Thursday, April 23, 2020

Fantasy Vacation: The Hundred Isles (The Bone Ships)

Amongst the more immediate concerns about the state of the world, one of the hardest parts of the current situation has been the loss of travel and adventure plans for the foreseeable future. I'm currently mourning everything small explorations around the city where I live to the trip I hoped to take to New Zealand over July and August to catch up with old and new friends at Worldcon. Unsure when our next trips beyond our safe and/or necessary spaces might be, some of us nerd-types have started thinking about vacation ideas that are a little beyond the usual, uh, reality that a holiday destination requires.

So: Are you interested in nautical adventure? Looking for a coastal break with a difference? Feeling somewhat unattached to the world of living land, and seeking an afterlife in a soggy embrace? Well, a fantasy vacation in the Hundred Isles, as explored in R.J. Barker's The Bone Ships, might be the thing for you! (NOTE: Those who do not appreciate frivolity may instead want to check out Paul's review)

We here at Nerd Flights and Tours have rounded up six must-see destinations for your trip around this dismal delightful archipelago:

Cover design: Hannah Wood
1. Out and about around Bernhulme. The capital of the Hundred Isles is a sight to behold, from the homely delights of the Fishmarket to the elite spires of the Grand Bothy. The largest settlement on the Hundred Isles, Bernhulme is home to the elite Bern, ranked by their ability to bear able-bodied children and to stay alive in their cutthroat world for long enough to do so. Take a city tour from one of the Kept and get the inside story on the city's complex politics and entertaining dueling scene, and don't forget to check out the docked bone ships for a crash course in ossified shipcraft. NOTE: While we normally recommend taking in the local religious festivals where its appropriate to do so, we would recommend travellers with any shreds of moral conscience avoid the committing ceremonies if possible, as they are unlikely to be fun even in a morbid, fictional sense.

2. Skearith's Spine. The number one natural feature to see is, of course, this spectacular range of volcanic mountains, rising across the entire middle of the sea and separating the Hundred Isles from the Gaunt Islands. While the mountains themselves are largely off-limits to the casual visitor, avid climbers with strong stomachs may want to brave the sulphuric smells and try their skills on these forbidding rock features, for the challenge and the unbeatable views over the blue ocean and purple bruises of land that make up the Hundred Isles. The island of Argonnis offers rough and ready accommodation in its central tower for those who don't mind parting with some coin - all in support of innovative local business, of course.

3. Cage diving with the local wildlife. Building impregnable cages for divers out of immensely precious bone resources is not a particularly canon thing to do, but outsiders willing to spend money and, more importantly, leave their valuable items on board a boat, will find there are plenty of crews willing to take you out in whatever passes for safe rebreathing apparatus in an pre-modern tech environment. Experience the thrill of getting up close and personal with Longthresh and all of the flesh eating undersea wildlife the Hundred Isles has to offer, and if you're lucky perhaps you will even get a glimpse of the majestic sunfish, making its way to the surface to bask in its own glory under Skearith's eye NOTE: Due to overfishing, Arkeesian sightings cannot be guaranteed at this time.

4. Learn to fire a gallowbow. No trip to the archipelago is complete without setting foot on the deck of a bone ship, and no trip on a bone ship is complete without learning to fire one of these creatures. Sign a waiver, take a last look at your fingers and put your back into assembling, stringing and firing these most unusual of mounted weapons. Plenty of tours around the Eaststorm offer a clam, low-stakes environment for target practice, but for a true thrill a tour to the Northstorm can't be beat - you may even get to put your new skills to the test against a real life raider! NOTE: Nerd Flights and Tours cannot be held responsible for tourists who are pressed into the fleet as a result of showing skill with a gallowbow.

5. The Gaunt Islands. It's well known around the Hundred Isles that Gaunt Islanders are savage warmongering killers whose ways are completely incompatible with our own, and that their child stealing is much worse than ours, but how bad can it be, really? NOTE: Due to unavailability of sequel, our writers were unable to confirm any actual information about the Gaunt Islands, but we're really sure they're just great. Wonderful places, every one. And if we didn't highlight them here, we'd be stuck encouraging you to visit Corfynhulme or something, and nobody wants that.

6. The Hag's Bonfire. Undoubtedly the most talked-about location in all of the Hundred Isles! While it's difficult to schedule a tour to this one, at some point during your completion of the last five you may find yourself here, hanging out beneath the waves with the god of the ocean and death, and toasting yourself by a nice fire for all eternity. Unfortunately, none of our guide writers managed to come back to give us accommodation or dining recommendations, but we can only imagine the seafood is fabulous and the company is some of the most interesting and varied you'll find throughout the archipelago.

Artist: Karl Nordström
And there you have it! All the reasons that you might want to imagine yourself into an adventure in a nautical society barely clinging to its humanity on a series of rocks where everything - including the people - are trying to kill them. Alternatively, you could stay at home and let Joron, Meas and the crew of the Tide Child do the adventuring for you, and remain indoors where the longthresh don't bite.

Posted by: Adri, Nerds of a Feather co-editor, is a semi-aquatic migratory mammal most often found in the UK. She has many opinions about SFF books, and is also partial to gaming, baking, interacting with dogs, and Asian-style karaoke. Find her on Twitter at @adrijjy.