The Bone Ships (Orbit, 2019) and Call of the Bone Ships (Orbit, 2020). Covers by Edward Bettison
RJ Barker’s The Bone Ships was published by Orbit in 2019, to strong reviews. Spectrum Culture called it “A thrilling bit of high seas fantasy… from a tremendously talented and imaginative mind,” BookPage said it’s “the perfect adventure for anyone who’s ever had dreams of the sea,” and it was nominated for the Robert Holdstock Award for Best Fantasy Novel. But my favorite review was by C.H. at Amazon.com, who speaks my language — the language of movies and pop culture.
If you liked the premise of S.W.A.T., but wished that instead of a group of cops protecting a mob boss from profit-seeking ruffians on the way to prison it was a rag-tag group of outcasts on a ship made of sea creature bones protecting the last of said sea creatures from… well, profit-seeking ruffians…
I know, that was a long way to travel to compare a fine, character driven, modern-day Moby Dick to a popcorn action movie, but something about the focal point of the book being a suspenseful trek from point A to point B with chaos buzzing around it reminded me of cinematic prisoner transport, a la Kingpin in Netflix’s Daredevil, or Coleman Reese in The Dark Knight. But enough about that.
Bone Ships brings together a capable captain on a mission to prove her worth and a drunk who may have Peter Principled his way into (and out of) his captaincy. Their dynamic and relationship growth is a highlight of the book… There are bizarre new creatures, interesting world politics, an in-depth instruction manual on the mechanics and operation of a giant crossbow, and a ship energy tracking straight out of a video game. The action sequences are furiously paced, throwing you on the deck of the Bone Ships, whether your sea legs are ready for it or not… Highly recommend.
The second novel in the trilogy, The Call of the Bone Ships, was published by Orbit on November 24, 2020. It is 528 pages, priced at $16.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 in digital formats. The cover is by Edward Bettison. Read a sample chapter from Book 1 here.
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