cover image The Bone Ships (The Tide Child #1)

The Bone Ships (The Tide Child #1)

R.J. Barker. Orbit, $15.99 trade paper (512p) ISBN 978-0-316-48796-2

Unusual attention to detail makes a water-covered world come to life in Barker’s first Tide Child fantasy epic. A ridge of mountains separates sprinklings of small islands, and the only material strong enough to make oceangoing ships is sea dragon bone. However, dragons are long extinct and the old ships increasingly ramshackle, so a bitter and destructive conflict between the Hundred Isles and the Gaunt Islands may at last sputter out. The sighting of a dragon sends conspirators after the beast, some hoping to harvest its bones and others intending to kill it before its carcass can be used to renew the war. One of the seekers is Meas Gilbryn, a disgraced aristocrat turned pacifist. At the novel’s opening, she seizes control of the Tide Child, a ship crewed by men and women who have been condemned to death, by slapping down its pathetically failed captain, Joron Twiner. Much of the rest of the novel feels like one of Patrick O’Brian’s richly detailed sagas of seamanship as Meas rebuilds her ship and its crew, including restoring Joron’s self-respect, while pursuing the dragon. Though characterization is declared more than demonstrated, this is a very promising beginning for a proposed trilogy. (Oct.)