Petrik's Reviews > The Bone Ships

The Bone Ships by R.J.  Barker
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Recommended for: Fantasy readers who loves seafaring and pirates

ARC provided by the publisher—Orbit—in exchange for an honest review.

3.5/5 stars

Highly imaginative world-building with a large focus on sea voyages and naval warfare.


Let me begin by saying that I’m a huge fan of Barker’s debut series: The Wounded Kingdom trilogy. I gave each installment in the trilogy a 4.5 stars rating and ever since I finished King of Assassins, The Bone Ships has been on my list of priority books to read ASAP. This is why I’m genuinely sad that I have to give this book a below 4 stars rating, but I have to always be honest with my review. I still had a great time with the book but The Bone Ships is a totally different sort of beast—that’s sadly not too suitable for me—compared to The Wounded Kingdom and I had expected to love this book more. RJ, if you stumbled upon this review, please don’t read it.

“No sane woman or man wishes for war, and those that do never would if they thought it would leave paint on their doorsteps.”


The Bone Ships is the first book in The Tide Child trilogy by R.J. Barker. For generations, the two nations in the Hundred Isles have built their bone ships from the bones of supposedly extinct ancient dragons. The two nations used these ships to wage an endless war for supremacy and dominance in the high seas. Now, our main characters, Joron Twiner and Lucky Meas, heard that there’s a new sighting of a new sea dragon for the first time in centuries; nations participate in a race to shift the balance of power in their favor by catching the dragon. I won’t lie, I struggled through the first half of the book. I, as a reader, prefer characterizations first more than anything else. A focus on characterizations was one of the things Barker did immediately and exceptionally well in The Wounded Kingdom trilogy. The Bone Ships to me felt like it followed the opposite direction by focusing the narrative on heavy world-building first; characterizations came in the second half. The main premise regarding the appearance of a new sea dragon didn’t really begin until 40% in. Because of this, the first 40% felt like the plot was directionless. Thankfully, the second half was significantly better.

“The greatest revenge is not taken with a blade, it is that done by taking your enemy’s taunts and throwing them back in their face.”


The long amount of time required to get me to care about the characters was definitely the most disappointing aspect of the book to me. In The Wounded Kingdom trilogy, I cared about Girton immediately just from the first few chapters and my investment for him and the side characters continuously grew throughout the series. In here, Joron is a type of the main character that takes the role of an observer of a legendary figure; something like Bloodsounder’s Arc by Jeff Salyards. It took a while for me to care about him but I finally started to like the characters in the second half of the book. Seeing Joron Twiner, Lucky Meas, and the misfit crew of Tide Child gradually learn about duty, friendship, honor, and loyalty was simply a joy to read; the expert characterizations skill that was found in Barker’s first trilogy became more evident in the last 35% of the book.

“Loyalty. That is what makes a ship work – ties of loyalty. To each other, to the ship. And every time we fight together, we are bound closer together. It is your nature, Joron, to like people and to be kind. Do not think I have not seen the leeway you give.”


The one thing to highly praise about The Bone Ships, in my opinion, would have to be its inventive and intricate world-building. This isn’t an easy book to read, the learning curve is higher than usual and in the first half was totally a sink or swim situation; world-building, lingo, unique names were introduced rapidly—sometimes in an info-dump manner—that it took a long time for me to acclimate myself with the world and characters. I’m not particularly a fan of long sea voyages in a fantasy book; almost the entirety of the novel was spent on seafaring and this indeed became a hindrance to my enjoyment. However, this is also where the book excels. Not only is the gorgeous cover art similar to the UK cover of The Liveship Traders trilogy by Robin Hobb, the setting was also reminiscent and yet it still felt refreshing and original to read. Gullaime (wind-mage or weatherman), sea dragon, bone ships, and the colossal Skearith’s Spine were some of the factors that made the discovery and sea voyage heavily prominent and awesome in the narrative; if you’re a fan of this kind of novel, this book would be a hit for you. The vivid imagery displayed when they were traveling on the sea was stunning, and the gorgeous map and chapter icons are done by Tom Parker also enhanced the strong atmosphere of the book.

