Call of the Bone Ships by R J Barker

November 26, 2020

Please note, Call of the Bones Ships is a direct sequel to The Bone Ships and if you have not read the first book in the Tide Child trilogy then it is likely what follows may contain some minor spoilers. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya!

Dragons have returned to the Hundred Isles. But their return heralds only war and destruction. When a horde of dying slaves are discovered in the bowels of a ship, Shipwife Meas and the crew of the Tide Child find themselves drawn into a vicious plot that will leave them questioning their loyalties and fighting for their lives.

Ahoy me hearties, tis time for us to set sail once again on the good ship Tide Child. R J Barker is back with Call of The Bone Ships so prepare yourself for more fantastical adventures on the high seas. Ok, I’ll admit it. I have been looking forward to this book for ages. C’mon, we’re talking sea dragons, skeletal pirate ships and more swash than you can shake a buckle at for goodness sake. How could you not be excited about that?

Joron Twiner has come a long way since the end of book one. Before his tenure on the Tide Child, he was a good for nothing layabout. Life on the ocean has changed him. The boneship has become his home and the crew his family. Ok, they are a mite maladjusted, prone to violent tendencies and would turn on you if there was a profit to be had in it, but they are still family all the same. The wanderlust is in Joron’s blood and the Tide Child gives him the life of excitement that he realises he has always craved. In many respects the evolution of Joron’s character is the backbone of the entire narrative.

Lucky Meas returns cutting a bloody swath through everything the comes before her. The formidable Shipwife* of the Tide Child remains a force to be reckoned with. I love Meas, her brazen attitude is so damned infectious. She is beholden to no-one and does not suffer fools gladly. Chances are pretty good that if Meas thought you were messing her around, you’d be thrown overboard. She is nothing if not pragmatic. Meas has decided she will live free, and if that means war, then so be it. Conflict between the Hundred Isles and the Gaunt Islands is nothing new but Meas believes there is a third option, a better way. The only downside to her plan is she is now surrounded by enemies on all sides. Just is well Meas is an expert at staying one step ahead of her rivals.

The crew of the Tide Child are a rogue’s gallery of knaves and ner-do-wells, cutpurses and killers. In this novel Barker explores the back story to some of these marauders and it made me love them all the more. Solemn Muffaz, Cwell, Mevans, Farys, Dinyl and Coughlin all get the opportunity to step into the spotlight. It almost goes without saying that Black Orris also remains a firm favourite. His fearlessly honest insight cuts to the very heart of everything. He doesn’t say much but when he does you can’t help but listen.

As an aside, I think I’d quite enjoy being a crew member on the Tide Child. I think my ridiculously large beard, earrings and multiple tattoos mean I’d at least look the part. Hmm, come to think of it, I don’t have the greatest sea legs and my sense of direction isn’t brilliant. Perhaps a life on the ocean waves is not for me after all. I’ll just have to content myself living vicariously through Lucky Meas’ exploits.

There is always a worry that the second book in a trilogy can never hope to capture the imagination in the same way its predecessor may have. No such qualms here, Call of the Bone Ships has all the skulduggery, treachery and action you could wish for. Barker expands on the premise of The Bone Ships and sets things up for what I expect is going to be an epically glorious payoff. It warms the cockles of this salty old sea-dog’s heart. The crew of the Tide Child are back, Hag’s tits! How I’ve missed them.

Call of the Bone Ships if published by Orbit and is available now. Highly recommended.

I have a couple of choices for you regarding my musical recommendations to accompany Call of the Bone Ships. You could go with the soundtrack to Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s safe and suitably piratical. You’ll be humming the theme to the movie before you know it. If, however you are looking for something a bit more chaotic and full-on can I suggest anything from Alestorm’s back catalogue. You can’t beat a bit of high-octane pirate metal in my opinion. From Captain Morgan’s Revenge through to The Curse of the Crystal Coconut they are the leading exponents of the genre.


One Comment

  • Яна December 1, 2020 at 12:16 pm

    is highly intriguing and I’d love to learn more, especially about the social side of things, even as I’m not entirely convinced by what I encountered. The gender-related changes to the social structure are a highly interesting concept, but I don’t feel they are rooted deeply enough either in the culture or the environment of the world described in The Bone Ships – I rather feel like Barker just scratched the surface here. In other words, I don’t think of them in this particular setting as an integral part of the world and I do hope this will be rectified in the subsequent books. Either way, the gender flipping serves as an opening to a very contemporary discussion, and even as I agree that it’s an incredibly timely and important one, I don’t feel world is the right setting for it, with so many similarities to our world’s insular societies such major societal changes would require much more grounding to become believable. But it’s a small quibble, coming from a sociologist, and one that only slightly affected my pleasure of reading. Another one, which is Piotrek’s favorite pet peeve, is the dominance of the author’s very contemporary worldview in general, and with regards to the environment in particular – again, as much as I agree with the author’s views in the matter, I find it difficult to suspend my disbelief that uneducated and desperate members of a poor insular nation are so easily able to ditch centuries of prejudice, economic dependency and religious beliefs in order to fight for environmental diversity, however magnificent the species in question is.

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