ARC provided by the publisher—Orbit—in exchange for an honest review.
Call of the Bone Ships by R.J. Barker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: The Tide Child (Book #2 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, High fantasy
Pages: 482 pages (UK paperback edition)
Published: 24th November 2020 by Orbit
A great sequel that doesn’t shy away from developing the characters through harsh circumstances.
“We are nothing, Shipwife… If we do not try we are nothing. You are right there. Better to lose it all for what is right than to live in fear.”
Call of the Bone Ships is the second book in The Tide Child trilogy by R.J. Barker. There’s no middle book syndrome here. I was one of the relatively few readers who were slightly disappointed by The Bone Ships on my first read. To sum it up briefly, it was too different from The Wounded Kingdom trilogy, and I expected a focus on characterization right from the getgo. But that wasn’t the case, The Bone Ships spent the first half of the novel heavily focused on world-building, and the characterizations came in the second half. This storytelling decision, however, made the reread experience of The Bone Ships that I did rewarding. And I’m happy to say that Call of the Bone Ships provided a more character-driven narrative in addition to retaining the fascinating world-building.
“You think it cannot be, Joron Twiner? That we would not murder hundreds for a chance to hunt the keyshans once more?… We sacrifice our own children to our ships, you think those in power care about the lives of the sick and the useless?”
Do note that Call of the Bone Ships isn’t a light tale in any possible way. Brief moments of respite are there, and they’re placed at the right spot for the characters to catch a breath, but this is a brutal sequel. If you’re not a fan of your main character being tortured, Call of the Bone Ships won’t be for you. This is a ruthless sequel that showcases just how harsh the world the characters lived in, and I loved it for that. The first book consisted of Lucky Meas uniting Joron and many other broken characters together under her wing, this sequel is more or less the other way around. Meas doesn’t make many appearances here; definitely not when compared to The Bone Ships. If the role of Joron in the first novel was to be an observant of the legend of the Lucky Meas, Call of the Bone Ships is about Joron having to survive through his ordeals before he became a man of his own.
“And if they heard him weep a little, did they care? No, they did not, for what did it matter to them if a brave man wept? It did not make him any less brave, and had they not all wept at some point in their lives? So they smiled to themselves and went on with their jobs, never to mention it again.”
Thankfully, Joron Twiner is never alone. Readers of The Bone Ships will know that found family is one of the key themes of the series, and I’m gratified to state that Barker nailed the growth of the other characters as well. The themes of loss, sacrifice, responsibility, and loyalty were established, and they’re indeed pretty savage, but the crew of the Tide Child knows they are all in this together. Being battered non-stop by waves of pain and blood, it’s only by working together they can put a dent in their seemingly unbending end. Whether they succeed or not, I’ll leave that for you to find out for yourself. I enjoyed what I’ve read, and the growth of the characters—I won’t mention their name to avoid spoilers—was incredible.
“Look in the mirror when you return to your cabin. Ask yourself if people can change, ask yourself if people can surprise you.”
We also get to learn more about the gullaime, keyshan, and the Hundred Isles. As far as world-building goes, the world that Barker has crafted is a genuinely distinct one. I don’t think I’ve read many, or any, fantasy world similar to this. And speaking of creativity, Barker is one of the few fantasy authors I know who continue to utilize the limited formatting of the pages inside his novels to convey an emotion. This was executed in The Wounded Kingdom trilogy, and I’m glad to see it made a return again here. The action sequences were also breathtaking and vivid; there was a sequence in the middle of the novel that completely wowed me. If you haven’t read this book yet, prepare for the tidal wave.
“Maybe that is the true nature of prophecy—we can only change what is within our reach. So do not worry about the gullaime, do not worry about their prophecy. Hold close those you care for. Worry only about tomorrow, and the day after. Think not on the day after that for we fly the ship of the dead, and the Hag calls us all. To plan far ahead is to ask for the Maiden to thwart all you are. We are in the now. We fight for what we believe is right. We can do nothing else.”
I do have one minor issue with Call of the Bone Ships, and it’s the lack of a prominent antagonist figure. Don’t get me wrong, we do get to learn who the main villain is. But we still haven’t seen the character yet. There’s a good chance that Barker is saving the entrance for the final book, but I do believe that I would’ve been able to enjoy this book even further with the appearance of this villain. That being said, my co-blogger mentioned that the real villain of this series is the Hundred Isles, and she’s not mistaken on this.
“I was a Hundred Isles shipwife, boy. How many innocents do you think fell to my blade? Too many. You think I would throw away the one person I genuinely care about for those who I know nothing of? Those I care nothing for?… No, never.”
Lastly, the beautiful map and chapter icons by Tom Parker are back, with two new chapter icons related to the narrative, too. Call of the Bone Ships is a great sequel that improved upon everything established in The Bone Ships. It answered several questions from the first book, and it also left us with enough intriguing mysteries to be answered in the final book of the trilogy. I’m glad I gave this trilogy a second chance. The story did end on a cliffhanger, and I look forward to reading The Bone Ship’s Wake in a few weeks.
You can order the book from: Blackwells (Free International shipping)
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