Tuesday, April 26, 2016

"Ship of Magic (Liveship Traders #1)" by Robin Hobb

Note on the Series: Though the events of this trilogy (Liveship Traders) take place after those of the Farseer Trilogy, the characters appear to be entirely different. Therefore, if you aren't categorically set on reading an entire fantasy world in successive order, you could probably read this trilogy by itself. Hence, no spoilers, and it is slightly standalone (as a trilogy- though it connects with a later series).

Let me start off by saying I didn't love this one as much as Assassin's Apprentice. It's not that this one won't have a piece of my heart (or a large section of my bookshelf), but rather... I think I'm a little fixated on royalty-centric fantasy. This book is likely much more creative than Assassin's Apprentice due to its lack of royals, but I nonetheless wanted some present. Instead of being set on land, most of this book is centered on the ocean, along with multiple trading hubs along the coast. Where Assassin's Apprentice was a coming of age, this one is definitely about a later stage version of that story: coming into one's own place in life.

A problem I encountered early on in the book was multiple character perspective choppiness- each character is given large chapters to showcase their perspectives, but I wasn't fond of some of the characters, leading to sections where I felt like skimming, but I read it all anyway. It's difficult for me to feel the book was a cohesive storyline when there were so many subplots with each character. I usually love that level of detail in my books (especially fantasy) but with this one, where I was already less than thrilled with some of the characters... it didn't work out so well.

The Plot (As Seen on Goodreads):
'Bingtown is a hub of exotic trade and home to a merchant nobility famed for its liveships--rare 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 her--a 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 family--and the ship--may 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....'

The concept of liveships is part of what made this book feel unique to me. Imagine sentient ships instead of ones made simply of dead trees, able to talk with you, and even affect the comfort of your journey aboard it. The liveship has wants and needs: it is quickened and shaped by those who die aboard it (who are usually of the Trader family that bought it). The liveship can be a boon or a curse, all depending on how you treat it.

One thing I love about this book is that the women can be, and sometimes are, sexually free. Usually in fantasy there is an ironclad rule against women being liberal with their affections and/or sex, but while some of the characters are forced to live under that rule in this book, there are a few who are immune to it. It makes me glad that there are such fantasy books available, since there is a rampant medievally-induced double standard in how males and females are allowed to act in fantasy.

Ship of Magic is one of the few fantasies I've read set mainly on the high seas, making it a bit of a novelty to me. Despite having many heroines (which I thought was lacking in the first of the Farseer Trilogy), there were so many characters that I didn't seem to find one who truly resonated with me. Nonetheless, it's a grand adventure, and I love the concept of liveships and sea serpents, and when it seemed I had read a few pages, I had actually read 100+. I recommend Ship of Magic to the stalwart fantasy fan who is up to reading a larger, multifaceted story that has little to do with royalty.

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars for a grand adventure with characters I was ambivalent to.

Content: Ages 16+ for one nondescript sex scene (if I recall it right), slavery, and assorted other inhumanities (violence, death).

Page Count: 685 pages in my hardcover edition.


  1. Well, last week on a couple of blogs I commented that I needed to take a break from kings and queens Fantasy. Ha ha. P!us sentient ships. That is really unique. The closest I have come to reading something like that was Storyteller, but they were live sea beasts they used as ships and could communicate with telepathically. I also love sea serpents. I think maybe even more than dragons! I might just have to look into this trilogy. Thanks for the review. :)

    1. Well, you'd be on the right track with this one! In the next book, the monarchy is involved somewhat, but the large majority of the world doesn't seem to revolve around them... at least not yet.
      I'm not sold on the sea serpents as characters yet, but they are interesting creatures that add another element to the tale- I think I prefer the sentient ships, which are pretty straightforward... and don't necessarily eat you. ;)
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, La La!
      ~Litha Nelle


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