What a wonderful adventure! This was my first experience with R.J. Barker’s work and I came away quite impressed with his skill as a storyteller. He drops us into the fully-formed world of the Hundred Isles, a sea-dominated region that’s peppered with small islands. Two warring territories, each equipped with extremely valuable ships made from ancient dragon bones, are stuck in constant and endless conflict. When the first dragon in generations is sighted, the race is on to be the first to track it down.
Barker’s prose is rich but rough and perfectly suited for a seafaring tale. You can taste the ocean spray and feel the sway of the ships as they traverse the angry seas. The world is filled with unique flora and fauna, but the setting still feels familiar and accessible.
The book also features really satisfying character work, most notably through the main characters Joron and Lucky Meas and the cultivation of their relationship with each other and with the rest of their crew. The connection that is forged between Joron and the Gullaime, the ship’s enigmatic, bird-like “windtalker,” is particularly touching. I hope we see more of the Gullaime in future books because the page (and I) lit up whenever it would appear.
Generally, I like to finish books quickly so I can move on to the next thing in my stack, but it was really gratifying to spend extra time with such a well-crafted novel. Even the artwork on the chapter headings is meticulously crafted and beautiful.
All in all, this is a superb start to an exciting new series. The worldbuilding, the prose, the character development, and the story beats are all top-notch. I’m already anxiously anticipating book two. In the meantime, I’m going to jump back and give Barker’s Wounded Kingdom trilogy a try to see if that is also to my liking.
★★★★½ out of 5
✪ SPECULATIVE SHELF STARRED BOOK
My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.