After completing the Farseer trilogy, I was eager for more stories by Robin Hobb, so I bought the first novel in the Liveship Traders trilogy, Ship of Magic, and read it with Emily at Embuhlee liest.
Bingtown is a hub of exotic trade and home to a merchant nobility famed for its liveshipsrare vessels carved from wizardwood, which ripens magically into sentient awareness. The fortunes of one of Bingtown’s oldest families rest on the newly awakened liveship Vivacia.
For Althea Vestrit, the ship is her rightful legacy unjustly denied hera legacy she will risk anything to reclaim. For Althea’s young nephew Wintrow, wrenched from his religious studies and forced to serve aboard ship, Vivacia is a life sentence.
But the fate of the Vestrit familyand the shipmay ultimately lie in the hands of an outsider. The ruthless pirate Kennit seeks a way to seize power over all the denizens of the Pirate Isles…and the first step of his plan requires him to capture his own liveship and bend it to his will.
“Everyone said that no one could truly know what color a liveship’s eyes would be until those eyes were opened by the deaths of three generations.”
As I’ve said elsewhere, if it wasn’t for the buddy read, I probably would have put down this book early on and missed out on a good story. Where the Farseer books were fairly quick reads for me, this one plods on at a slower pace. When I compare it to the Farseer books, especially the first one, Assassin’s Apprentice, I find that Hobb’s writing is much more detailed in this one. It’s not overkill, but it does slow the pace some. Also, much more time is spent in the characters’ thoughts, which, depending on how well you like certain characters, can become annoying sometimes, which was the case with me.
I also had difficulty with the multiple points of view, which became easier to follow as the story progressed but was difficult to keep track of in the early chapters. I think the problem there is that we are introduced to many characters early on and switch perspectives pretty quickly so it was hard to keep track of who’s who and who’s doing what.
However, from the beginning I was happy that the world I was introduced to in the Farseer trilogy broadens in this one. We are in new lands and surrounded by a different set of people who have different customs from the Farseers, though we later realize that some practices are similar to that of the Farseers’ but go by a different name. The Liveship Traders, of course, make their living on the sea and so face a different sort of threat. However, they are aware of the difficulties the Farseers face in the north. In the south, the traders worry about sea serpents that trail ships laden with slaves, pirates who attack merchant ships, and slave trade, which is a worry unique to the liveship traders as well as those being grabbed and sold.
The slave trade stood out the most to me as I read. It’s horrific and unfair and made me wonder what the leader/king, called the Satrap, is up to. It seems that he’s not managing things well and although he doesn’t physically appear in this book, he’s often spoken of by others and what those people say make me think of him as being like Prince Regal in the Farseer trilogy, who preferred the glory of being king and lacked the mettle needed to rule. So because the Satrap is preoccupied with his pleasures, he has allowed the slave trade in his lands to run amok.
The slave trade stood out to me because of how it’s used in the story to manipulate the reader to root for a highly unlikeable character: Kennit. Kennit is chauvinistic. He’s a cold, selfish man who doesn’t deserve the power, respect, and admiration he has gained from the good deeds he initially had no intention of doing — freeing slaves. But by chapter 30, I was rooting for him and hoping that he would “save” a character I’d taken a liking to — Wintrow, who’s forced by his father, Kyle, to become a sailor on his family’s liveship, the Vivacia.
I wanted Kennit to capture the Vivacia and get rid of Kyle, who I hated. Robin Hobb is great at creating characters for me to hate. She did so with Prince Regal from the Farseer books, but I think Kyle is an improvement from Regal, who was pretty flat. Kyle has a bit more dimension because we learn that he actually cares for his family but is an asshole because he’s insecure and believes men are always right and women should submit to them. I hate him more than Kennit!
Speaking of women submitting to men, that’s another way that the people in Ship of Magic differ from those in the Farseer books. A new set of people have moved to Bingtown, the harbor where the liveship trader families live. These new people, the “nouveau riche” brought along their customs, women have little to no power, as well as their horrid trade, slavery, and some of the old trader families have begun to adopt such practices. That, coupled with maintaining certain appearances while out in society, makes it hard for another character I like to accomplish her goals: Althea. Poor Althea wants to be captain of her family’s liveship, the Vivacia, but her gender, inexperience, and horrible brother-in-law, Kyle, make that impossible. Still, she will try because she believes the Vivacia is hers.
At first, Althea’s character was annoying, but the more I read from her POV, the more she grew on me. She’s stubborn and persistent and reminds me of one of my favorite female protagonists, Alanna from the Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce. Reading from Kyle and Kennit’s POVs often made me angry because of their views of women. Kyle basically thinks women are idiots and Kennit thinks of them as things. They both piss me off.
Oh, Malta! Malta, Malta. She’s Kyle’s daughter, Althea’s niece, and, like her father, is very annoying. She reminds me of Sansa Stark, except Sansa isn’t as deceitful. About the same age as Sansa, Malta wants pretty much the same things, to be introduced to society as a young woman and to be courted. However, she is unaware of the dangers and responsibilities that come with such things. Her naivety makes her sound petulant whenever I read from her POV and whenever the perspective switches to her mother, Keffria, or her grandmother, Ronica, Malta’s antics became a great annoyance to me.
However, I can’t entirely blame Malta because she knows nothing about her family or the great responsibility placed on liveship families to maintain their unique trades. One would think that after Malta’s great deceits, her family would tell her not only how to behave but also why, but that explanation never came, which made me angry with Ronica and Keffria and annoyed with Robin Hobb. How are children to learn if they don’t also know why they must do certain things and act a certain way? Maybe Hobb is holding out until the second book to explain. Maybe she’ll drop a bomb explanation then.
I’m just about done. I only wanted to say that the serpent things are weird and I didn’t understand what the hell they were talking about until their last chapter in the book. Also, other annoying characters include: Wintrow (he annoyed me at the end because he’s so damn naive sometimes. I often forget he’s just a boy); Keffria (she doesn’t think for herself or stand up to her kid, Malta); Ronica (because of the passing of Vivacia to her new captain. I respect Ronica though).
Though the pace is a bit slow and the story is emotionally heavy in some spots and all the characters annoyed me, I enjoyed it. It took a while for me to get used to the switches in POV, but I do like how the story is told and I do think the switches are needed to tell it well.
As for characters who did not annoy me, they are: Brashen, who I think I might have a crush on now; Paragon, a male liveship who I’d love to know more about; Amber, who I definitely want to know more about; and Ophelia, a female liveship whose personality I love. I think Ophelia would enjoy reading Pride & Prejudice.