Ship of Destiny by Robin Hobb

This, the third of Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders novels, brings the trilogy to an exciting and satisfying conclusion. Having become quite attached to the characters and swept away by the story over the course of the three novels, I’m sorry to have come to the end – but I have to admit, I’m also happy that I’ve finished and can now move on to the Tawny Man books and rejoin old friends from Hobb’s Farseer trilogy. First, though, I need to post my thoughts on Ship of Destiny – and as this is a trilogy which really needs to be read in order, I can’t avoid spoiling elements of the previous two books here; if you think you might want to read them I would recommend going no further with this review until you’ve read both Ship of Magic and The Mad Ship.

Ship of Destiny picks up each of the trilogy’s many storylines from where they left off at the end of The Mad Ship. For much of the novel, our main characters are divided into small groups, each having separate adventures of their own, until fate eventually brings them together in a dramatic sequence of events which brings The Liveship Traders to a close.

First of all, there’s Malta, who has escaped from the aftermath of the earthquake in Trehaug and has found herself sailing down the hazardous Rain Wild River in the company of the childish and petulant Satrap of Jamaillia. Malta’s betrothed, Reyn Khuprus, is desperately searching for her, with the reluctant help of Tintaglia the dragon. Newly released from her cocoon, Tintaglia would prefer to be getting down to more important business, such as saving her species from extinction.

On board the liveship Paragon, Althea Vestrit, Brashen Trell and Amber the wood-carver are getting closer and closer to the Vivacia, the Vestrit family liveship which Althea has her heart set on reclaiming. But Vivacia has already bonded with her new captain, the pirate Kennit, and with Althea’s nephew Wintrow; Althea could be facing disappointment when she finally catches up with her beloved ship. Meanwhile, Ronica and Keffria are trying to rebuild and reform Bingtown following the Chalcedean invasion – but for this they will need the cooperation of Serilla, the Satrap’s Companion, whose priority seems to be to obtain power for herself.

When I wrote about The Mad Ship a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was particularly intrigued by Amber, as she made me think of another character from the Farseer trilogy. That character, of course, is the Fool, and I was pleased to find that my suspicions were confirmed in this book. Amber recarves Paragon’s figurehead to resemble Fitz, there are discussions of destiny, and there are exchanges like this:

“You’d have to be a fool to think you could change the course of the whole world.”

She was silent until she broke out in a shaky laugh. “Oh, Paragon, in that you are more right than you know, my friend.”

Other characters continued to interest me too, particularly Malta. Who would have thought the annoying, selfish girl we met in the first book would mature so quickly and turn out to be such a shrewd negotiator? Kennit, on the other hand, goes from being a complex and strangely sympathetic character to a villain whose treatment of Althea and Paragon made me lose all respect for him – although I did find his final scenes in the book quite moving.

On reaching the end of The Liveship Traders, I didn’t feel as bereft as at the end of The Farseer trilogy, which I think is partly because, while there were plenty of characters I liked and cared about, I never felt as close to any of them as I did to Fitz. I was less emotionally involved with this trilogy, but I did still thoroughly enjoy it; I loved the world Robin Hobb created here and I was impressed by her ability to handle multiple storylines and keep track of who knows what! Also, as someone who doesn’t read a lot of fantasy, I found the dragon element fascinating, which is probably fortunate as if I’m going to continue working through Hobb’s novels I will eventually need to read The Rain Wild Chronicles which, judging by the titles, sound very dragon-heavy! First, though, I’m looking forward to the Tawny Man trilogy – I have my copy of the first book, Fool’s Errand, ready and waiting…

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The Mad Ship by Robin Hobb

This is the second volume of Robin Hobb’s The Liveship Traders trilogy. I read the first one, Ship of Magic, earlier this summer and enjoyed it so much I couldn’t wait to move on to this one. As it’s a trilogy that really needs to be read in order, I have found it impossible to write about this book without spoiling the previous one, so be warned!

The Mad Ship continues to develop storylines begun in the first novel. When we last saw the Vestrit family’s liveship, the Vivacia, she had been captured by pirates far from her home port of Bingtown and her captain, Kyle Haven, had been defeated and injured. Captain Kennit, the pirate leader, is delighted to have taken possession of such a valuable ship, particularly as he is already beginning to bond with Vivacia, the liveship’s sentient figurehead. Also on board is Kyle’s son, Wintrow, who has Vestrit blood and finds himself competing with Kennit for the ship’s affections.

When news of Vivacia’s capture reaches the rest of the family, they must find a way to work together to rescue her and to bring home Kyle and Wintrow. This is easier said than done given the divisions and tensions within the Vestrit household! Althea Vestrit still believes that the Vivacia should rightfully belong to her rather than to her sister (and Kyle’s wife) Keffria, while spoiled, selfish Malta continues to cause trouble for her mother and grandmother. However, Malta is forced to grow up very quickly and through her relationship with Reyn Khuprus of the Rain Wilds, she has a chance to redeem herself in the eyes of her family.

Meanwhile, Brashen Trell and Amber the bead merchant have come up with a plan of their own to help Vivacia – one which involves relaunching Paragon, the old, abandoned liveship who is believed to be mad, having killed his crew many years earlier. Will their plan succeed or is the Vivacia lost to them forever?

