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

Title in turquoise on cream next to line drawn dragon
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 3.5 stars
Series: yes - second book of trilogy



Book cover for THE CALL OF THE BONE SHIPS: title in black on a hand drawn sea with a sea serpent

A war to end all wars.

Dragons have returned to the Hundred Isles. But their return heralds only war and destruction as the two nations hurry to kill them for their bones so they can make more ships to fight with.

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.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


As often happens with me, I got more into the second book of this series thanks to reading back to back. I read a lot of books, so it can take a while for me to switch worlds and invest if there isn’t an immediate hook that speaks personally to me. It’s why my reading has shifted these past few years towards pushing through series that are 3 stars and I’m not certain about but the premise is something I feel I should like. The longer I am in a world with characters, the chances of me enjoying increase.

It did take me a little bit of time to get into this one, as it was a year after the end of the last one, and it felt like there should have been something after the end of THE BONE SHIPS. However, I then sat in a hospital for 2.5 hours waiting for appointments and X-rays (I’m fine!) so had plenty of time to get drawn into the book.

In typical second-book-of-trilogy fashion, the stakes are higher in this book – Meas and Joron are now traitors trying to find a new way of life (something that had happened in the year gap that took me a while to grasp) but it’s all upended. Joron is a lot more active in this book, though still lacks a personal goal. He is fighting for the vague idea of a better future, leading missions himself and choosing his own course with the strange magical creatures called the guillame.

I loved seeing more of them in this book. Their relationships, and theirs with Joron, was so interesting, as they’re dynamics were a little alien. Plus the mythology teased out about them – and what might be coming in the final book – added another layer to this book. I like a world that seems deep and wide-reaching. It doesn’t all have to be on page – if anything, I like books to feel like there is a lot more to the world than what is on page – and integrating hints of mythology help there.

This series uses an interesting prose tool you often see ruthlessly shamed in online “writing advice”: repetition. For some reason, the current “advice” is to avoid it, but this book is a good rebuttal of that (and a reminder that “writing advice” should always be taken with a large serving of salt.) A phrase might be used a half dozen times in a chapter, particularly in the chapters before or during a fight. The way it is employed helps build tension, and is a stark reminder of the bloody, dehumanisation of war.

I am hoping the final book in the trilogy comes out this year – the ending was one you could rather predict in a trilogy, but there’s a reason it works so well and you see it so often!

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

The Tide Child (this series):


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