Apparently The Ship of Magic (and possibly all of Robin Hobb’s books?) is the subject of a read-a-long currently? Certainly it seems to be everywhere at the moment? I didn’t pick this up because of that; it just suddenly seemed to call to me from where it has been languishing on the shelf for four years (oops). I really wish it hadn’t taken me so long to read because I adored this book with every fiber of my being.
Plot summary for The Ship of Magic:
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.
Star Rating for The Ship of Magic: * * * * * (five stars)
I have actually read Robin Hobb’s first series; the one that starts with Assassin’s Apprentice. It was a while ago and I don’t remember it all that clearly, but I think I was so-so about it. I liked it, but didn’t love it. The Ship of Magic and the Liveship Traders series takes place in the same world but, as far as I can tell, isn’t actually connected in the slightest. I certainly didn’t suffer from having zero recollection of the Farseer trilogy.
There are many different strands and layers to the plot, but the main point focuses on Althea Vestrit and her family’s liveship that has basically just come alive. Three generations of her family have died upon the Vivacia, and so her figurehead has now come alive and has a personality, hopes and fears of her own. The problem is that Althea’s brother-in-law has assumed command and won’t let her anywhere near the Vivacia, leading Althea to run off into the world in an attempt to prove herself.
That’s a pretty great plot all in itself, except there is so much more. So many subplots, and characters, and argh. Pirates, politics, mutinies, inheritances… There is such a lot going on and, unusually, I loved them all an equal amount. I never felt irritated when the focus shifted to a different character or subplot, because each one was fascinating in its own way.
I did not love each character equally, however! They are all flawed people who make mistakes and foolish decisions, and some of them I hated. I can only assume this is intentional on the part of the author, as each character is so real to me that they could practically walk off the page. The Ship of Magic is a very character driven story (although it has its fair share of action as well) and it would not have worked without that perfect balance of qualities within the story’s subjects.
What really made The Ship of Magic stand out for is how I was made to personally feel everything that happened. I was alternately outraged, thrilled, sad and disgusted by/with each of the characters and the events that occurred, and those feelings stayed with me long after I put the book down. I caught myself thinking about it in the shower and after I’d turned the light out in bed. It’s a book you carry with you, even when it’s not open in front of you.
It’s 880 pages long, but it flies by. Every second I wasn’t reading The Ship of Magic, I wanted to be. It’s lengthy, complex and somewhat complicated, but it manages to be in-depth without being heavy, and semi-formal without being boring. It is one of the most engrossing books I have ever read.
I’d bought the next book in the Liveship Traders series, The Mad Ship, before I’d even finished this one. It’s 906 pages long, but I’ll definitely be getting to it soon. In case it isn’t crystal clear, I loved this book.