Having absolutely loved the Wounded Kingdom series over the last few years, I couldn’t resist putting a request in to review R.J.’s new book. Look at that cover, too!
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.
He did not recognise them from their eyeburned backs. They were not his and never had been. When he looked at them, at the myriad different-coloured skins and shapes of the Hundred Isles, he had no clue what names those skins clothed. Even those whose faces he saw as they emerged, blinking and confused from belowdeck, he could not name as they squinted and wondered about the sudden and tempestuous change in the winds that had blown into their lives. He did not know them at all.
This is the story of Joron Twiner, a fisherman’s son who finds himself the shipwife (captain) of the Tide Child, a black-painted bone ship crewed by condemned criminals. At least… he was the shipwife, and not a good one, or even a skilled one, until his ship was more-or-less commandeered by Meas “Lucky” Gilbryn, the bravest, fiercest and most decorated shipwife that the Hundred Isles has ever seen, and also consequently one of the children of the current ruler of the Hundred Isles. She makes Joron her Deckkeeper, the first officer, and shenanigans ensue.
This world worships the Sea Hag (among a couple of other gods) and everyone knows that the Hag loves nothing more than boats made of the bones of dragons on her waters, and so that is what she gets. There haven’t been true sea dragons for a long time, but their bones persist long enough that huge ships crewed by over a hundred men and women sail across this world’s oceans. The Hundred Isles are at war with the Gaunt Isles and vice versa. A war that has been raging for as long as anyone can remember. There are those who want this war to end, and to do so, they plan to stop more bone ships from being made. Since there are no dragons, there are no more bones. If there are no more bones, there can be no more warships. So, it might be a good idea that nobody knows about that sea dragon that’s been spotted up north…
There was some really interesting and unique ideas here that I think were fleshed out very well. It really gave me a solid image of this rough and hard seafaring society, while using unique terms for bits of the ships, or ranks of the crew, or even the sun. It wasn’t ever hard to understand what those things were, even if the words were unfamiliar. Humans aren’t the only creatures in this world, either. There is a race of bird-people in this one known as the gullaime, and ships in the fleet usually have one of them aboard, as they can control the wind. Tide Child is no different in that, as there is a gullaime aboard, but this one is extremely aggressive, and refuses to speak to the shipwife, or anyone else, and just stays in their cabin all day.
A very well written nautical adventure that made me feel like I was on the seas myself at times. RJ Barker has some fantastic worldbuilding here, with this unique but very easily imagined world of sailors that also seems to revolve around fertility and the bearing of children, in its way. I really ended up cheering for Joron, and warmed up to Meas as well after a time. Joron was a character who I felt became better and better as the story went on, from a drunkard to quite a clever man, willing to risk his life for his crew. I wanted these sailors to succeed in their endeavor to hide (or protect) the first dragon seen for ages. Joron’s relationships to others in the crew, especially the gullaime, were really well done, and made me legitimately feel for this crew when they were in danger and the odds were against them (which was quite a bit more than never).
I’ll admit that this one slowed down a lot in the middle for me, and I found my interest waning a bit, but it definitely picked back up in the second half. The prose was always strong, but the plot seemed to slow right down with all of the sailing, and sailing, and sailing, which, to be fair, is necessary to the whole nautical adventure thing. This slowness didn’t last for too long though, and it picked right back up with plenty of action. The last 20% or so of this book was an edge-of-your seat adventure and I absolutely couldn’t put it down!
So, all told, while I didn’t love it quite as much as I loved Girton’s adventures, it was pretty close! I still really quite enjoyed my time with Joron Twiner, and I look forward to the next adventure in this series! Many buckles were swashed! 4.5/5 stars!