fantasy, review

Review: The Call of the Bone Ships by RJ Barker

I reviewed The Bone Ships earlier this week and announced that it had been a fantastic read full of amazing world building and characters I adored. I am delighted to let you know that not only does the same remain true of the sequel, but it actually improves on parts of the the first book that I thought were perfect.

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.

The book immediately jumps straight into action as the crew of the Tide Child step in to rescue a ship stuck in shallow water. It is quickly discovered that even a simple rescue is not as straightforward as it looks. Following the events of the first book, Meas has been kept at arms length from Bernshulme by her mother and her spymaster. That doesn’t stop her from getting involved as she uncovers secrets others would rather stay unnoticed.

I praised the world building in my review of book one and I can happily say that the depth of field we got in this sequel measured up to my high expectations. I would even say that my immersion and enjoyment of the world building increased this time around as I had a much stronger footing in the world. I also found that this book built on the fundamentals established in the first book without adding too many unfamiliar words.

The sea about them was grey and eternal, a continuous shifting of waves that gently jostled the little boat as it coasted across the sea, wings full of the storm’s gift and the sky above as blue as promises.

However, it was the characters who had me so attached to this book from the start. The Bone Ships had taken two main characters that I did not feel any attachment or admiration for and created two individuals I came to love. I also was on the edge of my seat throughout the book waiting to see how relationships developed between different members of the crew. All without a focus on a romantic plot line. By the time the end of the first book came around I was emotionally wrought and worn out.

In book two, Joron in particular has built up several relationships (positive and negative) that I was already invested in. I was especially elated to get more progress of the bond and trust developing between him and Meas. I said previously that some of the “second tier” crew were hard to pick out individually and keep track of, but this was much improved on in this book as Joron developed stronger ties to the crew and spent more time with them.

Meas was also given more of a spotlight and we saw sides to her character that were previously unknown. I found in both books I was impressed by how she can remain a mystery and person of legend and still have a real humanity to her character.

The plot of this one did not let up for a second. It is a testament to RJ Barker’s skill with a pen that they can cram in enough plot to feel like I’ve read multiple books but still manage to build such fully realised worlds and characters along the way.

“That is indeed right and proper what we were ordered,” said Mevans, for as said, he had particular and certain beliefs. “But he did not say to us that we should do it with all speed.

The Call of the Bone Ships was all engrossing, captivating read that blew my socks off. I was loving the read so much that despite incurring eyestrain and a headache, I didn’t put the book down for eight hours. I think the plot is jam pack, the world building is fully realised and three dimensional. But it is the characters that steal the show and my heart. A full 5/5 stars from me, and I cannot wait to see what comes next.

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