The Bone Ships by RJ Barker


Thank you so much to Orbit Books via NetGalley for the eARC in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

Honestly I just want to start by saying that The Bone Ships is one of the best books I have read all year, and I can’t wait to have it in a hard copy with the rest of the trilogy!! I KNOW I will be re-reading this! I was swept away by all 500+ pages and never felt bored, never skimmed, and definitely can’t wait for the sequel.

The description from NetGalley:

“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 will start by saying that the cover and internal map are both really awesome designs, and I think the map adds a lot to the story. It is helpful to be able to visualize the ship’s route and have some sense of scale to the journey they are on.

The story itself is completely unique to anything I have ever read before, and very dark as well. The entire war at this point is based on stealing children from the other side to sacrifice their souls as corpse lights on their ships. Additionally, each healthy first born of the Hundred Isles’ women is sacrificed in the same regard. These souls seem to make the ships literally alive, as when the ships take damage, the corpse lights go out. This doesn’t seem like an intelligent way of life to some people, which may or may not be one of the many sources of intrigue, treason, and subplotting within the empire.

There are also black ships of the dead, where the brilliant white ship is painted black to signify that those on board are condemned to death as criminals. They sail to their deaths…. Good lord what an amazing cast of characters as well. Meas, the ship’s captain, or shipwife, is one of those morally grey characters that I wanted to hate but ended up loving. She is known as the best shipwife in the isles, if not the world, and stole command of the black ship Tide Child from the other main character, Joron Twiner, who had an arc of growth and leadership that made me proud of him. My favorite character was probably the Guillaime, I wanted to set the book down and clap when he finally did his thing but I really can’t talk about him without spoilers, but trust me. The same concept kind of goes for the sea dragon, an amazing being but too full of spoilers. The ship’s crew was such a rag tag bunch but they faced soooooo many things together including learning discipline, enemy ships, inclement weather, traitors in their midst, and becoming unsung heroes… Watching the crew come together was a huge strong point for me.

I also can’t get over how well Barker describes, well, pretty much everything. The flora and fauna as the crew discovers new places, I felt like I was there. The ships themselves felt so visible in my mind as well, even the clothes and uniforms and weather. The language and ship slang is done impeccably as well, right down to Black Orris! The one other thing that really had my spine tingling were the naval battles, let those giant bows fly!!

So long story short, I absolutely 100% recommend this book to anyone with any slight interest whatsoever in fantasy, dragons, pirates, sea life, old gods and legends, treason, morally grey characters, women in charge, snarky animals….basically read it. Thank you again to Orbit Books and NetGalley for this early read! The book comes out September 24th so be sure to preorder if it sounds up your alley!

2 replies on “The Bone Ships by RJ Barker”

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