Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb
Oh my god, I’m so in love with this series right now.
The Liveship Traders Trilogy was recommended to me by Claire Rousseau on Twitter, who described it as “pirates and courtship and women crossdressing to go to sea.” Obviously, I was sold. It’s my second Robin Hobb series, after reading (most of) the Rain Wild Chronicles a few years ago. Although I adored the first two books in that series, when I moved onto her Farseer trilogy, the massive switch in style (and the kind of blah, seen-it-before male assassin coming of age story) put me off catching up on any of the others.
But this book. This book.
Like many wonderful and addictive fantasy series, I almost put this down after about 150 pages, because it really takes its time to get going. It sets up the world, sets up its large cast of characters, and leaps from storyline to storyline as things start to come together, resulting in an opening that’s difficult to invest in, and an ensuing story that takes over your whole brain. And once it kicks off, I fell completely in love.
I am obsessed with this cast of characters. I’m just reviewing the first book here, because I haven’t finished the series yet, so it’s possible that the remaining book and a half will fall to pieces. But these characters.
First, Althea Vestrit, who is already one of my favourite characters of all time. She’s a complete badass, if also a little selfish and spoiled at first. She’s grown up travelling on her father’s liveship — a magical trading ship that bonds with its owners and comes to life after three of them have died on its decks — and she has always believed that she would captain the newly-awakened Vivacia herself after her father’s eventual death. But when her father dies, the ship is instead given to her brother-in-law, a selfish, arrogant man who only cares about how much profit the Vivacia can bring him. He forbids Althea from ever stepping foot on the shop again, but in a fit of anger, he swears by the gods that if she could ever get proof that she worked successfully on any other ship, the Vivacia would be hers. It’s Althea’s only chance, so she disguises herself as a boy and sets sail on a mission to earn her liveship back.
Back home, her mother Ronica is stuck dealing with the death of her husband, the disappearance of her daughter, and the financial ruin that seems to be falling down upon them. Slavery has been introduced to Bingtown, where they live, and the only way to compete would be to use slaves on her property herself, but Ronica is determined that the old ways must prevail over the approach of these heartless newcomers. With her is her older daughter Keffria, a woman who’s suddenly realized that she’s disregarded by her husband and disrespected by her daughter, and who is determined to prove herself.
And then there’s Malta. The wonderful, horrible Malta, Keffria’s self-centered and ruthless thirteen-year-old daughter. She’s exactly what people accuse Sansa Stark of being, like a young Cersei Lannister, at least at first. She’s delightfully, hatefully awful, obsessed with jewels and parties and manipulating everyone around her to adore her, but she doesn’t understand the forces that she’s messing with, and she could end up in far deeper trouble than she realizes. I love her. I can’t stand her. I can’t wait to see where her story goes.
There’s also Wintrow, Keffria’s teenage son, who was training to be a priest before his father forced him to travel on his liveship instead. He feels like a prisoner there, an unhappiness sensed by the newly-awakened Vivacia. And then there’s Captain Kennit, a ruthless pirate who dreams of being a king, is the true villain of the story, but somehow keeps stumbling into appearing the hero instead.
And I just love it all. I’m flailing so much. I’m sure the series has flaws that will become apparent to me once I’ve finished it and given it space, but I’m currently in that addicted and adoring space that you find so rarely, when an epic book series completely sweeps you away. I definitely have to write a whole post about Malta, once I’ve finished reading. In the meantime, if you haven’t tried this series, I really, really recommend you pick it up. It’s so amazingly, wonderfully enchanting, with rich, flawed characters, buckets of adventure and just a hint of dragons.