Synopsis: The Keyshans are back, no longer believed to be extinct, and people wish to hunt them again. But something more sinister is occurring in the Hundred Isles, people are going missing and Shipwife ‘Lucky’ Meas, Deckkeeper Joron, and the Tide Child crew are determined to find out why.
CW/TW: Violence/Gore/Death/Sacrifice/Slavery/Ableism/other’s associated with fantasy may be present.
Spoiler Warning: This review may contain spoilers for book in this series: The Bone Ships, by RJ Barker
This book was an anticipated release of mine (despite the delayed review…..) because book 1 was a GLORIOUS seafaring adventure! And let me tell you, book 2 lived up to the charm of book 1 and was even more thrilling and dangerous, and I LOVED IT!
RJ Barker continues to impress with this sequel. Another atmospheric and absorbing read with an immersive and engaging narrative, beautiful, comical and realistic prose and a gripping and challenging plot that will keep you up way past your bedtime!
Book 1 introduces us to The Hundred Isle’s, their people, their societal system and, most importantly, to our beloved Tide Child Crew. It kicks off the epic adventure of the Black Ship and starts off the mystery of the Keyshans and Book 2 takes these mysteries and everything you thought you knew and takes you on a WILD ride! The Keyshans are back, people are going missing and it seems the Maiden, Mother and Hag all have it out for Joron.
It is hard to write this review without spoiling the book but i’ll do my best. So, at the end of book 1 Joron seems to have called a Keyshan to help him and the crew, alluding to his title of Caller. Book 2 gives a little more information into whether Joron actually called the sea dragon or not, and gives us more insight into the title of Caller. Now I can’t say too much about what this all means and what we learn in this brilliant book, but I can tell you that it firstly, sounds like an epic prophecy that turns the tails on the prophecy trope. Secondly, it adds wonderfully to the worldbuilding and magic systems in place in this world. Thirdly, what we learn literally still leaves me in the dark because RJ Barker has an impressive ability to hit you with plot twists and subvert expectations and so I don’t even know if this prophecy will come about (You’ll understand what I mean when Meas and Joron have an intriguing conversation!). So RJ Barker really blew the bone ship out of the water with this element of the story, because it answers questions posed in book 1, but maintains and creates a suspenseful new mystery ready for book 3. Did I love it? Yes I DID!
Now, the main plot point of this book is the missing people. Shipwife Meas, Deckkeeper Joron, and crew make a disturbing and horrifying discovery, and Meas suffers a devastating blow. Both of these events lead to Shipwife Meas and crew on a mission to find their missing people and uncover why they are being taken. At first glance this plot seems random, but RJ Barker masterfully weaves a mysterious and horrifying tale that adds to the larger picture of the whole series – and it was done very well, I did not anticipate the reveals at all! I really loved the plot of this book because it was so well crafted. The characters had to work to get answers, and they did not succeed with every plan they made, and some go in a completely different direction to what was planned. I Loved this because when they did have failed plans it forced the characters to choose another route, the plan did not magically fall into place in spite of the obstcales. The book has multiple plans and plots throughout all for scraps of information, almost like the pirate treasure hunt games you play with your family or on holidays to find hints leading to different locations (of course this was much more deadly but that’s where the fun lies no?) The structure, the complex plot, the plethora of plans – it all fell together so nicely and naturally, making the story an epic adventure full of action (and it avoiding the sequential repetition other series fall victim to when they need more obstacles because each plan was essential for different reasons and let you try to fill in the larger mystery.)
Each plot/plan was a delight to read about because, the characters actually split into helpful and skilled groups to carry them out, and it was fun to watch them succeed, or fail and find another way. It keeps you on your toes! Not only that the risks in this book are real – I’M ACTUALLY HEARTBROKEN at some of the consequences in this book (How dare you make me hate then love this person – when you read this book you will know exactly what I mean). RJ Barker manages to create something extraordinary here- because,as in book 1, characters are not magically protected from harm or death regardless of how much they appear – so when there are battles and fights you actually fear for the characters and suffer with the crew when the consequences hit. As much as it pains me when the risks are real, it also makes the book more enjoyable because it adds suspense, evokes that essential pathos and adds a sense of realism to this fantasy world making it more immersive.
I also have to say that Barker really puts Joron through his paces in this novel. He is the main character so he is our narrator (mostly) so we know he is likely (though I’m afraid to actually say this) to survive most things … But that does not stop Barker from making me absolutely terrified everytime he goes into battle, or enacts a secret plan because the poor man gets a BEAT DOWN in this novel. But, I have to admit, I really liked this because it is not often our main characters suffer to this extent (AND OMG IT HAPPENED – as soon as I heard pirates in association with this book, I have waited and waited for something very specific associated with pirates to happen – AND IT DID in this book – Guillame: “Good ** Bad ***”, “like mine!” -> When you know you know.) Felt bad for Joron, but it added a lot to the story.
