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.

TL;DR

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.

Fortuna – by Kristyn Merbeth (Review)

My favorite cover of the year, hands down

Nova Vita Protocol #1

Scifi, Space Opera

Orbit; November 5, 2019

560 pages (ebook)

4.2 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished with a copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to both Orbit and NetGalley for the review copy! All opinions are my own.

Fortuna is the space opera debut from Wastelanders author Kristyn Merbeth (also known as K.S. Merbeth). This one has been on my radar for a while, only partly due to its absolutely beautiful cover. Two siblings, separated by time and space, reunite at the turning point of all things.

Scorpia Kaiser once stood in her elder brother’s shadow. But when three years prior, he abandoned their family to fight in the war on his home world, she hoped this would change. Three years, and Scorpia now only has one thought—becoming the new heir apparent of the family business and owner of its ship, Fortuna. It’s not a fancy ship—aged, battle-scarred, space-worn—but it’s the only home Scorpia’s ever known, and the only one she ever wants.

Three years prior Corvus Kaiser was abandoned on Titan, his home world, to fight in an unwinnable war. A war that he very much suspects will eventually claim his life. But recent events have changed his mind on this. In a split-second decision he calls his family, summoning them to his aid. But now faced with the choice of whether to leave or stay he must make a difficult decision between the team he never wanted and the family that doesn’t want him back.

Between the two of them there’s enough chaos to go around, but the universe seems dead-set on raising the stakes. Soon the Kaisers and Fortuna are in the middle of a war—one that may very well cost them their lives.

Fortuna is told using dual-1st person POV chapters—one following Scorpia and the other Corvus—which alternate every chapter. Initially, I found this impossible. In fact, I would read three of Scorpia’s then go back and do three or so of Corvus’s. But then the two reached the same point and place in time and—actually, it wasn’t as bad as I expected.

There’re only a couple other books I’ve read that had this format. The Girl the Sea Gave Back (by Adrienne Young) featured the same alternating man-woman 1PPOVs and I kept getting confused and lost between characters. In Iron Gold (by Pierce Brown), there are three POVs all 1P, that alternate around. I stopped this one for much the same reasons—confusion, mixing up characters, etc. Fortuna is the same, but not. I… don’t really know how to describe it. Maybe it’s because the characters are in close proximity for 2/3 of the book. Maybe it’s because they’re similar. Maybe it’s because the chapters are longer. But it didn’t bother me as much. I mean, it still bothered me, just less.

In the Afterword, Merbeth mentions that she added Corvus’s POV on the advice of her editor. Now, I dunno if this was doing him in 1P, alternating his chapters, or whatnot, but it seems to have payed off. I absolutely loved both of their stories—barring the end. The end (the final showdown, if you will) fairly well sucked. The outcome was never in question, and it was as if the author was trying to inject drama wherever possible. Which is a shame, considering the rest of the text is a treasure. While both Corvus and Scorpia have their own individual storylines, they share the main quite well. And while Scorpia tied all her threads off quite nicely, Corvus pretty much just took a flamethrower to his. Gradually, over the course of the book, though.

The minor characters of Fortuna were no less surprising in their complexity. Three further Kaiser siblings, together with their matriarch, Corvus’s team on Titan, Scorpia’s contacts on Gaia, and other black market dealers, scum, and pirates all really show their humanity (for the most part). Together, these elements make Fortuna a heck of a read, despite its few missteps.

TL;DR

Fortuna was quite a treat. Kristyn Merbeth has weaved herself a masterful tale, one that I can’t wait to see more of. The writing, description and characters were all top-notch, and at no point did I lament reading one character’s chapter to get to the next. While the ending does have its issues, the post-showdown section manages to tie everything together rather nicely, leaving me with only a few loose ends to worry after. The divide between Corvus and Scorpia helps tell their story, something that their interconnection is more the better for. It helped me feel so much more for them, humanize them, almost made them seem like real siblings, even.

I definitely recommend Fortuna. And I can’t wait to see more from Kristyn Merbeth!

Book Review: The Cruel Stars – by John Birmingham

noob series #1

Scifi, Spaceships

Del Rey; August 20, 2019

416 pages (eBook)

3.5 / 5 ✪

NetGalley furnished me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Totally thought I posted this already, but I can’t find evidence of that anywhere, so… Huh. Well, here it is!

The Cruel Stars is a space opera set in a black-and-white world populated by vibrant and interesting characters. It chronicles the return of an old enemy, once defeated—the Sturm, a radical group of human purists set on purging the galaxy of any they don’t see as genetically pure. Where initially the world seems well-thought out and complete, it quickly becomes clear that the story is set entirely within the bounds of a single star-system, while supposedly the invasion is staged on a galactic scale. Plagued by uneven pacing and a fairly uninteresting story, The Cruel Stars is certainly an example of a piece that just would not come together as it was meant to.

Five regular POVs (and one infrequent) tell the tale of the Sturm’s attack: retired Admiral Frazer McLennan, the infamous hero known for defeating the Sturm hundreds of year prior. Princess Alessia, twelve year-old and heir to the Montanblanc Corporation. Booker 3-212162-930-Infantry, once soldier now prisoner and believer in the Code—a kind of digital consciousness that transcends the human body. Lieutenant Lucinda Hardy, initially assigned to the stealth corvette Defiant, a series of malware attacks soon sees her in charge of the ship, the entire mission hanging in the balance. Sephina L’trel, a pirate leader with a score to settle, must use all the tricks at her disposal to see her crew through the invasion. (Archon-Admiral Wenbo Strom of the Sturm is seen but a few times and makes a poor POV, due to a lack of depth and a heavily racist overtone that firmly entrenches him as a bad guy).

I’m pretty sure I was the only one annoyed about this, but: There is no perfect enemy. There are two short Sturm POVs, both using their ideology to just kill people. Not even those implanted, genetically modified, post-humans, but also the regular unadorned they came to “save”. Not that I’m defending the racists, but the author isn’t either. They’re the designated as the bad guys. While their ideology or beliefs or prejudices and such are never explained, or even briefed. By the 89% mark, there have been 3 Sturm POV appearances. All short, which totals to around one full chapter in length. So there’s really no dissenting opinion—one side is good, the other bad. I would’ve liked to see someone on the other side, some perspective into their thought process beyond blind doctrine-spouting. But hey, my opinion.

There’s also very little disconnect with the modern world. The weapons are fairly well thought out, but little else. The detail that Birmingham strives for in the first half soon departs, leaving the action and plot to carry the entire weight. I probably wouldn’t have minded as much had the plot been good. Sadly, what follows is a straightforward story with little to no character growth and frankly a lame ending. During the second half of the book, the author goes out of his way to remind the reader again and again of the characters’ motivations, backstories, and even why the Sturm are bad.

While the Cruel Stars was an excellent read over its first half, the following 200 pages struggled with identity, uneven pacing, and a slight, under-developed world. While the action is enough to carry the book to its outset—a subpar, unfulfilling ending leaves the audience awaiting the sequel just to figure out what exactly happened.