Picture: Interior chapter icons by Tom Parker





If it weren’t because this is written by Barker, I probably would’ve given up reading the book in the first half; I’m glad I didn’t because the second half made the struggle worth it as every part of the novel starts becoming clearer. The vivid world-building and thrilling naval warfare concluded The Bone Ships on a high note. I recommend this book to readers who loved pirates, seafaring, and a fantasy book that prioritized world-building first.

“My advice is to judge them on who they are when you meet them, rather than on what you have heard from those to whom they are only stories.”


Official release date: September 26th, 2019 (UK) and September 24th, 2019 (US)

You can pre-order the book from: Amazon UK | Amazon US | Book Depository (Free shipping)

The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

You can find this and the rest of my reviews at Novel Notions
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Reading Progress

February 19, 2019 – Shelved
July 5, 2019 – Started Reading
July 9, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-23 of 23 (23 new)

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message 1: by Rinaldo (new) - added it

Rinaldo I'm more a worldbuilding and plot reader, so this actually sounds a good suit for me. I'm just a sucker for weird vista and bizarre things. Thanks for the review Petrik!


Petrik Rinaldo wrote: "I'm more a worldbuilding and plot reader, so this actually sounds a good suit for me. I'm just a sucker for weird vista and bizarre things. Thanks for the review Petrik!"

You're welcome, Rinaldo! haha I love awesome world-building and plot but I simply have to care about the characters first otherwise the book would definitely fell short for me! :D


Em Lost In Books Premise and the cover art is so similar to Livship trilogy...


Petrik Em Lost In Books wrote: "Premise and the cover art is so similar to Livship trilogy..."

Indeed! The world is different but it has a lot of similarities imo. But Hobb's characterizations were superior! :)


message 5: by Mili (new) - added it

Mili I can't wait to read it but am also a bit afraid now 😂


Petrik Mili wrote: "I can't wait to read it but am also a bit afraid now 😂"

I hope you'll enjoy it more than me, Mili! The book felt experimental to me... :/


message 7: by Travis (new) - added it

Travis Such an honest review!! I am sure even if R.J. seen this review he wouldn't be upset. Your reviews are always warming and never overly negative.


Em Lost In Books Petrik wrote: "Em Lost In Books wrote: "Premise and the cover art is so similar to Livship trilogy..."

Indeed! The world is different but it has a lot of similarities imo. But Hobb's characterizations were super..."


I agree! Livship is one of the best trilogy in terms of world building, magic, and characterization...


Petrik Travis wrote: "Such an honest review!! I am sure even if R.J. seen this review he wouldn't be upset. Your reviews are always warming and never overly negative."

Thank you, Travis! Hahaha I hope so! (Well, my review for Uprooted and Shade of Magic series beg to differ... xD)


Petrik Em Lost In Books wrote: "Petrik wrote: "Em Lost In Books wrote: "Premise and the cover art is so similar to Livship trilogy..."

Indeed! The world is different but it has a lot of similarities imo. But Hobb's characterizat..."


Hear2! Aye2 captain! :D


Runalong Sounds my kind of book!


Petrik Runalong wrote: "Sounds my kind of book!"

Awesome!!! I hope you'll enjoy it, Womble! :D


message 13: by Maria João (new) - added it

Maria João A book with ships :O I'm going to pre-order it.


Petrik Maria João wrote: "A book with ships :O I'm going to pre-order it."

Niceeee!!! :)


Stained Edges It's painful the degree to which this is blatantly stealing Hobb's Liveship Traders plot AND cover design. I have my issues with Hobb's overly long and meandering stories, but that woman can write characters to such a degree that I personally feel like I have met and known them. And this series has the best villain in the world (no spoilers *wink).


message 16: by Xavaqenia (new)

Xavaqenia Do you plan on reading the sequels, Petrik?


