– goodreads –
“We fight in the hope that others will not have to, and we fight to keep those we have come to care about safe. We fight even for those who do not deserve it. There is no honour or greatness in what we do, except among fools. I fight, in the end, because I have no other choice” – she held his gaze with hers – “and neither do you. So remember this, if you hear tales of bravery and greatness, they are nearly always told by people who have only watched battle from afar.”
The Bone Ships used to be one of those books for me, you know the kind – you were super excited at release, perhaps you even preordered them, but then you forgot about them for months and months. If it wasn’t for a bookclub, it would probably still be lying there. I wasn’t even in the mood for naval fantasy when I started it.
But even though the odds were stacked against it in every possible way, I liked it quite a lot and blazed through it surprisingly fast.
The story opens with Joron, condemned to a death ship and dead drunk most of the time, having command taken from him by the new arrival, the legendary shipwife (= captain) Lucky Meas Gilbryn. Despite everything, she makes him her second-in-command and sets off to whip up her new crew of convicts into shape. Oh, and the dragons may be returning.
The character development is pretty fun to watch. Joron starts off both incompetent and misguided, and watching him slowly become a real commander under the mentorship of Meas and watching the ragtag bunch of misfits become a real, close-knit crew was a real treat. It’s a classic arc, but there’s a reason why it works. Though unfortunately, since the book is completely focused on him, the other characters remained pretty surface-level, which did bother me.
The real star of the book, however, is the worldbuilding. It’s set in a matriarchal society where the women rise in power by having as many children without disabilities as possible, and having a mother who died in childbirth is considered a huge disgrace – a society both unique and flawed. Since the world is made up of islands and there is an eternal war between the east and the west side, there is also a whole culture about ships (the biggest of which are made out of dragonbone) and sailing, with a lot of new terminology the reader has to get used to. Though if you ever encountered a ship book, you’re probably used to a lot of technical words that might as well be made up being thrown around anyway. So that wasn’t an issue.
Most importantly though, it reads really fucking fast. The chapters are short and I ended up reading the book in huge chunks whenever I picked it up and that’s something that rarely happens. The fear that I won’t manage to finish it until the bookclub date proved to be pretty baseless. Even though I wasn’t even remotely in the mood, it was the exact opposite of a slog – I can’t imagine how much I might have loved it if I had a craving for sea stuff.
Recommended to: those looking for naval fantasy and dragons and flawed matriarchal societies and fast pacing
Not recommended to: if you don’t like worldbuilding-heavy books?