R.J. Barker, The Bone Ship’s Wake (2021)

Author: R.J. Barker

Title: The Bone Ship’s Wake

Format: paperback

Pages: 493

Series: The Tide Child #3

First things first: I actually managed to finish a trilogy by R.J. Barker, so I feel very self-congratulatory. Yay me! Secondly, though, I only managed to finish it because, unlike The Wounded Kingdom trilogy, this one was interesting enough for me to follow it to the end ;). Although I might have made a strategic error in waiting with the review, as my initial enthusiasm waned somewhat. Still, it’s a pretty decent book, almost right to the end.

The two earlier installments, The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships, were very enjoyable seafaring yarn: tall ships, pirates, remote islands, sea dragons, storms and adventure, and a dream of Libertalia thrown in the mix. The motif of changing the unfair status quo, of fighting for social justice for the outcasts and the unfit, of challenging the rule of the dominant caste – all this for me formed the backbone of the previous two books. While The Bone Ships focused mostly on character development, the broader intrigue and worldbuilding became more apparent in the Call of the Bone Ships. I expected The Bone Ship’s Wake to offer some resolution to the above quandary, to show us how the idealistic dream can be realized, at least in part, in the very strict, increasingly beleaguered societies of constant scarcity. Woe is me. I guess I expected too much.

Because The Bone Ship’s Wake is a good book, as mythical adventure books go. There is a lot of emotion, good and bad, plenty of loss and the prophesied, well-deserved triumph, too, paid for in blood and life. There is a load of action, naval chases and battles taken straight out of O’Brian’s novels, terrible monsters lurking in the ice, a religious cult and home abuse, torture and sacrifice, and long-awaited redemption. Some friendships are stronger than species’ differences, and I was glad to see how this particular thread was resolved. I was less happy with the court intrigue, as the choice of the big baddie seemed truly lazy, even if well-intended; yes, the most unhappy with their plight in a society with high levels of iniquity and strict impenetrable caste divisions are not those most downtrodden, but rather those who had tasted the better life and now want more. We know it. But why in this novel does it have to equate with having a total idiot for a ruler? I mean, seriously, you’d have to be blind not to see that your grand vizier might be plotting something evil. You’d have to be totally removed from the very people you’re ruling not to see that something was amiss. But that’s what happens when the author prioritizes the message over logic.

Hmm, looks like I’m steering toward the criticisms, when I wanted to praise the book first ;). I really love Gullaime and their relationship with Joron, and in this book Barker allowed these two characters to shine and their bond to deepen. Gullaime is a spectacular character, the Other that becomes us. I grew fond of Garriya, too, and I had already been pretty fond of Mevans and Cwell, of Lucky Meas and Solemn Muffaz, and of the various captains of Meas’s ragtag fleet. Each of them gets their own little moment, and it’s remarkable how much the author cares for his characters. Yes, Barker writes great characters and gives them very humane and believable development arcs. Many of his protagonists are broken at one point or another, but their strength, and the strength of their relationships, lies in the fact that they pick each other up, that they want to become better for others; that they care for one another in a tender, if sometimes awkward (don’t we all?) way. If you know Barker, though, don’t expect all, if any, of your favourites to survive. The toll of life on the Hundred Isles, and on the Gaunt Islands too, is high – and if you’re a pirate rebel fighting for justice and for revenge on the high seas, well… Suffice to say the crew thins considerably by the end of the book.

J.M.W. Turner, Bell Rock Lighthouse (1819) Possible inspiration for windspires?

I also want to praise the wordlbuilding in The Tide Child trilogy. It’s consistent and imaginative, and really quite sound from the anthropological/sociological perspective – as far as imagined societies go, Barker’s one makes a lot of sense. Sadly, really, as the world of Hundred Isles is a cruel place ruled by rotten compromises and expedience. I found it fascinating to trace the echoes of a past catastrophe, to see the societies built upon ruins of the old world as both resilient and crippled. And I guess this is where my main criticism comes in: the solution proposed by Barker is no solution at all – it’s just an escape. Oh, a very picturesque one, for sure, but an escape still. 

So, as a pure escapist entertainment (see what I did there? :P), this book still gets 8/10 stars. I do love a high seas adventure, and Barker knows how to spin good yarn. The Bone Ship’s Wake was engaging, fast-paced, tender and cruel at times, and delivered on the character development front in spades. But as a food for thought, and that’s how I usually rate my books, it can’t get more than 7/10. So, a compromise is in order.

Score: 7.5/10

18 thoughts on “R.J. Barker, The Bone Ship’s Wake (2021)

  1. It is always easier to slide into the negative side of a review, hardly without trying sometimes.
    I feel like I’ve asked this, but have you posted how you determine your rating? A 10star system with half stars is pretty complex.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, we’ve been discussing it with Piotrek and ultimately decided against making a definitive guide to our rating 😉 I guess there are differences even between the two of us. I guess the closest simile to my rating would be a university grade scale: anything below 4/10 is a fail, although there are levels of fail 😉 and anything below 3/10 is simply horrid, for a number of reasons, 5/10 to 6/10 are a pass but barely (equivalent of C I guess), 7/10 to 8/10 is decent to good (B) and above 8/10 is very good (A). 10/10 is exceptional. The halves are a bit like +/- in grades, to indicate there’s something more (or less) than just the main mark. Hope it clears things up! 😀

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Sounds like a decent finale and based on his Age of Assassin’s trilogy, it feels like there’s always something nagging the reader and making it hard to ever ONLY love what has been written. Unfortunate that there are some logic issues that stuck to the end though. Great honest thoughts as always, Ola!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it was pretty decent. I guess after that detailed setup I expected equally detailed conclusion, and what I got was an easy way out. Still, writing a book a year is not easy, so I guess it’s the case of the ugly compromise between quality and quantity that haunts many writers these days 😉

      Thanks, Lashaan!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m glad that the positive elements were able to balance out the… not-positive ones: this series, and the final book in particular, does indeed stand mostly on the crew’s relationships and the bonds they’ve established with each other, and here it did indeed work better for you.
    As for the Big Ruler’s short-sightedness, I don’t find it uncommon that absolute power might blind one to the dangers coming from your “trusted” advisers, since such power does sometimes make one lose their perspective…
    Great review, thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A typical Ola review: you giveth with one hand and taketh away with the other, though this time rather less is taken away!

    I’m always leery of long-running sequences, especially as I’m now used to seeing reviews complaining how the sequels get longer, or lose their way, or pad out unnecessarily, or lose key characters. Give me standalones any time, with any sequels equally fulfilling a standalone role!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am not a big fan of authors who kill off all their characters in the end…. In my experience, sometimes you need entertainment, other times food for thought. It’s all about picking the right books for the right time, which makes ratings (mine at least) very subjective.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Honestly, I’m at the point where I’m tired of just entertainment – with a very limited free time I tend to see pure entertainment as a waste of time 😉 2in1 is what I’m looking for right now in the books I read for fun 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think my main downsides are the unbelievability of the villain, like yourself, and kind of the ending. I say ‘kind of’ as I’ll think ‘ahhh, wasn’t that kind of lovely’ one minute followed ‘not really sure it made proper sense’ the next. It just didn’t feel like the ending a trilogy deserved

    Liked by 1 person

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