It takes a while for me to wade through Robin Hobb’s books, especially the Liveship Traders trilogy. I started Mad Ship, the second in the trilogy, at the end of February and completed it in early May.
The book is long, at about 850 pages, but my reading was slow because the story is emotionally heavy and emotionally charged scenes are dragged out. It makes me take frequent breaks from the story and thus a longer time to read it. Still, the world and characters Hobb has created are so interesting that I can’t break for long. I keep returning to the story, helped along by my buddy read with Emily at Embuhlee liest.
The Vestritt family’s liveship, Vivacia, has been taken by Kennit, an ambitious pirate. Captain Haven is a prisoner; his son Wintrow, who bears the Vestritt blood, finds himself competing with Kennit for Vivacia’s love as she becomes a pirate ship.
Althea Vestritt, in training to become Vivacia’s captain, arrives home to discover her beloved ship lost. Brashen Trell, her old friend and shipmate, proposes that they sail to Vivacia’s rescue in the liveship Paragon, who has lost two previous crews and is believed mad.
Malta, Althea’s niece, seeks help from her suitor, the Rain Wild Trader Reyn, whose family is the Vestritt’s major creditor. Meanwhile, the sea serpents who follow sailing ships struggle to remember their history and return to their place of transformation. (Goodreads)
I’d forgotten how much had occurred in this installment until I went through my highlighted portions of the book. When I think back to events that occurred at the beginning of this novel, I think of them as having taken place in the first book, Ship of Magic. I guess this is due to a combination of the novel’s length and the time it took for me to complete it.
Because I’m finding it hard to make the structure of this review coherent, I’ll just do it in sections and focus only on the characters. There will be spoilers for this book and the others that came before it.
Before I get started, I’ll just quickly say that the pace in these books are slow. I think that’s just Hobb’s style because the pace in the Farseer books was slow too. I also think her writing and storytelling has improved since the Farseer books and, of course, I love how much the world has broadened in this and how much more complex it has become. Apart from the worldbuilding and the characters, I also love this story because the females (humans and serpents) are the heroes; they are the major characters in this story. They are the ones who are brave and are willing to sacrifice all to save their family.
The serpents, the dragon, and the Elderlings
I like how the story and history of these beings are weaved throughout the story. At first, they seemed random and it was difficult to identify what’s their role in the story. For much of the first book, I thought the serpents would be plot devices to cause difficulty for Kennit and the other sailors. But the more I read, the more interested I became, especially when we learn how a liveship is made and why they are an abomination rather than a miracle.
What the liveships are made from is pretty interesting, which is why the release of the dragon is one my favorite parts. By the way, I read an article (or listened to a podcast, I forgot), where Hobb said that the serpent-dragon cycle was inspired by dragonflies.
The bits of history of the Rain Wilds is also interesting and now I’m convinced that the Rain Wilds is connected to the Mountain Kingdom from the Farseer books. I think when Fitz and Verity found the dragons in Assassin’s Quest, they were actually at the edge of the Rain Wilds, the land of the Elderlings, who served the dragons.
Also from these books, it seems that the dragons Fitz and Verity fiddled with weren’t actually true dragons but replicas of them that the Elderlings made to honor the dragons. Anyway, it’s all interesting and I’m very much invested in the sad tale of the dragons and the arduous journey of the serpents. I’d certainly love to know more about the Elderlings and how they got involved with dragons. From how they are described, and the vision the Fool had in Assassin’s Quest when he saw someone who looked like him sitting on a throne, I’m convinced that the Fool is an Elderling.
“The power of blood. Blood remembers. Blood recalls not days and nights and events. Blood recalls identity.”
Paragon is one of my favorite characters, and I’d love to listen to an audio version of these books to hear how he is portrayed on audio because of the changes in his personality, which seems to be reflected in his voice ranging from that of a young boy to a grown man depending on how he feels.
There is a section in this book where Althea says to Paragon that he could sail for anyone because he has learned to be independent, which made me think that’s why Hobb named him Paragon. (I keep looking for reasons why he has such a name.) Paragon isn’t perfect and physically and emotionally, he is antithetical to his name; but liveships, though praised and considered miraculous creations because they seem alive and real, are not only abominations of what they truly are but slaves to those who made them because of the blood bond. Unlike the other ships, Paragon has somehow freed himself from this bond. He just doesn’t realize it yet.
Unlike the Paragon, Vivacia is so deeply tied to her human counterparts that she doesn’t even consider shaking loose. I feel sorry for the Vivacia because both her and Wintrow’s innocence are being corrupted by Kennit. Kennit has beguiled Vivacia into sympathizing with him, almost falling in love with him, and have thus turned her into a pirate ship. It’s a sad situation that could possibly lead to a devastating end when Althea finds her.
“Just like the night of the slave uprising, when man after man entered me, and I was powerless to deny any of them.”
Vivacia has been marked by the horrendous events she endured under Kyle’s captaincy. Transporting slaves in her holds deeply affected her, but their deaths and later the slave uprising that led to a massacre on her decks forever marked her.
The quote above, said to Wintrow as she recalled the night of the slave uprising, stood out to me because of the emotion in it. Vivacia felt powerless to affect or change what was happening to her. It was as if that night she was raped. She has developed much since then and has grown very close to Kennit because he has taken care to nurture and show his appreciation of her, but I do wonder if she will be willing to break her attachment to Kennit when Althea arrives.
