Book Review: THE BONE SHIPS by R. J. Barker

Title in red on cream next to line drawing dragon
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 3 stars
Series: yes - first book of trilogy


Book cover for THE BONE SHIPS: title in black on a parchment map with a line drawn sea dragon

Two nations at war. A prize beyond compare.

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. 

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


I really wanted to love this book. It’s an Orbit book, and I usually fall head-over-heels for those books. It feels like they’re publishing the very twisty books I love at the moment, full of worlds that drag me in, and characters I want to follow. Unfortunately, that just didn’t happen for this book.

It took me a long time to get into it. Joron, the main character, doesn’t really have a goal in this book. He just follows around in Meas’ wake, which means it was hard to latch onto him as he wasn’t actively doing much. When he does act, it’s on Meas’ orders, so there’s no real initiative. Combined with the fact they were dead men sailing, and yet it’s a trilogy, it rather took the wind from the stakes. Joron had nothing he wanted at stake, and he was unlikely to get his freedom, so he was just… there, because he had no other choice.

On top of that, he rather lacked a personality. What does he like? He’s not a joke cracker, not a romantic, or someone maudlin. He’s aimless, following orders because that’s what you do, and slowly coming to trust and respect Meas. It felt like he was pretty much a cardboard cut out. I think the book might have been more engaging if Meas had been the main character.

I liked seeing the large crew come together, seeing them turn from hopeless mess of people thrown together into a team that could pull together more or less. It made up part of the way for the lack in the main character, giving it some emotional heart.

The world was interesting enough though. The ships were really quite cool – made from the bones of dead sea-serpents and potentially about to spark a war if they couldn’t protect it. The hints of the culture, because there was little time not spent on the boat, were also intriguing – and hopefully we’ll see more of that in the next book.

Read my reviews of other books by R. J. Barker:

The Tide Child (this series):

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