization at about the 75% mark that I just couldn’t wait for the book to be over with so I could move on to something else.

Joron Twiner is the ship-wife (captain) of a Ship of the Dead—a vessel crewed by a group the sea over already considers dead. They are treated as part of the navy, but not. See, they are not people, but the dead, the lowest of the low, a caste already dead and only yet to be buried at sea. Now, how Joron got this post is a tale. But that is for another time. The real story here is of Lucky Meas, the last dragon, and Tide Child.

It all begins with Joron piss drunk on a beach. Tide Child—his Ship of the Dead—idles off shore, drifting, waiting. Waiting for “Lucky” Meas Gilbryn. Now how she came to find him on this beach is another tale, again not for this time. But find him she did, and pull him from his cups she did as well. Joron returned to Tide Child not as its Captain, but as crew.

Centuries before the dragons vanished, hunted to death by humans for their bones. Bones used to build strong, fast ships. Ships, such as Tide Child. Long after the dragons disappeared, their bones are still used and reused, warred over and against, all to fuel a cycle that will only be over when either all the humans or all the bones lie upon the bottom of the sea.

But then, a lone dragon emerges.

And so ships near and far marshal to it, each hoping to win this prize for their own. For the dragon represents wealth, glory, fame, and new ships like Tide Child. But not all would use it as the other. Lucky Meas has a plan for the dragon, but what is it? And how is it different from the rest? And is Joron willing to follow her, knowing that should he, he will almost certainly be going to his grave? But then again, he is already of Tide Child. And thus already dead.

This began as a grand adventure into realms unknown, filled with pirates, glory, and dragons. I loved the various and unique beasts, the description of the numerous horrors that stalked the wilder parts of the land and sea. The text definitely showed its creativity, which I never stopped appreciating. The world-building showed no less. Though not exhaustive, it was pretty well complete. I hope the proceeding installments continue the trend found early on. Later… I found it more of a glimpse of every port philosophy, like a game or movie that focuses on one element once only to never look its way again. Episodic, but with one constant. Tide Child is that constant. A glimpse is taken, a picture taken, then back to Tide Child and onward—this is what it felt like.

I honestly don’t know how or when I soured on the Bone Ships. It just kinda happened. At first, it was an interesting, unique adventure—somewhat reminiscent of Dragon Hunters, by Marc Turner. While in the latter’s case I became more immersed the longer the story went on, in the former’s I just became bored. And I’m honestly not sure why.

It could have been that I just felt the story went on too long. That there was too much detail but too little action. That there was a lull in the telling, where the tale lost me and I mentally checked out. And there was this—all of these. About the halfway point (maybe 40%) I felt the pace slow; it hadn’t exactly been storming along to that point, but now it really slowed. While there are a few actiony bits here and there, I found them few and far between. Normally this wouldn’t’ve bothered me. I stayed around for all 15 Wheel of Time books, after all—yet here it did.

I had trouble getting into this one, to be fair. I had several false starts, ultimately resulting in my decision to read this as an audiobook. Now, it could have been a reader issue, but wasn’t: I quite liked the reader (Jude Owusu), though it took me a bit to warm to him. It was more likely an author issue. This was my first Barker book. I have the first Wounded Kingdoms book, but haven’t read it yet. It was the language, the content, the feel, the… the dialogue. I found it a bit clunky. Often somewhere between banal and fustian (flowery, but carrying little meaning), I found it little more than filler.


I’d probably even recommend this, even though I didn’t love it. It was still a good read, even if it got a little too long towards the end. Other than Joron, I found very little character development evident. While Joron’s change is significant, pains are taken with Lucky Meas—pains which I felt never evolved into anything. She was still a myth by the end of the book, instead of flesh and bone. Thing is that while it began as a good and action-packed adventure, by the time the Bone Ships came to its conclusion I was already over it. The reader is good, the adventure is good, the description is good, the world-building is better than good—and all came together and worked for me. Until it didn’t. Hopefully it works well throughout for you. It just didn’t for me.

The Tide Child series continues with the Call of the Bone Ships, due out November 24, 2020.

5 thoughts on “The Bone Ships – by R.J. Barker (Review)

    1. I still have two eARCs from last year and 3-4 from early this year I haven’t gotten to. I need to read them, they’re ruining my average lol


  1. I know this is an old post/review, but I wanted to comment. I also listened to the audiobook.
    I liked the book, but I also felt it dragging at the 40-50% mark. It really picked up in the second half.
    When the sequel came out (The Call of the Bone Ships), I started to listen to it but I couldn’t remember who all the people were aside from Joron & Meas, so I went back to book #1, The Bone Ships.
    I loved it the second time around. Jude Owusu is a fantastic narrator. I get your point about Meas still being a legend at the end, but I think that was kind of the point. Meas is a larger than life figure in that world & is literally a legend in her own time.
    There’s more action in the 2nd book & we get to know Meas better. She’s still a legendary figure but we find out more about her background so you can relate to her better.
    So, I would highly recommend book #2, The Call of the Bone Ships.

    Liked by 1 person

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