• The Bone Ships

  • By: RJ Barker
  • Narrated by: Jude Owusu
  • Length: 17 hrs and 3 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (430 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A brilliantly imagined saga of honor, glory, and warfare, The Bone Ships is the epic launch of a new fantasy from David Gemmell Award-nominated RJ Barker.

Two nations at war. One 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.

Praise for The Bone Ships:

"A vividly realized high-seas epic that pulls you deep into its world and keeps you tangled there until the very last word." (Evan Winter, author of The Rage of Dragons)

"The Bone Ships is excellent. Aside from the standout writing, it's one of the most interesting and original fantasy worlds I've seen in years." (Adrian Tchaikovsky, Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author)

The Tide Child Trilogy
The Bone Ships

For more from RJ Barker, check out:

The Wounded Kingdom
Age of Assassins
Blood of Assassins
King of Assassins

©2019 RJ Baker (P)2019 Hachette Audio

Critic Reviews

"I absolutely loved it. A whole lot of swashbuckling awesomeness by RJ Barker. He has crafted a fascinating world and a twisty plot, both rooted in characters I came to care about. A definite winner for me." (John Gwynne, author of Malice)

"[T]he novel feels like one of Patrick O'Brian's richly detailed sagas of seamanship...a very promising beginning." (Publishers Weekly)

"The Bone Ships is a viciously exciting adventure. I loved every second of it." (Tasha Suri, author of Empire of Sand)

What listeners say about The Bone Ships

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Bold and unique with a compelling story.

First off, know that I've rated this book higher than my personal enjoyment would suggest. This is because much of it is personal taste. The world itself and the writing style are not my favorite, though the author has created a unique world and an interesting story peopled with great characters.

Herein we have a bold take on an oft-used idea (hard luck wastrel kid is brought into the fold and learns to be a man) that takes place in a world quite unlike anything we've ever seen before.

While at first I loved Jude Owusu's work for the audiobook, it quickly became apparent that there's a problem: he makes no distinction between male and female voices. While each voice is distinct, they all sound male. His vocal inflections are pretty good, but there is almost no shifting of his reading tempo.

This is another book in which it took me some time to connect with the main character as in the beginning he's just not the kind of person I can easily identify with.

However, being largely a product of his environment, once he's shown a better way he becomes quite likable.

There is a lot of complexity to this story and a lot of character names that, if I'm being honest, even at the end I still wasn't keeping completely straight.

There is a strong sailing culture to this world, and some of the caste and socioeconomical norms seem quite unusual.

I have to admit that I find the whole idea of ships built from the bones of Dragons fascinating. Even moreso the (possibly?) superstition that the ships are still alive.

Except for the black ship, which is the focus of the book, of course.

The whole black ship, black armband, these folks being considered already dead by society thing is strongly reminiscent of the Night's Watch from Game of Thrones (not that this is a bad thing).

Now, the first thing that struck me is the writing style is simultaneously very lyrical and quite raw. Some parts were a touch on the clunky side, while at times the prose flirts with the edges of being purple.

That aside, my only real critique is there is a point near the end where the tense shifts from past to present and back and I can see no reason for it.

And now for the ending.
Well, it's kind of an ending.
In that there is a climax and a piece of the main story is resolved. However, there are still major pieces of the story that haven't come anywhere near a resolution and I find myself a little irritated by it.

I would recommend this book to lovers of nautical adventure and anyone looking for a unique world that doesn't feel like anything that's come before.

However, if you're looking for buttery-smooth prose or have an aversion to the lyrical this one might not be the best choice.

20 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Pirate ships made of extinct sea dragons..awesome.

The sea dragons are gone, but their bones are not. And they make an incredible fantasy story, living on, as the framework for the Fleet.
I was looking forward to this one for awhile. There was a lot of buzz on social media, but not having read any previous works by Mr. Barker, I tried to maintain no expectations.
I should also say that I had the audiobook version. I have almost 3 hours of driving back and forth to work every day and it’s a great time to get lost in a book.
This book was very impressive. The detail involved during the battles between ships at sea was entrancing. At times I really felt like I was tilting on the deck with them. The fear and adrenaline is really felt, partly because of the narrators touch I’m sure.
And now I understand why Mr. Barker is so highly respected by his peers. I was fully engaged in the characters and the world he creates. A majority of the setting is on an ancient sailing ship, made of “extinct” Sea dragons bones and crewed by the dregs of society, the “deckchilder”. Captained by one heck of a Leader, her Black ship, Tide Child is Her realm and you really dont want to get in her way. But I loved them all, including the parrot and the windtalker…So much more to say but you’ll find out when you read it, and you should! I really look forward to the next in the series and have some of his past work to read now as well.
I should also say that I am very new at this review thing, and was not provided this book for free to review…I paid for it by my big boy self.
Thank you for stopping by, I’ve gotta get ready to get the kids all dressed up the the small town halloween event tonight…wish I was going as the “windtalker”

13 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Really Wanted to Like It, but never quite could

