Book Review: Call of the Bone Ships by RJ Barker

Call of the Bone Ships by RJ BarkerTitle: Call of the Bone Ships

Author: RJ Barker

Publisher: Orbit

Publication date: November 24, 2020

Genre: Fantasy

One Sentence Summary: Lucky Meas’s mother, the leader of the Hundred Isles, wants her “dead” daughter, and Meas is fueled by her anger at the severe mistreatment of her people and will do anything to bring her mother down.

Call of the Bone Ships is a stunning sequel to The Bone Ships. It picks up some time after the events in the first book, but it was easy to get back into the gentle rocking of Tide Child and the routines of his crew. I really loved the first book, so was eager to read the second. The middle book in a trilogy is not usually known to be the most exciting, but this one had me breathlessly reading as quickly as I could to find out what happens next.

Chock Full of Adventures

When Tide Child comes to the rescue of a merchant brownbone ship, his crew is shocked and angered to discover it full of ill-treated dead or nearly dead people and guillame called Windshorn. Wanting to know why, and discover where they were being taken, especially after news of the safe haven they and others had created has been destroyed, they make their way into the heart of the Hundred Isles.

Leaving Bernshulme worse off than when they arrived, they do manage to pick up a lead. Danger and death, though, are never far away for a ship of the dead. Though it does answer many questions, all of them horrifying and none of them leading to anything good, especially when Shipwife Meas’s mother is involved.

I have to admit I was a little lost and wondering where the story could possibly be going for about the first quarter. While I loved being back on Tide Child and on the high seas, I just couldn’t fathom what the second installment in the trilogy could be about. It felt like a series of events setting something up, but I could neither tie it into the first book nor figure out what this book was about. But, once I did, I couldn’t read fast enough to find out how it was all going to unfold.

Full of adventure, danger, betrayal, and secrets, Call of the Bone Ships absolutely delivered a breathtaking story. Neither the crew nor the reader ever seems to have a chance to catch their breath. It’s unrelenting, but really moves the story along. There are many threads running through this story, but they’re so perfectly and tightly twined that it’s easy to follow them, though I felt there were some great surprises, especially in the characters, who really make the book come alive.

Ultimately, though, Call of the Bone Ships is more than just a daughter trying to undermine and bring down her mother, more than what the return of the keyshans means for the Hundred Isles. It’s all about Joron Twiner, Meas’s second-in-command. It’s about his transformation through loss and the unrelenting pushes for him to be more, to grow, to learn, to be seen as worthy not just by Meas but by the crew. This is not an easy story for Joron. It tries to kill him several times and throws up barrier after barrier, so it beautifully details his transformation and how he slowly starts to come into his own.

Broken and Built Back

It’s the characters that really make this story for me, both in the first and second books. As a motley crew sentenced to death, there are cliques and crewmembers who like some and hate others. I imagine it makes for a very interesting time on the seas. At the same time, Meas has been whipping them into shape and creating a truly Fleet ship. I loved those who were loyal to her and hated those who weren’t. While the first book felt like it focused more on the story and the world, this one felt like it focused more on further developing the main characters and crafting great relationships, though some of them just broke my heart.

Joron hurt me the most. He was just starting to get comfortable, to be used to Meas wearing his Shipwife hat, and this book literally and figuratively tore him apart. It left him in serious emotional and physical pain that was so hard to read, but, I think, is meant to build him into a much better man than he was when he’s first introduced in the first book. But he loses so much, and it’s hard and heart breaking.

But Guillame is wonderful as usual. A truly unique avian creature, it has power of the winds. In Call of the Bone Ships the reader really comes to learn what sets Guillame apart from the other guillame. The relationship between Guillame and Joron is my favorite. It’s strange, but it works, and there’s clearly an affection on both sides.

Seas and Ship

In a world divided between the Hundred Isles and the Gaunt Islands, there’s a massive amount of sea. Much of the story is set on the ships necessary for traveling between islands, but a good deal is also set on land. It was great to be back on Tide Child and a lot of fun wandering the different islands.

The islands did blur together a bit. There isn’t too much to distinguish some of them, though the ones carrying a significant population were unique from the others, like Bernshulme and especially Sleighthulme. The other islands made me think of warm sand and thick jungles, so it was really only the events that took place, outside of all the fighting, that informed me of which island they were on for which event.

But my favorite location was Tide Child. It’s own microcosm, the crew has formed their own family and their own cliques. What I loved about this installment in the trilogy is that the bonds between them grow stronger, they become a tighter crew with a single loyalty. It was hard to read through its transformation, but necessary to create a stable deck for Joron to stand on.

As usual, my favorite thing about this series is how immersed I was in the world. I loved pretending to be out on the sea, to be on the decks of a bustling ship with adventure and certain death around the corner. Even when I wasn’t reading I found myself having internal exclamations of “Skearith’s Eye!” Both a little scary and a lot amusing, I think it safe to say I really love this world.

A Stunning Sequel

I loved The Bone Ships and now I also love Call of the Bone Ships. While I did feel a little confused at the beginning, the story quickly came together. Full of horrors, death, and blood, it also pushed the characters as far as it dared so they could come out on the other side to face what the last book has to throw at them. I adore this world and love the characters, though some of the story lines just broke my heart, and I can’t wait to see how the trilogy concludes. I’ll also be sad to see it end, but am dying to know what happens next.

Great if you enjoy: The Bone Ships, sea adventures, books set on ships and islands, strong world building, interesting creatures, battles, strong characters

Not great if you’re looking for: no or little bloodshed, land-based fantasy, fun and quick reads

How mcany cups of tea will you need?

5 cups

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Thank you to Angela Man and Orbit for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

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