Wintrow is still one of my least favorite characters, though my interest in him went up a peg when he freed the serpent trapped on Others Island. But that occurs toward the end of the book so for much of it, I was annoyed with him and his references to Sa and trying to figure out himself. Usually I like the young characters and seeing them puzzle out their world and such, but for some reason Wintrow’s battle with his beliefs was not appealing.
Despite him growing fonder of Kennit, I do like how his character has developed. By the end of this book, his regard of Kennit has greatly changed. At first, he was able to see Kennit for what he really is, however, as the story progressed, he, like Vivacia, gave in to Kennit’s influence. But unlike Vivacia, who has fallen in love with Kennit, Wintrow now reveres the man and has become one of his greatest advocates. Again, I wonder how/if he will be weaned off Kennit’s influence.
I also wonder if he will survive his injuries and tell Vivacia who, or rather what, she really is. How will the liveships act when they learn what they are? I believe Paragon knows, or is aware, which is why he’s often so conflicted.
“Tomorrow owes you the sum of your yesterdays.”
Another conflicted character is Malta. Though she is headstrong and at first believes she knows what she wants, when she learned of her father’s plight and the state of her family’s finances, especially in light of the Vivacia’s capture, she realized that she had been naïve and immature all along.
Of all the characters, I loved Malta’s development the most because for the entire first book and about half of this one, she so annoyed me that I disliked her. By the end of this book, she is a mature young woman who bravely ventures into the unknown to seek help for her father and family and to placate the being that haunts her betrothed dreams.
Part of the reason why I was so eager to start the third book, Ship of Destiny, was to see if/how Malta will be saved since this book ends with her floating down an acidic river that’s probably eating away at her boat.
Ronica and Keffria
As with Malta, I didn’t like these characters much for all of the first book and much of this one. Ronica I respected but was upset with because she gave the liveship to Kyle, and Keffria never stands up for herself, even to Malta. However, this changes as the story progresses and again character development won me over. I respect Ronica even more and since starting Ship of Destiny, she has become a favorite. She is such a strong woman. Keffria has gone up a notch in my liking. She’s also conflicted about her identity, like Wintrow, because she now realizes that she can be more than a mother, daughter, and sister.
“Tomorrow may never come, but todays are linked inexorably in a chain, and now is always the only time we have to divert disaster.”
Amber is my favorite, mostly because she’s so mysterious. I mean, who exactly is she? She’s not from Chalced and she’s not from Bingtown. Where is she from?
I was tempted to look her up, but then decided against it. I prefer to look at the clues throughout the story, or at least I think they are clues. So here’s what I think:
This book is obviously connected to the Farseer ones, or so I think, therefore a character from that book is in this one. At the end of Assassin’s Quest, the Fool flew away on one of the dragons and wasn’t seen again for some time…I think that’s what happened…so I think Amber is actually…..THE FOOL!!! 😀 Am I right?? Don’t tell me if I am or not. I’ll find out. I like this guessing, kinda.
But really, though. Amber could be the Fool. She’s described as —
“Like some pale honey-wood was her skin and hair, and her eyes almost the same shade.”
Which sounds like the Fool at the end of the Farseer books after he had matured some and got some color in his skin, hair, and eyes. Also, Amber is a great sculptor, like the Fool; craves solitude and privacy, also like the Fool; is transparent to Paragon’s senses, similar to the Fool who has no scent; and something weird happened when she touched Paragon for the first time, which makes me think of the drop of Skill magic that got on one of the Fool’s fingers (that’s probably why Amber wears gloves all the time).
Okay, so you might say the Fool is a dude and Amber is a woman, but I’ll argue that the Fool’s gender is fluid; though I do think there was a part in the story where Fitz said he doesn’t think the Fool has a gender (I think that’s what he said; foggy memory). Anyway, that minstrel who followed Fitz around in Assassin’s Quest was convinced the Fool was a woman for much of it (though I can’t tell if she genuinely believed so or convinced herself so to be mean to the Fool because she was jealous, hmm…).
Either way, I definitely think Amber is an Elderling and so is the Fool (which I’ve believed of the Fool since Assassin’s Quest), so they are either the same person or there are two Fools. I mean, why else would Amber always accuse the Rain Wild Traders and sometimes even the Liveship Traders of holding onto things that don’t belong to them and not being responsible for what they’ve done? I think she’s talking of dragons and serpents there. Uh huh. She’s an Elderling AND a Fool. 😛
Everybody else: Althea, Kennit, Brashen, Bingtown, Serilla, the Satrap, Davad Restart etc.
I grouped them all here because I don’t have much to say about them. I still like Althea, Kennit is still horrible but so damn lucky that now I’m half amazed and half hate him, and Brashen is still hot (which I probably didn’t mention in my reflection of the first book, but just know that he is).
“To survive, you will have to change. You will have to decide what things are most important to you, and preserve those things. You must accept allies who share those values, and not be so suspicious of them.”
Can settings be considered characters? I consider Bingtown a character because it has a personality and also develops, like the other characters. And, like the other characters, it’s questioning its identity and is so conflicted that it’s now at civil war.
The Satrap is lame and someone needs to clout him about his head to teach him some sense. I seriously wonder what will become of him. And I pitied Serilla at first and thought she would help Bingtown but now that I’ve started Ship of Destiny, I’m not so sure.
As for Davad Restart, I think he got what he wanted in the end. Living without his family was torture and he found it hard to restart ;). His end, I think, symbolizes a new beginning for Bingtown (or maybe I’m reaching here). Btw, I keep pronouncing his name in my head as “Res-tart” rather than “Re-start.”
It was slow, but I plodded through it and am glad I did. Great world building and character development and ending, which left me eager to start the next book. No break between books this time.