“By the maiden, Mother and Hag!” A review of the Bone Ships by R J Barker

Welcome to my first review here at The Book in Hand!  Westu hal, I am delighted to be here contributing reviews to this amazing blog, it’s an honour to be here helping this blog grow.  I do hope that you are staying safe and well and reading something awesome as well.

I am bringing a review to you today of an amazing book, it was easily one of the best opening books of a trilogy that I have ever read. This is my review of The Boneships by R.J Barker and by the Maiden, Mother and Hag this is why you should read it.

First of all, check out the premise.

The Premise


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 Review

This is a great story, it takes a hold of you in the first few pages and this is testament to R J’s flowing writing style. It is easy to read and wonderfully descriptive, and immerses you in this brutal world.  The story begins with one Joron Twiner, Shipwife (Captain) of the Tide Child being confronted by “Lucky” Meas Gilbryn and a changing of Hats happens.  Hats are an important symbol in this world as you will discover, this event is an important one for the story as well.

Meas is about to take over “Tide Child” a black ship of the Hundred Isles fleet.  Black ships are ships of the dead, those who serve aboard are sentenced for crimes I would rather not mention here, needless to say it is not a happy place to be.  As the book progressed I began to see the ship as home, it was very much a home for the crew and each battle fought they came more and more together.

The world that R J has created is wonderful as well, a brutal and unforgiving world though which is sharply divided by birth.  Let R J take you around this world, a brilliant example of secondary creation with it’s own creation myth (I loved this), religion (the Maiden, Mother and Hag) and ways of life. One of the most unique aspects ( I know I should have mentioned this before) are the ships, the tall ships, the bone ships.  Carved from the bones of dragons, the hundred isles fleet of this world “fly the ocean” on great Bones Ships in their war against the Gaunt Islands.

An issue that R J brings into the book is that of class, and how sharply divided the Hundred Isles is.  It is very simple, your class is determined by birth, if you are born okay and your mother does not die in this world, you join the “Bern”, if you are not or your mother dies then you join the “Berncast”.  R.J addresses very sharply in the book, it plays a key aspect and comes to the fore when the “Tide Child” and it’s crew are given a mission of great importance to the Hundred Isles.

You are introduced to many characters, but my favourites were Joron Twiner and Meas Gilbryn.  Joron is an interesting character, he is not sure of his place in the world but gradually finds he has a place and a role.  Meas Gilbryn is charismatic and she will draw you to her, her determination to succeed against the odds is an endearing factor to both the reader and her crew.  Other characters such as Farys, Barlay and Solem Mufffaz will greet you, tell you their stories and hopefully like me, draw you in.  R J really does write some wonderful characters, charismatic, determined, fearful and with shameful and storied pasts they are all here.

Putting it simply, I loved this book, as soon as I finished the first chapter I became immersed in this world and it really rewarded me as a reader.  As a fantasy book, the fantasy is there in the world as it’s a secondary created world, but be prepared to meet some of the stranger creatures of this world, The Guilame, those who control the wind.  

This really was a great book, one of my best reads of the year so far and a book and a series that I really recommend that you read.  R J really is a writer to watch, I loved his first trilogy and this trilogy could be something special with it’s wonderfully created world, intriguing and charismatic characters and glorious sea battles because those scenes (for me) are extra special.

By the Maiden, Mother and Hag, this is why you should read “The Bone Ships” by R J Barker, one of the best reads of the year for me, a book I highly recommend and an excellent start to a trilogy!  I couldn’t wait for book 2!

All that remains is for me to say westul hal, stay safe and enjoy what you are reading.

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