Book Review: THE BONE SHIP’S WAKE by R. J. Barker

Title in black on textured cream with gold dragon head
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: yes - final book of trilogy



Book cover for THE BONE SHIP'S WAKE: title in black on beige sea with yellow serpent

The sea dragons are returning, and Joron Twiner’s dreams of freedom lie shattered. His Shipwife is gone and all he has left is revenge.

Leading the black fleet from the deck of Tide Child, Joron takes every opportunity to strike at his enemies, but he knows his time is limited. His fleet is shrinking and the Keyshan’s Rot is running through his body. He runs from a prophecy that says he and the avian sorcerer, the Windseer, will end the entire world.

But the sea dragons have begun to return, and if you can have one miracle, who is to say that there cannot be another?

Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


THE BONE SHIP’S WAKE (yes, I have got that apostrophe wrong MANY times!) is a good example of why I often persist with series and authors even if I might not have been the biggest fan initially. This is a series, even in re-reads, that grew on me more with each book (another notable example of this is THE BONE SEASON). Sometimes immersion really helps me with books, to spend enough time in a world and with characters to connect and engage (also a reason why I prefer series over standalones.)

THE BONE SHIP’S WAKE begins about a year after the end of the previous book, and a lot has happened since. The actual events don’t matter too much (we get the general gist and that’s enough) but the way it’s changed the characters does matter. And despite not seeing the change, the characters are still familiar enough that it’s not jarring but the consequences are there.

A year without Meas has hardened Joron, but the why and how and the emotional turmoil that brings him is made so clear that we still feel for him, cheer him on. It also adds another reason to want Meas back – to help him feel more level (which only makes the relationship and emotional turmoil of getting her back changed more poignant, and also forces him through his arc more realistically as he can’t just go back to how things were.)

The world building in this book (and series) is a masterclass in carefully thinking through how the main principles underpinning the world affect everything, right down the linguistics. The terms used on board the ships do no match ours and, even without explanations (that would break world as the characters know what’s happening) it is clear why they mean. It’s that level of immersion that makes the world building so seamless and so rich.

This is a series that understands the cost of battles and fighting. Beloved characters die frequently and the ones who survive all have to grapple with the consequences – physical and mental – of what they’ve been through. Not only does it feel realistic to the world that’s been set up, one of great hardship, but it also means that the victories don’t feel hollow, aren’t won on a deus ex machina or were won with overwhelming force that sucked the tension away.

The ending is very satisfying as a result, the characters getting (largely) what the reader hopes for, but without breaking with the tone of the books. Not to mention how a (very) brief epilogue can answer a lot of questions through implication alone.

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

The Tide Child (this series):

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