Book Review 27 – Ship of Magic

6460575Ship of Magic
(Liveship Traders #1)
by Robin Hobb

Challenge: Bralnica reading challenge – May

Goodreads link

Goodreads summary:

Bingtown is a hub of exotic trade and home to a merchant nobility famed for its liveships – —rare vessels carved from wizardwood, which ripens magically into sentient awareness. The fortunes of one of Bingtown’s oldest families rest on the newly awakened liveship Vivacia.

For Althea Vestrit, the ship is her rightful legacy unjustly denied her—a legacy she will risk anything to reclaim. For Althea’s young nephew Wintrow, wrenched from his religious studies and forced to serve aboard ship, Vivacia is a life sentence.

But the fate of the Vestrit family—and the ship—may ultimately lie in the hands of an outsider. The ruthless pirate Kennit seeks a way to seize power over all the denizens of the Pirate Isles…and the first step of his plan requires him to capture his own liveship and bend it to his will….

4 star

This book pleasantly surprised me with its ideas, world building, and characters. I was plunged into a universe where ships built of wizardwood can come to life, where monsters are real, and where people struggle against change and corruption. There’s so much I could write about the book which took over my free time in the past days, but I’ll try to keep to the major points and not spoil too many important plot points and developments. I believe I’ll be able to do so easily because there are really so many characters and events to write about. 😀

 This trilogy is set into a wider universe spanning several books, but since other books don’t play into this series it didn’t matter that I did not read the first three books. I do have a feeling that certain details simply went over my head, but since Ship of Magic is filled with so many new ideas, objects and beliefs fleshing out the universe, I’m not bothered by an occasional missed reminder of the previous trilogy.


The book starts with awakening sea-serpents who decide to follow one of them towards a place where they’ll find their memories. I was puzzled but also intrigued – they sounded rather mad. By the end of the book though, I really hoped we’d get to the bottom of their mystery and put their confusion and frustration behind. They mostly travel the seas in the search for the One Who Remembers, whoever that is. I’m sure they will prove to be really important in next books; here they are just one other mystery to puzzle out.

Human characters are far more fascinating, and their fates precarious. I was figuratively perched at the end of my seat the entire time. I couldn’t let go of the book. The author does everything she can to keep events in suspension, hopping from one character to the other as they come closer together. Usually I don’t like too many point of views in a book, but here they work out nicely.

The people we follow are Althea and Brashen, two sailors who must leave behind the newly awakened liveship Vivacia and take a job on a whaler. Althea for the experience she needs to win over her ship from her brother-in-law Kyle, Brashen for the money. Althea is a character I liked despite her somewhat stubborn and hot-blooded nature. She’s determined and driven, but she sometimes still thinks like a daughter of a trader family, a life that guaranteed her certain protections and advantages on a family ship. Brashen is there to occasionally advise her, but he’s got enough of his own problems to meddle too much. There’s something going on between them, but I doubt Althea will form a firm romantic relationship with him any time soon. They suit each other, but I dislike the drug habit Brashen picks up during the book – I really hate it. Yes, it’s a stimulant, but Althea’s father was right to forbid it in his crew when he was alive.

Then there are Ronica, Keffria, and Malta in Bingtown. I like Ronica, but I can’t stand her grand-daughter Malta. This is one spoiled child with a pigheaded drive to enter adult society and be considered a woman. She doesn’t really know what that means – for her it is just flirting, dresses, and bragging rights. Boy does this chit want to lord it over her friends… Her grandmother Ronica is a practical woman with many responsibilities. It’s basically she who manages the family finances and keeps things in order, but she finds herself rudely kicked aside by her son-in-law Kyle. She doesn’t give up but decides to get her daughter Keffria on her side and together these women try to save the family. Not that Malta is helping anyone with it… I just admire Ronica but she’s really blind sometimes.


Wintrow (Art by *A6A7)

Other characters we follow are liveship Vivacia, Wintrow, and his father Kyle. I felt really sorry for the boy pulled out of the monastery and rudely tied to the ship because he is blood to the Vestrit family. His place by right belongs to Althea but Kyle’s attitude towards her causes a rift in the family and she’s driven away from her beloved ship. Wintrow desperately wants to return to a place he thinks of as home and his religious views often clash with his father and other people. The religion of Sa is all about love, understanding, not causing pain and so on, which hardened sailors and a power-hungry captain don’t understand. The boy is miserable and unwilling to form a bond with the ship, which hurts both him and her in return. The ship can feel his emotions and that of her sailors, so she truly dislikes the general atmosphere of discontent on board. Events truly spiral out of control when Kyle decides to enter into slave trade and use the unique ship to transport them to new markets. Vivacia can feel them and almost goes mad as a result. Sea-serpents follow her and wait for dead slaves to be thrown over-board, which only makes it worse.

The last group of characters we read about are the pirates. We have captain Kennit whose one goal in life is to become a Pirate King and capture a liveship. He does everything he can to gain more power, money, and prestige. He’s a cruel, calculating man, but he’s one lucky bastard. His words and actions often get misconstrued by other men and women, usually they believe he really cares about them or only jokes about killing them. They believe his motivations to be similar to theirs – to be free of the oppression of the empire, slavery, and poverty – which would be funny if it wouldn’t make you want to cry at the irony. His first mate in particular does a lot to make Kennit appear benevolent, just, and a great pirate. Their bargain that they hunt down a slave ship for every liveship they unsuccessfully pursue makes Kennit a legend among slaves, many eagerly joining his growing pirate armada. They will be so disappointed once he reveals his true face.

But this is not all this book has to offer – we have more mysteries and characters to follow. I’m intrigued by the disfigured people of the River territories near Bingtown. They trade with magical items and build liveships but they are also the ones who hold the debts of many trade families there, the Vestrit one of them. We will see more of them and I can’t wait to have the time for another 800 page book.


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