“Ship of Destiny” by Robin Hobb

This is the reason why I haven’t posted a review in a while. I’ve been procrastinating on reviewing Ship of Destiny because I have SOOO many thoughts.

Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders series was a slog to get through. I enjoyed reading the books, but the pace was slow, burdened down by details of the characters, events, and expansive world in which the story is set. It was also emotionally heavy, which sometimes slowed my reading to a crawl because I had to take breaks.

Despite all that, I liked the story and so did my buddy-reader Emily at Embuhlee liest, with whom I’ve been reading Robin Hobb’s books. We so enjoyed the Liveship Traders series that we’ve decided to plunge into the Tawney Man Trilogy together and see what adventure awaits us there. But first, I must wrap up the last book of the Liveship Traders trilogy: Ship of Destiny.

Note: This will be both a review of Ship of Destiny, the last book in the trilogy, and a wrap up of the entire trilogy. There will be spoilers for this and the earlier books in the trilogy, as well as the Farseer trilogy.

Goodreads summary:

In the powerful conclusion to the Liveship Traders trilogy, Robin Hobb weaves the spellbinding story of a once-thriving city on the brink of ruin, a glorious and mythic species on the edge of extinction, and the Vestrit clan, whose destiny is intertwined with both…

As Bingtown slides toward disaster, clan matriarch Ronica Vestrit, branded a traitor, searches for a way to bring the city’s inhabitants together against the Chalcedean threat. Meanwhile, Althea Vestrit, unaware of what has befallen Bingtown and her family, continues her perilous quest to track down and recover her liveship Vivacia from the ruthless pirate Kennit.

Bold though it is, her scheme may be in vain. For her beloved Vivacia will face the most terrible confrontation of all as the secret of the liveships is revealed. It is a truth so shattering, it may destroy Vivacia and all who love her, including the boy-priest Wintrow Vestrit, whose life already hangs in the balance… (Goodreads)

My thoughts:

Upon completing the second book of the trilogy, Mad Ship, I immediately wanted to continue with Ship of Destiny. Much had occurred in Mad Ship that left me eager to see how things would play out, what would become of the characters, and how would Hobb wrap up the many dangling plot lines.

I shouldn’t have worried, though, because Hobb managed the many plot lines so well that they easily and seamlessly fit together in a tidy conclusion that left room for fans to hope for more in the other series. Now that I’m reflecting on all the books, I wonder if the story’s tidiness is another reason why the pace was so slow. Because despite all the conflicts, various point-of-view characters, and wealth of backstory, one could tell that Hobb took her time so she would have a firm handle on the direction of the plot; or so it seems. If not, she did a great job making it seem effortless in how she managed the many parts of the story.

There are many POV characters and they are all unique. No one sounds the same as anyone else. They all have distinct personalities that sometimes clash with other POV characters, and all the characters are true to their nature; whether the character is a serpent, dragon, prodigal son or daughter, a willful teenager, matriarch of a family, or a sociopathic pirate.

As I read through the series, I also realized that this is a story driven by the sacrifices of women. It’s the women who lose the most and have the most at stake. They — human, serpent, dragon — sacrifice their livelihood and personhood to ensure the safety of themselves and others. They are the protectors.

The story is also about the effects of slavery, the different forms of slavery, and the plunder and annihilation of a race to benefit another. This is seen in how the Rain Wilders and the Liveship Traders ignorantly plunder the Rain Wilds for goods to trade and use the serpents’ cocoons to make liveships.

When I learned what the liveships really are, what the fate of the serpents could be, and how much their race has dwindled because of what their cocoons were used for, I expected the dragon Tintaglia to go into a rage and destroy the traders. I was surprised that it didn’t happen.

“I became the shape you had imposed upon me, and took to myself the personality that was the sum of your family’s expectations.”

Slavery is a major part of the story. People are uprooted and snatched from homes and family and forced into various kinds of labor. With human slavery at the forefront of the story, it’s sometimes easy to miss that the liveships are also forced into a kind of slavery.

They are ripped from their true form and being — that of a serpent — and are forced to take the shape of a ship and compelled to adopt the personality foisted upon them by their masters — the captains. They are not allowed to be independent, though it seems they act independently. They are in cages with invisible bars until they realize that they were once dragons, master of the three realms and able to go wherever the wished when they wished. Such realization drives some liveships to wish for an end.

“They had used the stolen memories of a dragon to create a great wooden slave for themselves.”

