Two nations at war. A prize beyond compare.
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.
The Bone Ships is an epic fantasy, the first of what is intended to become The Tide Child Trilogy. The Tide Child is the ship where most of the story plays out. Inanimate object though it may be, it’s actually a very important character throughout the story. It’s called a bone ship, because it’s made of the bones of dragons, and it’s a black ship, which means that its crew is made up of castaways and criminals. I really loved the premise and the cover, so although not my go-to genre, I was happy with the chance to read The Bone Ships.
However, truth be told: it took me a while and a bit of effort to get into the story. One reason, I’m sure, is the fact that I’m not used to the genre. It’s been a minute and a half since I’ve last read adult fantasy, so while I’m no stranger to fantastical elements and world-building, I was in no way prepared for the elaborate way it’s been done in The Bone Ships.
Another reason is that there was no wading gently into this particular ocean. The reader is catapulted into it, and there is so much vocabulary to get used to (for example the captain of a ship is called the Shipwife) and no time to familiarise yourself with it, because the world is right there, it’s detailed, it’s intricate, and it’s being built upon further with every new chapter. To be fair, it’s really not that complicated, it’s just overwhelming (or it was to me anyway), but when I got to the end of the book, I found a glossary, so note that! I would have noticed it in a paperback but I was reading this on my Kobo, so I didn’t know, but I think it would have come in handy.
Right from the get-go, I was impressed by Barker’s writing, his vivid imagery and his intricate world-building, I was practically in awe of the way his sentences flowed like the seas he was telling me about. Yet, I feared I was not the right audience and at one point very early on, I even contemplated DNF’ing, as I felt I couldn’t take the waves, and I felt ship-wrecked and drowning. Kids, I was wrong. I was so so wrong. See, this is why I generally don’t DNF: some books you fall in love with at first sight, other books make you work for it, they demand you take them out on a few dates before they show you their true colours but in the end they might be the most rewarding of all. The Bone Ships? Case in point why one should not draw conclusions hastily because I ended up not only enjoying this story, I ended up loving it.
At one point, I just realised how utterly invested I had become in the well-being of the characters. I was rooting for Joron, from whose perspective we see the story unfold, Shipwife Lucky Meas, who’s tough as nails but smart and fair, sweet little Farys, scarred and scared but brave, and weirdly, the Gullaime, a creature like a large bird of prey, blinded but able to talk to the wind and in that way either help the crew or thwart them.
The Bone Ships is in no way the typical first instalment of a series where nothing happens and it’s all about setting the board for the next book. A LOT happens. There’s politics, there’s betrayal, there are battles, and ohmigod that first glimpse of the sea-dragon / keyshan / arakeesian!
Parts of The Bone Ships also struck a nerve, like the Sea Hag who is seen as a goddess, worshipped, war is fought in her name, but like one of the characters so aptly puts: no one has ever actually met the Sea Hag, it’s women and men who decide what she says and hagpriests who speak for her. This is just a tiny sliver of conversation and I can’t be sure if the author meant it this way, but this, among other seemingly casual remarks, really stood out to me and added another layer to the story, one that dares the reader to take a closer look at their own reality, their own society and not be afraid to be critical of it.
Despite our somewhat rocky start, I thoroughly enjoyed The Bone Ships and I can’t wait for the second instalment! Recommended to fans of epic fantasy!
Many thanks to Orbit and NetGalley for the eARC. All opinions are my own.