Author: Robin Hobb
Title: Ship of Magic (The Liveship Traders #1)
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Plot: Wizardwood, a sentient wood.
The most precious commodity in the world.
Like many other legendary wares, it comes only from the Rain River Wilds.
But how can one trade with the Rain Wilders, when only a liveship fashioned from wizardwood can negotiate the perilous waters of the Rain River? Rare and valuable a liveship will quicken only when three members, from successive generations, have died on board. The liveship Vivacia is about to undergo her quickening as Althea Vestrit’s father is carried on deck in his death-throes. Althea waits for the ship that she loves more than anything else in the world to awaken. Only to discover that the Vivacia has been signed away in her father’s will to her brutal brother-in-law, Kyle Haven…
Others plot to win or steal a liveship. The Paragon, known by many as the Pariah, went mad, turned turtle, and drowned his crew. Now he lies blind, lonely, and broken on a deserted beach. But greedy men have designs to restore him, to sail the waters of the Rain Wild River once more.
It’s been over a year since my last forage into the world of Robin Hobb’s imagination. It was time to return. I think – technically – I should have read the Liveship Trader’s trilogy between the previous two trilogies, but it didn’t dampen my enjoyment of either.
Ship of Magic is the first in the Liveship Trader’s trilogy. It’s a lengthy novel at over 800 pages and while I never felt it was dragging, in hindsight I recognise the pacing was slow at some points and there was a lot of scene-setting. But it works to immerse you in this world and gives you a chance to get to know the many characters that narrate the novel.
With an unexplainable bond to her liveship, Althea looses everything when she is cast from the ship. A woman in a man’s world, she will do whatever it takes to prove she is worthy of being a sailor and getting her ship back. Althea is headstrong and stubborn, but a likeable enough character.
Wintrow is forced to take her place aboard the ship; reluctant and unhappy, he wishes to deny the bond with the ship, desperate to return to his true calling as a priest. While Althea grows in herself, Wintrow’s character development is more extreme: he goes from unable to do anything to gaining a deeper understanding of his fellow shipmates and gains both skills and confidence in leaps and bounds.
“Many, of course, will rant and rave against the garment fate has woven for them, but they pick it up and don it all the same, and most wear it to the end of their days. You… you would rather go naked into the storm.”
The narration is split across multiple accounts; Althea and Wintrow only make up part of it. There are too many characters to explore in depth here: Kyle is shallow and selfish, unable to see the unhappiness he is causing his family; Kennit is a pirate with ambitions to be something so much more; Brashen just wants to make his way in the world and Malta is a spoilt brat who is very hard to like (but I have a feeling her development over the trilogy may be the most extreme) while her mother and grandmother struggle to keep the family collapsing in dept.
It’s a tale of family and friendship, love and loyalty and understanding what it takes to not only fulfil your dreams but to stand up for what is right. Althea must accept she isn’t as talented as she believes, and accepts hard lessons in an ultimately humble manner. Wintrow must learn, deep down, who he is and who he wants to be.
It’s a story of piracy and danger, of risking odds and gambling big. The characters all face their own struggles along the way, but the tension builds in the final quarter with life and death hanging in the balance for multiple characters.
While a long book, I was completely engrossed. The pacing is steady with the changing narrations helping move things along and prevent it from dragging at any point. Taking place over a year means you can return to characters throughout their growth without witnessing every small change.
I’m thoroughly looking forward to the next instalment.