The first thing is the narrator, he's really bad. He slurs his words together and it makes it really hard to understand what he's saying. Every voice sounds the same, but some are just angrier and gruffer. There's also this odd thing where it sounds like he has too much air in his mouth when he speaks. I don't know how else to describe it, but it sounds like someone who has jowls. Honestly, it was the worst part, I think I could've continued if not for him.
Then there's the writing. My god does this author like to try and be "different". Words for things that everyone knows like "sister" are "scyther" there's no "port" or "starboard" it's "landward" and "seaside". The characters don't say "aye" they say "eee". No "captain", rather it's a "shipwife". (Listening to someone read out "Eee shipwife" honestly sounds ridiculous.) I get it, your world is different, but it just makes the listener work so hard to track with the story. And then there's the phrase "Women and Men", I know that the author is trying to do something different, but that coupled with how hard the narrator hits it, you can't fail to see it as a PC statement in a fantasy book. Can't just say "people". It's clear that the author is an alley of the LGBTQ+ community and one of the side characters is a gender-neutral "they" "them" character, it's just a bit exhausting and honestly disruptive from the story. Some reading this may think that's the real reason for the low stars, it's not, it's just one of many things that made me step out from the story because I realize I'm being handed the author's worldview instead of being immersed in a story.
And last, there's the story. It's fine, just fine. Some interesting ideas, very little character building, and a run-of-the-mill action story. No real surprises here, it's just average. In the end, though I would say it gets flat-out lazy with an honest to god Deus-ex-dragon moment. I usually look for books that are a part of a series because I like to be engaged in a long story and see where the author can take their readers. In this case, however, I decided that there were too many things I did not enjoy and decided that I was done with the series, the narrator, and the author as well.

8 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Hard beginning.

The first several chapters were a hard listen, but by hour 3 it was picking up steam and I was hooked.

An interesting tale was woven around a refreshingly new world and well developed characters.

7 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Couldn't put it down.

Couldn't put it down. The author has a talent for keeping your interest and for making you love his characters (even if you initially think you wont like those characters). Brilliant job.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Surprised

This book was so good. I got it on the fly while looking for something new. This was pure gold. Very good.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Fascinating new world

I cannot wait for the next book in this series. The prose is magical and immersive. In a way that many authors do not even attempt. And the narrator ... this was the first book I’ve listened to narrated by Jude Owusu. He’s not a voice I’ve heard in sci-fi/fantasy before, but I very much hope his is one I hear again. I was engrossed.

We follow a condemned teenager, as he sails the seas aboard a ship of death, tasked with following a captain who stole his title. Saying any more would ruin the story ... I would say the very ending was predictable. But not in a bad way. Rather in the way it had to be for the series to continue. It didn’t disappoint me, but made me eager to read the next book.

I read RJ Barker’s Age of Assassin series and loved it. But this book was on another level entirely. The world was captivating. The characters full of depth and nuance. And I mentioned the prose, but it bears mentioning again - rarely am I so entranced by a book.

If I had to draw comparisons, I’d say Circe... Red Rising ... those come to mind in terms of how taken I was by the story and the writing.

Quite simply: Read this.

4 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Made it about half way through

I had high hopes for this at first. Barker does have a great vision and imagination for creating a unique culture and world. I was excited about that at first. It seems sophisticated in its detail and scope. Unfortunately, I can't get past the dialogue, and the story itself seems to move very slowly, or not in a way that's interesting. Most of the dialogue is made up of posturing and shows of dominance and hierarchy, which is supremely boring. I understand it's supposed to give a sense of the world here, just as, in theory, if it were real, it would be intended to to give a sense of one's place, but it's one-dimensional, as are the characters.

There is some slightly more interesting dialogue than that about social dominance, but it's so rare that it's not enough to keep me slogging through this, and it's unfortunately pretty predictable. Everything feels stilted and flat. The characters are very simple, when it comes down to it. This intricate world turns out to be no more interesting than a dead religion. That may sound interesting, in theory, but empty, baseless, complicated ritual that governs every aspect of life ends up being boring and oppressive, and that's how the structure of this book and its world ends up feeling.

The narration put the nail in the coffin, for me. If it were a bit more varied, like actual humans are, it may have kept me going. I am, after all, laid up and desperate for entertainment. Otherwise, I would never have made it half way through this book. Mr. Owusu voices all of the characters with a similar slow, grandiose, overwrought sort of timbre that wipes out what personality the characters might have had. The main female character becomes simply grating in his telling of her: too dramatic all the time. I couldn't even keep paying attention after a while. I'd listen for a bit and realize I had lost all track of what was happening. My apologies, Mr. Owusu. I would have a very difficult time with your job, I'm sure.

3 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Fun but nothing groundbreaking

This book probably would be easier to follow in print instead of the audiobook... It was a little tough to follow what was going on with all the new fantasy vocabulary. The narrator didn't help, and his gravely pirate imitations become irritating quickly. The story was fun but ultimately a little too predictable and perfunctory for my taste. Perhaps book 2 will prove more interesting.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Essential

I was enthralled in this epic story of personal redemption and adventure. Sailing aboard an eldritch ship of bones on an alien sea. I loved it and will read the next installments religiously

3 people found this helpful