The first of the Tide Child Trilogy; RJ Barker’s The Bone Ships is a swashbuckling maritime adventure set in an intricately crafted world where the sea dominates all aspects of life.

In the Hundred Isles, ships are not built from wood, but from the bones of ancient Keyshan, (sea-dragons) long believed to be extinct. The Tide Child, however, is not one of the giant gleaming white ships of the Hundred Isles Navy, but a black ship, shunned by all, and crewed by criminals condemned to death.

Joron Twiner, the young, drunk and rather hapless captain whose crime of killing the son of an important official saw him sent to this black ship, is our entry point into this bold and brazen matriarchal world, however we quickly see his command taken over by Lucky Meas – formerly one of the most famous bone ship captains in the Hundred Isles, who has been stripped of her previous command for an undisclosed reason.

With Lucky Meas now in charge and Joron as chief deckhand, the Tide Child goes in search of a rumour of the first Keyshan sighted in centuries which has the potential to change everything for them, even winning the war with the Gaunt Isles.

Whilst the pacing is perhaps slightly slow in the beginning as Barker takes time to build this detailed world, as the pace increases, you soon find yourself skimming across the waves fully immersed into life in the Hundred Isles, its ongoing war with the Gaunt Isles and discovering if the Tide Child will be successful.

If you enjoy Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders series, or Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey and Maturin books this should really be on your TBR pile, and if you enjoy Tolkien’s richness of worldbuilding you’ll not be disappointed by this.

The Bone Ships by R J Barker

Released: September 2019

Publisher: Orbit

Review by Sara Smith