This is also interesting because it shows a quirk in life that those who are strong today can be weak tomorrow. The conquerors can become the conquered. Tintaglia shows what the dragons were, and her indignation at how the humans treat her shows that dragons were once revered, worshipped by those less than they. It’s then ironic that due to a cataclysmic event, the balance in the world shifted causing the progeny of dragonkind to become servants of those who once worshipped them.

Piggy-backing on the slavery discussion above, the entire time I read this novel I kept thinking of Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of the “New World.” Liveship Traders’ discovery of the land they occupy is similar to early European settlers discovering and colonizing America and so too the great disregard of previous life forms and cultures in the places they settled.

Power and dominance are also central themes to the story. We see this in the use of slavery, the many battles at sea, the Chalcedeans’ attempt to conquer Jamaillia, characters raped, and conflicts between characters (Malta vs. Ronica, Ronica vs. Serilla, Althea vs. Kyle, Kennit vs. the world). It’s interesting how rape is used in the story and how the characters react to it.

It was used by the Satrap to attempt to discipline and control Serilla and the experience incited such a strong fear within her that it cost her the influence she gained in Bingtown. Absolute power corrupts; not that Kennit wasn’t already corrupted, but at the height of his power and “glory,” he raped Althea to exercise that power and control over another. He reveled in his ability to control her reality and what others believe. The act also deeply influenced him since he was raped as a boy by the evil pirate Igrot. By raping Althea, he sought to pass on the pain and torment he felt, though he justified his action by believing it’s something right, something Althea deserved because she is a woman, something she wanted. By then I wanted Kennit to die a very painful death.

Like slavery in the novel, it’s easier to notice when a human is raped. But Vivacia’s recount of her experiences show that she was also raped. This is more clearly seen with Vivacia, who was unable to refuse the men who entered her, those who died on her deck and within her hold on the stormy night that Kennit captured her. When a human dies on her wood, she absorbs a part of him and back then she didn’t know how to avoid that absorption. It was a violation she couldn’t refuse, couldn’t fight.

Apart from these themes, I also wanted to share my thoughts on characters who stayed with me long after I completed the book:

Malta

To me, Malta has become a combination of Ronica and Althea: willful and assertive and resourceful. I think I like her character development the most, considering how much she has matured from the petulant, silly teenage girl we met in the first book to now a woman worthy to be mother of Elderlings. She’s a quick learner who is able to use her limited resources to her advantage and assess how to turn others’ expectations of her to her benefit. Along her journey, she lost all she coveted — beauty, security, worldly possessions — and learned to treasure what really matters — love, life, kinship.

As perilous as her adventures were, my favorite part was when she and the Satrap joined the pirate Captain Red’s crew on the Motley, his ship. The pirate’s crew were all once actors and artisans. Though a lot of detail wasn’t given of their dinners, I had fun imagining them because of the irony that a crew of pirates had such near elegant, highly entertaining meals on their ship.

The Satrap

The Satrap was a disappointment because his character didn’t gain much development. He was weak, spoiled, and bratty throughout. On two occasions he showed some attempt at self-reflection and awareness of the impact and implication of the events about him, but by the end of the story, when he regains his throne, he returned to his old ways.

He did, however, pass laws that show that his adventures and the people he met did affect him, but I did not see much change in him to be convinced that his character experienced much development. It’s possible that this development will be slow in taking effect and will be revealed in another book, but that might just be wishful thinking.

Serilla

“Take what has happened to you and learn from it, instead of being trapped by it. Nothing is quite so destructive as pity, especially self-pity. No event in life is so terrible that one cannot rise above it.”

I still don’t like Serilla. I liked her when I first met her and admired her strength and felt bad and angry for her when the Satrap ordered her to be raped. But in Bingtown, I began to dislike her as she leaned more into the fear growing inside her.

It was hard to tell whether she was driven by fear or want for power when she got to Bingtown. I think that confusion is what drove my dislike of her. I couldn’t tell if the decisions she made were because she needed power to feel less insecure, less fearful, or if she craved the greater influence she could have over Bingtown. The more her decisions were made to mostly benefit her stance in Bingtown, the more I disliked her and hoped her seat of influence would be taken away.

I got what I hoped for by the end of the book, but by then I pitied Serilla again. Her arc in the story was a lesson in humility which the Satrap should have learned too.

Ronica and Keffria

“Life is not a race to restore a past situation. Nor does one have to hurry to meet the future. Seeing how things change is what makes life interesting.”

