The Bone Ships by RJ Barker – A Book Review

Bone Ship



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.


Author: RJ Barker

Publisher: Orbit

Pages: 496

Release Date (Kindle): 24/09/2019

Release Date (Paperback): 26/09/2019

Series: Tide Child #1

My Chosen Format: Kindle

My Rating of ‘The Bone Ships’: 5 out of 5

Purchase: Amazon UKAmazon US



Bone Ships was something that, as soon as I saw it was on Orbit’s list for release, I knew I had to do everything within my power to get early. Much like the author, I am addicted to the ocean and love novels, series, films etc … set on the sea. So, it’s fair to say my excitement was high going into this one.

My excitement, nor my expectations, were let down. From start to finish Bone Ships is one heck of a gripping read. It’s not just the overall plot of chasing a giant sea serpent to protect it from having its bones harvested that was decent, it is everything within the pages. If I’m honest, I cared about the plot least of all due to how good the characters were.

This book has some of the best character development of any book I have read in quite some time. It’s incredible to see how the crew goes from what it was to what it becomes whilst leaving you with the impression that there is still more growing to come besides. Admittedly, some of the motivational speeches felt a bit cliché and shoe-horned in at places, but they worked in some odd way.

One thing a reader needs to get used to is the jargon used. Not ship jargon as we know it, but ship jargon as it appears in Bone Ships. For instance, the feminine is predominant. A ship’s captain is known as ‘the Ship Wife’ (I’m assuming that all ships are male and their captains are essentially their ‘spouse’). General crew is known as ‘deckchilder’. The word for brother is brother but, sister is ‘sither’ (despite one instance where it wasn’t … but I got an early copy and imagine such little mistakes will be ironed out). The only really jarring thing about the terminology that bothered me was, instead of using ‘men and women’ he used ‘women and men’. Now it isn’t a sexist complaint, it’s a ‘this does not work alphabetically or in order as far as syllables go,’ complaint. You do get used to it, but it just feels jarring and breaks the flow of a sentence up due to the fact that it isn’t the order of wording I have had drilled into me from a young age.

The ship dynamics was something new and interesting. It made me think back to one of my favourite ocean-based series (Live Ship Traders by Robin Hobb) however the dynamic for this series is far different to that one. The bones of great sea-serpents are used to forge incredibly durable ships and (morbidly so) sacrificed infants are used to give ‘corpse lights’ to strengthen the ships in some ways. The Black Ships (ships of the dead) do not have the grizzly benefit of corpse lights. And the ship we follow in the Tide Child series is a Black Ship so we don’t have that darkness lurking on our favoured ship. We do however have a ship that is crewed by criminals that have been sentenced to die in service to their lands. So bit of darkness either way.

This still will go down as easily one of the best things I have read this year and has more than done enough to convince me that it will be the stand-out opener to a series for 2019 and possibly some time after. I got genuine sadness that, as an early reader of it, it means I’ll have to wait that little bit longer for the sequel. This will certainly be a series I look forward to more than most.

21 thoughts on “The Bone Ships by RJ Barker – A Book Review

  1. I found myself nodding in agreement when you said that the plot takes second place in respect of the characters, because it’s very true: yes, the chase of the great beast is important, as is everything else that happens, but the characters are what shines through with a brilliant light . 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!!!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s