ARC provided by the publisher—Orbit—in exchange for an honest review.
The Bone Ship’s Wake by R.J. Barker
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: The Tide Child (Book #3 of 3)
Genre: Fantasy, High fantasy
Pages: 543 pages (UK paperback edition)
Published: 30th September 2021 by Orbit
I’ve completed two series by R.J. Barker now, and Barker stuck the landing in both Kings of Assassins and The Bone Ship’s Wake.
“Of all the people on the ship, the courser knew most what it was to be alone. And Joron, as Meas had once said, had found command was the loneliest place of all.”
I can’t believe how invested I was in Joron, Meas, and the crew of the Tide Child. I wouldn’t have predicted that from reading The Bone Ships. As mentioned in the acknowledgment of this novel, Barker has intentionally focused the narrative on the world-building first in The Bone Ships instead of the characterizations. The main character, Joron Twiner, was always in the role of an observer in the first book of the series. This indeed made me struggle with the first half of The Bone Ships, but the increasing payoff throughout the series was so worthwhile. I do believe The Bone Ship’s Wake is one of the two Barker’s best book so far, and that’s saying a lot considering how much I loved King of Assassins. Now that I’ve finished both The Wounded Kingdom trilogy and The Tide Child trilogy, I will say this, I feel safe in investing my time and money in whatever fantasy series he decides to write next.
“And what is life for us if we are not lurching from one life-or-death situation to another?”
The story picks up a year after Call of the Bone Ships, and danger visits Joron and the Tide Child every step of their way. But Joron won’t back down. His enemies pursuits him relentlessly, time feels like it’s running out for him and every one of them, but still, he’ll persist. One of the issues I had with the previous two books were the seemingly lack of prominent villain, and that situation has been addressed here. But if you look at the review I wrote in Call of the Bone Ships, I also mentioned that my co-blogger said that the real villain of this series is the Hundred Isles itself; the society and vicious culture, and this is intensely evident here. There were some profound themes Barker puts in The Bone Ship’s Wake. Yes, war, leadership, found family, and responsibility are things that have been there since the first book, and they’re here, too.
“And if this was not what his father had promised, if this was not the glorious stories of being fleet, of proud boneships and honourable shipwives, well, that was because life was not stories. Life was painful, and it was hard and it was cruel and full of loss. And if this was not the peace Meas had wanted, had fought for, that was because there was no peace without war.”
However, Barker established once more that one of the main conflicts that every character—both protagonists and antagonists—faces in this series is due to the insistence to follow this outdated law and culture. This is the kind of thing that resonates with me. Believe me, being an Asian often means we have hundreds of superstitions for a variety of situations imparted upon us, and even though there’s no actual proof of their accuracies or effectiveness, we’re still forced to follow them no matter what. For example, in Chinese culture, we’re not allowed to stick our chopsticks into our food—especially rice—because this means we’re bringing bad luck or curse upon ourselves. Proof of this curse? None. And yet, we still follow them. This is just a simple example. The flawed superstitions and culture that the characters in The Bone Ship’s Wake are facing results in a worse outcome, and it is insanely difficult to escape this vicious cycle. Unfortunately, I can’t elaborate more on this because it will mean going into spoiler territory.
“Where there is misery someone’s always getting rich, and you can bet they’d be the last to throw scraps to the needy.”
It pleases me to say that I’m so impressed by Joron’s character development. Allow me to remind you that Joron was a character I felt detached from in the first book. After all the suffering he went through in the previous books, it’s wonderful to witness how far he learned and developed from them. His characterizations and development throughout the entire trilogy felt organic, and it’s all incredibly well-done. I can say with confidence that the found family trope, and all the interactions between the crew of the Tide Child, were the highlight of the narrative for me. Harsh decisions were made, and I love how even though they’re not technically the kindest people out there—point back to the culture thing I mentioned in the previous paragraph—but they always try their best to do the right thing when given the opportunity. Barker has always been great at characterizations, and he proved that again in The Bone Ship’s Wake.
“What is done in desperation can be terrible; what is done from cold calculation, well, that is evil. Or so I count it… Terrible acts, Joron, they are often unthinking. We learn, and we get better. It is those who do not learn, or simply embrace and become inured to the terrible things we do that must be feared, and must be stopped.”
Lastly, I want to mention that I’m not the biggest fan of fantasy books with a heavy focus on a nautical and seafaring adventure. The only other seafaring fantasy series I can say that I love thoroughly was The Liveship Traders by Robin Hobb, and now The Tide Child trilogy joined the rank. The naval warfare was some of the best I’ve read, and at several moments in the trilogy, I could practically feel the character’s exhaustion and fatigues from being chased and bombarded relentlessly. Seriously, the ending sequence of The Bone Ship’s Wake was epic and explosive. The visualizations at the climax sequence invoked from the prose was a treat for my imagination. I was captivated, I felt emotional, and the intensity never lets up.
“Better to die attempting something grand, than live in the world the Bern gave us.”
Whether they live or die, I will leave it for you to find out for yourself. But something grand? Oh, they did achieve that. They bloody did. And on that note, The Bone Ship’s Wake is a grandiose naval adventure that concludes The Tide Child trilogy with a bang. From exhilarating chase, crimson vengeance, heartwarming scenes, and heartbreaking moments to an unforgettable climactic ending, Barker has smoothly sailed them all. Well done, R.J. Well done.
“So live, and do not spend your life looking back at what could have been.”
The Tide Child: 12.5/15 stars
You can order this book from: Blackwells (Free International shipping)
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