When Meas, who is as awesome in this book as she is in book 1 (Though I like that we see a more raw side of her here), and crew find out the truth behind the people going missing it was a shock, a great one! Everything from the execution to the shock reveals were done perfectly, it was unpredictable and unique.
Another absolutely favourite thing of mine in this book was the characterisation and story of the Guillame and his kind. (I also need to get a nod in here to Black Orris – I absolutely love RJ Barker for keeping the foul mouthed bird and continuing his rude interjections because, I don’t know why, it just brings the story to life for me- and I love a chucle at his input). Anyway, the Guillame play a big part in this book – I loved the Tide Child’s one a lot in book 1 and I love him even more here- but I also really liked that we saw more of them including the Windshorn. Firstly, Guillame is hilarious in this book, he has SO much character that you will definitely feel he is part of the crew, and it added such a brilliant dynamic to the story – especially his relationship with Joron. But I also love how we see him integrate with the crew, and actually wander around deck being a little demon – I cannot explain my love for this. But I also like how we learn more about him, his story and his determination to help Joron. Secondly, the Windshorn were an interesting addition to the story, and the book’s world. We meet two main Windshorn in this book (a type of Guillame), the first one is timid but has a fun dynamic with our Guillame – the hissing gets me every time. The second is sarcastic and hilarious. The addition of them adds comedy to the story, but also so much more – it adds depth and mystery and sets up for an interesting third installment. The wider story surround the Guillame as a whole in this book was intertwined well with the missing people and adding a new layer to an already amazing plot.
The crew are another absolutely delightful thing in this book. The relationships between them all a real, natural and dynamic. Those who often go with Joron on his plans are absolutely hilarious (wait until you get to THE scene where they talk in hypotheticals – had to chuckle). But I also liked the tension and conflict. Book 1 establishes some bad blood between some crew members and book2 we get to see it play out. You will hate, and love so many of the crew members it is done so well. I love how they are all human and flawed, how the conflicts blow up and are resolved – everything that happens is executed so well.
Meas – I have to talk about our brilliant Shipwife. Meas in this book has a lot more to her. We see her strong, charming, can do anything side, but we get a more raw and human side of her here too. We get a little more of her story, and we get a Meas who has purpose and passion for her people. An outstanding and strong female lead character who is just so well written.
The ending. This book ends perfectly, setting up book 3 in a fascinating way. Am I mad about the ending? yes. But was it good? HECK YEAH! This book has a fantastic ending that will have you scrambling in desperation for the next book – my eyes are peeled and waiting for Book 3!
Finally the world. In my review for book 1 I said how much I loved this world, its society, its magic and the idea of the female dominated society and ‘Goddesses’, I also found the idea of the Berncast, and disability to be explored in such a unique way. Let me tell you book2 keeps this up, the world, now we know it, is phenomenal as we learn more and more details about it all adding to the larger epic picture. The female dominated society still continues to fascinate, and has some unexpected consequences for the plot that I found absolutely incredible. Finally, disability (particularly physical) comes into play again here, and a little more prominently as the book goes on – the society is ableist, but Meas and her crew are not and I love watching them prove that the disabled characters are capable, Meas being a strong voice for seeing people’s worth beyond their physical appearance – It delights me so much. Finally, RJ Barker also slightly tackles the notion of gender as a spectrum, very slightly but very naturally – with having a character (Who I adore -they are the sweetest) who seems to fall on the spectrum around the non-binary sort of area. RJ Barker’s characters are diverse and real, with a few being LGBTQ+ as well, and the cast being heavily POC. The diversity (SPOILER>>>>>> Especially including Joron now as a disabled mc >>>>>> SPOILER OVER) is so naturally included and I love it, especially as a disabled reader, but the other forms of diversity are equally fantastic to read about.
There is so much more I could talk about in this review but SPOILERS! So I’ll leave it here.
This was a very rambly review… I apologise but I LOVED this book so much and thought it was a fantastic sequel to an epic first book. RJ Barker truly impresses with this imaginative series which is beyon unique, it is such a dynamic story with excellent actions, characters, settings and plots that it just hits every mark. We need more fantasy like this because it simply blows my mind!
If you have read book 1 I HIGHLY recommend diving into this one because it has everything book 1 has to offer and more. I would also recommend this to anyone who loves epichigh fantasy, or a good seafaring adventured littered with danger, dragons and sassy birds!
*I received an eARC from #Netgalley in exchange for an honest review – Thankyou!! *