The Bone Ships, R J Barker – Book Review

Hello Humans! I might have mentioned this a few times, just a couple of select –

Ok. It’s been in ever single boat-based book review I’ve ever written.


I grew up near Portsmouth and I never realised how much of a connection I have with the sea and being at the edge of the country until I moved to Oxford and became about as landlocked as you can get without moving to Coton in the Elms. With that in mind, I’m always on the hunt for ocean-based books that will satisfy the seafarer in me.

Bring on R J Barker’s The Bone Ships which promised not only the ocean but also DRAGONS?? How could this be  – I thought I’d hit the jackpot with Turning Darkness into Light but turns out more people are writing books specifically with me in mind.

I figure you can already see where this review is going but LET’S GET ON WITH IT.

The Bone Ships

Goodreads Summary:

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.

Find on Goodreads | Amazon (Affiliate)

Content warnings: discussions of miscarriage, deformity

I read this book a few days ago, and the thing that has really stuck with me since then is how one of the characters is forced quite early on in the book (within a chapter or so, it’s not a spoiler) to give his command over to a woman (more on her later). He does it rather begrudgingly but then the book continues and not that long afterwards he essentially goes:

Oh, I guess she is much better in this leadership position than I am, good job she took on that role I’d be really bad at dealing with this situation.

Honestly, I can’t think of a time where any transition of power hasn’t been used to create a huge amount of conflict – particularly when it’s a woman taking power from a man. I am a big believer in being honest about what skills you do have and letting the people who are good at certain things be good at those things and this hit me right in that sweet spot.

Let’s talk about the woman in question, Meas. Essentially I love her. She is the pirate (ok they aren’t technically pirates but they basically are) queen we all need in our lives. I love a main character who gets things done and Meas is absolutely one of those. She’s relentlessly competent and it is just wonderful.

In this world, women who bear children are the upper strand of society, the higher the number of children you have the better and if they are born weak or deformed or something then you are seen as terrible within society. That’s partly why I added that in as a content warning. Obviously, I’m coming at this from an able-bodied perspective but it’s quite clear from the way the book is written that this is not the best way of doing things – but that it is nonetheless an integral part of the worldbuilding at this stage. I’ll be interested to read the viewpoint of a reader with disabilities. Thinking about it now, while it is a key aspect of the world and is important for the backstory of a number of main characters, it isn’t the focus or main driver of the plot so it possibly doesn’t warrant the level of scrutiny this big paragraph seems to be giving it.

Peppered throughout the narrative are songs, little rowing songs and folk songs that begin some of the ‘parts’ of the book. I adored these and have said on Twitter that I might take the time to write melodies for them if I’m ever stuck on a rainy day. This was just another way this book looks at what life on the sea would be like, so much music comes from ships and sailors and I loved that it was included in this book. What I also liked was that those little musical interludes also served the plot – but I won’t spoil it for you.

Now, on to my favourite aspect of this book (other than all the other things I’ve already mentioned that I loved), the Gullaime (a kind of bird/magician that can call the wind). I want you to experience this aspect of the story for yourself but it does another one of my favourite tropes – exposing something that is the cultural norm by doing something different and it works much better – that was a mess of a sentence but YES TO THIS PLOT POINT.

I may have shed a tear or two.

This book manages to capture the ‘miscreants out on the sea completing a task’ perfectly. It strikes that magic balance between plot, atmosphere and characters and all those other tiny parts of a book that can so easily overwhelm each other.

It reminded me that I don’t read enough boat-based books.

I loved it.

My rating: 5/5 stars

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

The Bone Ships is available now!

Find on Goodreads | Amazon (Affiliate)

What say you? Is this on your TBR (it should be)? Let me know in the comments below!


5 thoughts on “The Bone Ships, R J Barker – Book Review

Add yours

  1. I read this as an eARC from Netgalley and I LOVED IT! – Great review-
    I found the way power was split as super intriguing (from a disabled perspective) I thought it was done super well and wasbrave to write, plus I liked how it was clearly not considered the best way as we had characters who openly were able to defy those bounds! It is definitely something I had not seen before and I am super excited to see how it plays out in the rest of the books.

    Liked by 1 person

Let's talk!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: