The Bone Ship's Wake


R. J. Barker


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

May 29, 2022

he Bone Ship's Wake is the concluding volume in the Bone Ships Trilogy. All three of the books are flat out excellent examples of brilliant fantasy novels. The books tell an action-packed story on a perilous watery world where fearsome denizens prowl the seas. Anyone who falls into the ocean is soon set upon by the vicious fish that swim in the turbulent seas. The characters are well rounded personalities, driven by courage and duty, yet also harboring fears and self-doubt. Barker's characters are not the invincible warriors or wizards that inhabit so many other fantasy novels, Barker's characters are definitely mortal; they perish with distressing frequency.

The Bone Ship's Wake begins with Joron Twiner walking the slate of the deck of the Tide Child. Lucky Meas, the true shipwife of the Tide Child, has been taken prisoner by the forces of the Hundred Isles. The Hundred Islers wrongly believe that Meas has the power to raise the mighty keyshans, and a power such as that would give them the ability to rule the entire watery world. But it is not Meas who can summon the keyshan, but Joron himself (and he must be aided by singing of the strange bird-like Guillame). Joron burns with desire to free Meas - he has transformed himself in the Black Pirate. He has won ships and crews to his cause - his black fleet terrorizes the ships and colonies of the Hundred Isles. Joron has even allied with the Gaunt Islands, the eternal enemies of the Hundred Isles. But despite his ruthless predations, Joron cannot think of a way to free Meas, she held prisoner in the stronghold of Bernshulme. Joron dare not use his most potent weapon - his ability to call the keyshan - because if the Hundred Islers realize that Meas lacks the ability to call the monstrous sea creatures, then she is useless to them, and they will promptly kill her. Joron engages in battles and ambushes with the ships of the Hundred Isles, the first part of the novel tells of a dramatic, lengthy chase of the Tide Child by two ships of the opposing fleet.

His time aboard the Tide Child has transformed Joron. Once held in contempt by various crew members, now his crew respects his decisions, and they leap to obey his orders. But the life of a pirate has taken its toll on Joron - he has lost one leg and now must walk with a wooden stump. Even worse, he is infected with Keyshan's Rot, which will slowly spread and eventually drive him mad before killing him. Indeed, Joron sometimes wonder if the Rot has already infected his brain (there is one intriguing passage where Joron has a vision about healthy, powerful humans ruling the planet, so different than the struggling people who eke out their existence now.) Twiner interacts with the crew, balancing harsh discipline with understanding and even compassion. Joron is unwaveringly loyal to Meas. He also has developed a unique relationship with the guillame bird, seeking to protect the magical creature though he can scarcely understand how it thinks. Twiner is a great character, growing into the challenge of captaining the Tide Child, even though he refuses to wear the twin-tailed hat of a shipwife, because he feels that donning that hat would indicate he no longer believes that Meas still lives.

More than a year after Meas' capture, Joron thinks of a desperate plan to effect her release. It is an extremely risky idea, but Joron can think of no other scheme to free her. The rest of the novel describes Joron's efforts and the subsequent consequences.

Barker has done an impressive job with this trilogy. It is clear that many of the mysteries revealed in this book were known from the beginning. Barker must have had much of the plot and characters worked out before even started writing the first book. I marveled at everything in this series - the unique environment, the guillame, the fierce sea creatures, the descriptions of life on a sailing ship and the many sea battles. I hope Barker writes another trilogy in a new fantasy world, because I would definitely read it.