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.

13 comments on “Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb

  • Penelope Wallace , Direct link to comment

    The whole trilogy is great, Rhiannon! But I still like the Assassin books best – the coming-of-age thing may be old hat to you, but then they’re quite old books. And I absolutely love the old assassin Chade, who would be the coolest ever middle-aged part to play if they’re ever filmed. He gets to play everything, from dashing resistance hero, to sinister ugly guy who scares children, to rousing the dead, to killing people with honour…

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      I think the switch from third person to first person was really jarring for me, since I went in expecting it to feel similar to the books I read before. It’s one of those series that I put down about 100 pages in, and am never quite sure whether I should try it again. I am terrible for being kind of bored by fantasy books at first, and then becoming completely obsessed with them once I’ve got far enough into them.

  • Anmiryam , Direct link to comment

    Love be these books with total passion. What I also loved about the Farseer Trilogy is that as in these books Hobb’s characters grow and change over the books. I was a lot more interested in the first trilogy as I moved through it and began to see how subversive the politics and magic system was, especially given the era in which it was written.

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      The character growth in the Liveship series, at least, is amazing. I think I’m about to fall down a deep, dark Robin Hobb books hole, considering how many series she’s written.

  • Jennifer , Direct link to comment

    Ooooh, you’re gonna love what happens with Malta in the future 🙂 Liveship’s the best of the stuff I’ve read of hers.

    I couldn’t get into Farseer either, and Rain Wilds…had problems. It was kinda terrible that I read one of the books and then forgot that I’d read it previously and reread it with no recollection….I am normally a lot better than that.

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      I actually really, really loved the first two books of the Rain Wilds series, but I found the third one really disappointing, and I kind of forgot about the series then and never finished it. I felt like most of the things I cared about (aka the story of the awesome dragon expert girl whose name I’ve forgotten) were resolved in the first two, I guess. I’m feeling motivated to try the series again, now I’ve got the Liveships series as context, but I’m concerned that now I’ve read Hobb’s other stuff, I’ll be as disappointed with it as other people seemed to be!

      And YES, MALTA. I’m about 100 pages into book 3, and Maltaaaa <3

  • B Whitworth , Direct link to comment

    Loved it as well. Althea is a great character, strong in her way, though perhaps not as good as she thinks she is, which is what I liked about her. Loved Kennit as well, especially how dark a character he is, and his rise to power is great. Liked Malta as well, particularly in how Hobb never shied away from how awful she could be. I think you will like her character growth over the course of the trilogy, she definitely grows up, if only in partially.
    Really like Brashen as well, what did you think of him?

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      I really like Brashen too! There are too many great characters to mention them all, haha.

  • Lindsay , Direct link to comment

    I love this series so much, much more than Farseers (although Fitz has eventually grown on me!), Althea and Malta are both wonderful. It’s actually one of my favourite fantasy series I’ve read as an adult! I loved Rain Wild Chronicles too.

    The change in style with the Farseers books was quite a shock – she writes so well from multiple perspectives, I think as the time I described it as like going from glorious technicolor to b&w! (Obviously I didn’t start her books in the correct order either!) Based on my own experience and other reviews I’ve seen, I have a theory that unless you start with the Farseers books that series won’t be your favourite. People who start with the Live Ship or Rain Wild books seem to prefer them.

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      Yes! I think that was my problem too. It was really jarring, especially as I felt I couldn’t connect with Fitz as much as some of the characters in Rain Wilds.

      Only about 100 pages into Book 3, but I’m still completely in love. It’s definitely turning out to be one of my favourite series too!

  • Mila , Direct link to comment

    Off topic, but is everything fine with you? You haven’t posted in a month, and you usually say it when you’re going on holiday. Hope things are ok.

    • Rhiannon , Direct link to comment

      Thank you for asking! <3 It's been a tough year at times, and although I didn't decide to take an official break last month, I decided to go easy on myself for a bit and somehow the weeks passed without me noticing. But I'm ok, and I should (fingers crossed) be back to posting in the next few days. 🙂

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