Despite loving the first book, it took me a while to really get into this one, but I think it was simply suffering from being the second in a trilogy – there wasn’t the novelty of discovering a new world or the excitement of following the story to its conclusion. Halfway through, though, several of the storylines took a more dramatic turn and I found that I was absolutely riveted! So much happens in this book that I can’t possibly mention everything here; instead, I have just picked out a few of the things I found most notable.

* Dragons and serpents – What I loved most about this book was that we learn much, much more about the dragons and sea serpents and how they are connected with the wizardwood used in the construction of the liveships. In Ship of Magic, all the talk of ‘tangles’, ‘silver providers’ and ‘She Who Remembers’ had me completely mystified, but now the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. Some links with the dragons from Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy are also emerging and bearing in mind how much I loved those books it’s great to come across anything that ties the two together.

* Amber – There continues to be an aura of mystery surrounding Amber; so far we know almost nothing about her origins or how she came to be in Bingtown. Remembering a certain character in The Farseer Trilogy, I’m starting to have my suspicions about her, but I will wait and see if anything else is revealed in the next book.

* Magic – The magical elements in this book are particularly strong. Not only do we have dragons, sea serpents and talking figureheads, but with the dream sequences and the abilities of certain beings to enter the thoughts of others, I was reminded of the Skill and the Wit from The Farseer books. I also loved the descriptions of Trehaug, the Trader city on the Rain Wild River where the Khuprus family live.

* Malta – I didn’t like her at all in the previous novel and in the first half of this one she continued to annoy me, but later in the book there are signs that she is growing and developing as a person. She is just one of several strong female characters in the trilogy; I have already mentioned Amber, but Althea, Keffria, Ronica and Etta all interest me too.

There is so much more I could say about this book but, to be honest, I just wanted to get this post written quickly so that I could move straight on to the final volume, Ship of Destiny, in which I hope some more of my questions will be answered!

This is book 13/20 for my 20 Books of Summer challenge.

Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb

After finishing Robin Hobb’s wonderful Farseer trilogy in November 2014 I knew I wanted to read more of her books. I was desperate to find out what would happen next to the Farseer characters so it was tempting to go straight to her Tawny Man trilogy, but after looking at some recommended reading orders, I decided it would be better to read her other series, The Liveship Traders, first. If none of this means anything to you because you’re unfamiliar with Robin Hobb, rest assured that reading Ship of Magic does not require any knowledge of previous Hobb novels and I’ve avoided spoiling them in the rest of this post!

Ship of Magic is set in the same world as the Farseer books, but the action this time centres around Bingtown, a coastal community of traders and merchants governed by the highly respected Bingtown Trader families, descendants of the original settlers of those shores who came from the mysterious Rain Wilds. The Bingtown Traders have maintained their connections with those who remained in the Rain Wilds and as part of this alliance the Rain Wild Traders provide the Bingtown Traders with the means to build a liveship – a debt so large that it can take generations to be paid off. Why is a liveship so important? Well, it is built from wizardwood – a magical wood with a mind of its own – and is the only type of vessel which can travel safely up the hazardous Rain Wild River to trade in the magnificent, enchanted goods that are available there.

At the beginning of the novel, the Vestrit family’s liveship, the Vivacia, is about to ‘quicken’ – the term given to the process by which a wizardwood ship comes to life after three generations of the family have died on board. Althea Vestrit is devastated by her father’s death, but excited at the thought of taking over the captaincy of the ship. After all, she has spent her childhood accompanying her father on his voyages and, as a blood-member of the family, she is the one who could be expected to share a close bond with the newly quickened Vivacia. She is bitterly disappointed, then, when it emerges that her father has actually left the ship to Kyle Haven, her elder sister’s husband, a man who has no understanding of what is involved in commanding a liveship. Furious and heartbroken, Althea decides to leave home and go out into the world where she can prove herself as a sailor and one day regain control of the Vivacia.

The edition of Ship of Magic I read is over 800 pages long, so you won’t be surprised to hear that there is a lot more to the plot than I have talked about so far. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, but I would like to briefly mention some of the other storylines and characters. First there’s Wintrow, Kyle’s son, who is taken from the monastery where he was studying to be a priest and not at all happy about being forced to serve with his father on board the Vivacia. Then there’s Wintrow’s sister Malta, left at home with her mother and grandmother. Malta longs for excitement in her life – to be allowed to go to balls, to wear grown-up dresses and be courted by young men – and she can’t understand why her family are so determined to stop her. Finally, there’s Kennit, a pirate captain who dreams of becoming a pirate king and is sailing up and down the coast waiting for the chance to capture a liveship of his own.

I really enjoyed this book; although I certainly hadn’t intended to wait three years before reading it, I’m glad I didn’t pick it up immediately after finishing the last Farseer book when I would undoubtedly have just wanted more of the same story. There were times when I felt there was a little bit too much going on in this novel and too many characters to get to know – but for the most part, I thought they were worth knowing! The only characters I actively disliked were Kyle, Malta and one of Kyle’s crew members, Torg. The rest were interesting, nuanced and well written. I was particularly intrigued by Kennit, who in many ways is one of the villains of the book, but who does seem to have a conscience in the form of a wizardwood charm worn on his wrist. I’m also hoping to learn more about the wood-carver Amber and the abandoned liveship Paragon in the next book.

The title of that next novel is The Mad Ship and I have included it on my 20 Books of Summer list, so expect to hear all about it soon!