Reading from both Ronica and Serilla’s POV was fun since they were often against each other. Ronica is another character who I disliked at first but later became a favorite. She is a survivor and so are the women of her family. I like that she is integral in uniting the peoples of Bingtown.

Same for Keffria, who has developed much since the first book. She is no longer a meek woman hiding behind her husband. The uprooting events in her life has caused her to reconsider who she is and who she wants to be. It has also caused power and influence to be thrust upon her and she has found that she can handle it. I admire her for who she has become.

Bingtown and Davad Restart

Davad Restart was Bingtown’s unraveling, but he was something it needed. I forgot what book it was, probably Ship of Magic, but I think Ronica said of Davad that he lacks tact but is a good trader because he recognizes opportunity. (Something like that.) He saw the opportunity for Bingtown to change and the need for it to accept new people.

Though the change that came was something Davad couldn’t have imagined (nothing goes the way the characters expect), it was what he and Bingtown needed. Bingtown was becoming too divided for it to survive much longer. It needed to metamorphose.

Because I’d been reading his name as “Res-tart” (cause I’m weird), I didn’t see the clue in Davad’s name, “Re-start.” He’s the reset button for Bingtown. The revolution literally began at his door.

As for the other characters, I like most of their development. I still do not like Wintrow much though I’ve realized that he has matured and grown a lot. I do not like Etta because she knew Althea told the truth about being raped by Kennit but Etta refused to speak up and attacked Althea instead. Kennit is an asshole and I wish his death was more painful.

Althea is now mature and forgiving but I’m not so I still want her to stab Kennit and kick Kyle in the ass (though both guys are already dead). My only complaint about her is that she’s the only character in trilogy who curses (she said “Fuck” twice or thrice), which is so weird. It makes her seem like she’s forcing an image to seem tough. Even the pirates and Etta don’t curse and they’re badasses. Anyway, Paragon and Vivacia have both matured much and are better versions of themselves despite their horrible experiences and I believe I will see more of Tintaglia in the upcoming books because a dragon cannot be ignored.

The only other person I’ll talk at length about is Amber.

I am still convinced Amber is the Fool from the Farseer trilogy. I thought this would be explicitly stated in this last book, but nooo. Hobb is still leading me on. That’s okay. I know I’m right. There are too many clues for me not to be right. It’s like all the clues in ASoIaF pointing out that Jon Snow is Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen’s son. (I’d be so damn pissed if he’s not!)

Major clues from this book that make me think Amber is the Fool: She has a mysterious illness that takes her at random (just like the Fool); She’s described as tawney (and the Fool changed color when he flew away at the end of the Farseer books); She talks in riddles (the Fool talks in riddles!); When she recarved Paragon, she added an earring similar to the one she wears and it’s described like the earring Fitz got from Burrich and gave to the Fool (AHA!! Definitely the Fool!); also, at the end, she placed the rooster crown on her head and asked Paragon if he recognize her (summin like that) and Paragon said the person who wore it was really white/colorless (summin so) (well, the Fool was once colorless and in the last book he had a vision and thought he saw himself sitting on a throne or something with a rooster crown on his head!! AHAAAA!!! I’m so fucking right, y’all!)

Overall: ★★★★★

If you skipped all that I wrote above (it’s cool, it’s long as hell. I didn’t expect anyone to read it through), then just know that the story is awesome, there’s a lot going on in it, but it’s also very detailed and emotionally draining and will probably be a slow read.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

Because it will take you a while to complete it…maybe. And if not that, you’ll be hooked and want them all anyway.

If for some reason you’ve read this review but haven’t yet started on the series, when you do, give the story a chance. The first book is mad slow at first and will make you want to give up and DNF it, but stick with it. The pay-off is good.

Quotes from the novel:

“Long or short, if you worry about every step of a journey, you will divide it endlessly into pieces, any one of which may defeat you. Look only to the end.”

“Be now what you must be to succeed at the end of your journey, and when the end comes, you will find it is just another beginning.”

“The shortest distance between a man and his goal was often a lie.”

“When you fear to fail, you fear something that has not happened yet. You predict your own failure, and by inaction, lock yourself into it.”

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13 thoughts on ““Ship of Destiny” by Robin Hobb

  1. Pingback: 2017 Reading Wrap-Up: Third Quarter | Zezee with Books

  2. I’m not reading the entire review because I too am reading the Liveship Traders trilogy nowadays, though I’m still on Ship of Magic. It’s slow, and oh so long, but I’m not finding it boring at all, will read your post once I’m through with the series 🙂

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