Petrik Stained Edges wrote: "It's painful the degree to which this is blatantly stealing Hobb's Liveship Traders plot AND cover design. I have my issues with Hobb's overly long and meandering stories, but that woman can write ..."

The plot most likely are a coincidence, there are some definitely felt original, imo, but the cover design are.... yeah. Just look at the font being used, it's exactly the same. :/


Petrik Xavaqenia wrote: "Do you plan on reading the sequels, Petrik?"

Yup! Probably not soon, though! :)


Virginia I loved this from about ten pages in, but that is probably because I love sea-voyage books, and every time an author combines sea voyages AND fantasy elements I tend to be a very enthusiastic reader. But I could absolutely understand why someone who isn't a fan of sea voyages wouldn't enjoy this one as much. Interestingly, while I didn't find Joron immediately relatable, I was curious about his story from the get go, and I found Meas delightful from the moment she appears on the page, and Joron quickly grew on me in the first few chapters. Meanwhile, I beg to disagree with those comparing it to Hobb. I find this nothing like the Hobb's Liveship Trader books (which I also loved, they're just very different). Anyway, interesting to read your thoughts on it, Petrik!


Petrik Virginia wrote: "I loved this from about ten pages in, but that is probably because I love sea-voyage books, and every time an author combines sea voyages AND fantasy elements I tend to be a very enthusiastic reade..."

Thanks, Virginia! Yeahh, sea voyages (especially long one like this) rarely worked for me. As you can probably guess, Hobb's books were the only one that clicked for me! As for the content of this book, I think the majority of the story and character development were different from Liveship Traders. However, there are similarity in the premise that could be linked (long sea voyages, reappearing dragons, etc) and that's probably why other readers find it that way. I personally that think a lot of the claim were initiated due to the cover design that's incredibly similar to Liveship Traders, though. :D


Virginia Ah, well, yeah, I could see why a marketing crew might want to target the same audience, but I had to go look up what you meant, because the original Ship of Magic cover looked nothing like this one! (I see that the 2011 version does have a strong resemblance though.) It's always funny to me when folks (not you, but some folks in the comments) mention covers in a review of a trad book though, because it's not as if the author has anything at all to do with a cover if they aren't indie. Anyway, yes there is a bit of similarity in the premise, but this book felt very much like an Aubrey & Maturin novel to me (sea-faring military fiction), whereas the Liveship books always felt like... I'm not sure. Something else entirely.


Petrik Virginia wrote: "Ah, well, yeah, I could see why a marketing crew might want to target the same audience, but I had to go look up what you meant, because the original Ship of Magic cover looked nothing like this on..."

Hahah yeah, it's not the original Ship of Magic cover, but the 2011 UK edition one... xD

"It's always funny to me when folks (not you, but some folks in the comments) mention covers in a review of a trad book though, because it's not as if the author has anything at all to do with a cover if they aren't indie."

As for this... a lot of readers surprisingly don't know that traditional published authors most of the time doesn't have control over it. Or sometimes, we're just blaming the publishers/design team. Urgh I have so many frustration over some cover art choice, tbh, but oh well. xD

Yeah, I have to agree with you regarding the actual content itself that premise aside, nothing felt similar to me. The second book most likely will established that further! :D


Virginia Petrik wrote: "Virginia wrote: "Ah, well, yeah, I could see why a marketing crew might want to target the same audience, but I had to go look up what you meant, because the original Ship of Magic cover looked not..."

I have sooooo many issues with covers from 90s fantasy books, tbh. I would like to know what most publishers were smoking at the time. There was a huge swath of terrible artwork that was really popular for some reason and... I wonder if there was a dirth of fantasy artists at the time or... something. Weird times, anyway. :-)


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