Titles / Ship of Magic, The Mad Ship and Ship of Destiny
Author / Robin Hobb
Publication date / 1998, 1999 and 2000 (first published)
Overall star rating / ★★★★★
No spoilers. It takes place in the same world as the Farseer trilogy (the first trilogy in a series of trilogies) on the coast far to the south of the Six Duchies. Mainly following the Vestrit family of Bingtown, it introduces Liveships – living ships made of wizard wood that are the main source of income and prosperity for Trader families. In book one we see the characters gather for the quickening of Vivacia (the Vestrit’s Liveship) but not all goes to plan for the family. That is all I am going to say about the plot, because I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone.
This is a large series with an collective page number of around 2700 pages, but unlike with the Farseer trilogy I didn’t find that it dragged or that any book was too long. However I have heard that the length is an issue for some. The plot was engaging throughout and, as always with Robin Hobb books, the character development is extremely well done. There is a full cast of characters that are complex, interesting, frustrating etc and they are all a pleasure to read about, even the characters that you dislike. Throughout the trilogy we see the characters shift and develop as their put into situations that you just don’t see coming. Hobb’s characterisation are just spectacular – the heroes are flawed, and she tries to make the villains sympathetic in some ways. It is not a question of good vs evil, and it’s never black or white. Althea, for example, we immediately identify and root for, but we also very clearly see her flaws. Another example is Kennit – he is a bad man (there is no denying that) yet there is an element of readers rooting for him as well (I personally really dislike him!!). Even though there are about 10 characters (off the top of my head) that we follow closely throughout the books, not including the Liveships, I never had an issue remembering who was who. All of the characters are distinctive and I think any trouble you may have initially will resolve itself if you just continue reading.
The theme of morals is intertwined with the plot throughout the trilogy (at least that’s how I saw it) and I personally really enjoyed how morals are seen/used by all of the characters. I found the discussion of morality was subtle and well done – it doesn’t thrust it in your face. You end up just picking up on some ideas throughout the book. Wintrow is a great example of the conflicting battle of morality. Throughout the trilogy he is in conflict about not only his morals, but about his circumstance and his own mind. It it not just Wintrow though. Many of the characters face a decision of either being morally right or choosing a profitable action. Another theme is of growth (or maturity), which we see mostly through the development of the younger characters, such as Malta and Selden. They, along with all the characters, are faced with adversity and is interesting to see whether they rise to the occasion or whether they crumble under the pressure.
Overall this is an amazing trilogy with a really satisfying conclusion. If you like character driven fantasy, then I am putting it out there that Robin Hobb is the author for you. The plot and setting are completely unique, and it is just a pleasure to read. The characters are the best part of this trilogy, so I tip my imaginary hat to Robin Hobb for creating such a diverse and distinctive set of characters. I would definitely recommend you read the Farseer trilogy before reading the Liveship Traders trilogy, but you don’t have to. If you like character-driven fantasy then I would highly recommend checking out Hobb’s work, but be aware that her books are not fast-paced, action packed reads. They are intricately made epic stories that can be a little slow but are well worth a read. I am very much looking forward to starting the Tawny Man trilogy which is the next trilogy in the series.
Have you read the series? What did you think?
See you next time