Thursday 25 April 2013

The Ship of Magic

At last I've finished my second book for Carl's Once Upon a Time VII fantasy book challenge. It's really no wonder it's taken me this long as this second book was 880 pages long. The length, really, of almost three books. Anyway, the book is The Ship of Magic, book one of Robin Hobb's 'Liveship Trader' trilogy.

Althea Vestrit is a young woman from an Old Trader family of Bingtown on The Cursed Shores. Her family have a Liveship, Vivacia, that has yet to 'quicken', ie. come alive. But the time is close. Althea's father, Ephron, lies dying at home and his death will be the third generation of Vestrits needed to quicken the ship. Althea hopes that when her father dies she will be captain of the ship and supplant the vicious Kyle Haven, her elder sister, Keffria's, husband. Things do not go according to plan. Her father is brought down to die on the ship and Althea discovers that the ship has been given to Keffria and thus Kyle remains captain. Althea is devastated as it is her that her father has been grooming to take over the ship, but in her absence he's been persuaded to change his will.

However, a blood family member must remain on board to 'connect' with the ship. Althea presumes that will be her. But again she is wrong. Kyle and Keffria have brought their elder son, thirteen year old, Wintrow, home from the monastry where he was preparing to be a priest of Sa. He too is devastated as this is not what he wants. Wintrow is a quiet, sensible, steady boy, not adventurous or rowdy. He tries to reason with his parents and grandmother but none of them understand, least of all his violent father.

After Elphron's death and Vivacia's quickening the family is torn assumder. Althea, completely undone by what she considers a family betrayal, walks out. Wintrow is forced against his will to sail on the ship. He's drawn to Vivacia, in the shape of the figurehead of the ship, but hated by his father and the rest of the crew. He has to grow up very quickly and learn how to survive in this adult world that nothing has prepared him for.

Meanwhile things back in the Vestrit family home are going from bad to much worse. The family has lost much of its wealth due to new trader families moving to Bingtown. They bring with them the scourge of slave ownership, something the Old Traders have never approved of. Like all Liveship owners the family made a bargain with a family who live in The Rain Wild, up river, in order to get the wizardwood to build their ship. It's a dangerous, magical area, and the trader families pay a high price for their proximity to it... deformed babies etc. Debts for the ships must be paid. 'Blood or coin'. If the family cannot get together the money, the Rain Wild family will take a member of the Vestrit family. Keffria's daughter, Malta, a spoilt brat, has no idea of the danger she's in by rebelling as she does.

Althea has taken off in the belief that she can turn herself into a proper sailor by sailing on a hunting ship, and thus get Vivacia back from Kyle. Wintrow is in purgatory, unable to please his father whatever he does. A pirate, Kennit, to the south of Bingtown wants to own a Liveship and make himself king of the pirates. A wrecked, 'mad' Liveship on the coast near Bingtown is attracting unwanted attention but gains a friend. And the sea serpents, once very rare, are suddenly too plentiful and, strangely, moving north. What is going on?

It's been several years since I read anything by Robin Hobb and that was the last book in her 'Farseer' trilogy. The Liveship Trader books are set on the same world and connect. I'm not sure how yet but gather all will be made clear eventually. I'd forgotten what a brilliant writer she is. No author could produce a book like this and *not* be brilliant to be honest. There are so many layers, so many different points of view and plot threads to keep an eye on that you'd just have to be some kind of genius otherwise you simply couldn't do it. But it's not just that, it's that her writing is wonderful. It grips you by the throat and doesn't let up. At the end of it you feel like you've been through the mill several times: exhausted and wrung out.

Because here's the thing with these books - they are not a cheerful read. If you want that, choose another author. Robin Hobb is *mean* to her characters. They suffer. The torment is almost unbearable. I have an over-sensitive reaction to injustice so at times this book was pergatory for me. I desperately wanted several people to get their come-uppance, some do but others I fear I will have to wait for subsequent books for that to happen.

Which again proves the quality of Hobb's writing. Because there are no saints in these books. Althea is pig-headed and stubborn, Wintrow is actually 'saintly' but also pig-headed and never takes the straight road when a more diffcult one is available. Brashen Trell, probably my favourite character, is the subject of a 'Will they, won't they?' question all the way through with Althea, but he too is stubborn, inclined to drink too much and enjoy illicit substances.

I think there was only one aspect of the story I found a bit superfluous and that's the scenes with the sea serpents. They were few and far between but didn't feel clear to me, but I fully understand that in later books they may play a much bigger role and it was not a problem. I will say too that this book is not really a stand-alone. It's quite clear the story continues on and many things are not resolved. Not that that is a problem for me as I fully intend to read on once I have my breath back. My head is so full of these characters at the moment, the world of the Bingtown Traders and the seas around them is so real that it almost feels like it must exist somewhere.

To my delight I've discovered that Robin Hobb's latest four books are a continuation of this trilogy. They're called The Rain Wild Chronicles and presumably deal with the magical and dangerous area that we only get glimpses of in The Ship of Magic. I honestly can't wait and plan to continue reading through the year until I get up to date.


DesLily said...

wow huge book! But when they are good they don't seem quite as big as they are...except for holding them..heh.

Glad you liked the book! I'd like to read her 'dragon ones" but I'm not about to read all the ones leading up to them soooo I'll put that for another day lol

I always feel like I've read 3 books when I read one over 800 pages too! lol..great minds think alike! lol

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

This sounds enormously complicated and exhausting to read and keep track of everything! I haven't read any of this author's books - they sound full of depth and true to life in a fantasy world!

I used to really enjoy losing myself in long, complicated books, but these days I find them very tiring. But I will look out for Robin Hobb's books from now on.

Peggy Ann said...

Wow it is long! I bet my daughter in law would love it though. Will have to keep it in mind for a gift!

Cheryl @ Tales of the Marvelous said...

This sounds like a fascinating magical world! I love the idea of intriguing. I'm not sure I could take tormented characters for almost 900 pages though... :/

GeraniumCat said...

Oh boy,you have so much more pain to come :-) but lots on enjoyment, including gradually seeing things fit together. The latest ones are gradually completing it - I only have one of them left to read, and one of the characters is in such a bad situation it's almost impossible to believe they can be extricated. I can't wait to find out what will happen.

There's one thing surprises me about Robin Hobb, and that's that she could write a trilogy I loathe - the Soldier Son one. I did finish it, by dint of reading the last chapter of the final one and then working backwards while I filled in most of the missing detail, but I hated the main character, who was whiny and irritating. Yet I love Malta Vestrit!

Cath said...

Pat: You're right, the book went quickly in the end because I was enjoying it so much.

There is a huge run-up to the the dragons in these books. And several series to get through. I know there are dragons in the last book of the first series, The Farseer books, but have no idea if there are any in The Liveship Trader series, though I have my suspicions. If you wait for me to read them all, then I can tell you. LOL

Margaret: Yes, the books are rather complicated but, oddly, not at all hard to follow. Also, as you say, rather true to life for a fantasy series. Often such books are completely alien, whereas this could actually be an historical series if it weren't for the magical aspect. Oddly, for books that are quite big and complicated, the books read very easily and are page-turners. The Quality of Hobb's writing accounts for that.

Peggy: The book would make an excellent gift for a lover of fantasy novels.

Cheryl: I actually have quite a low tolerance for books full of torment and characters who suffer a lot. So *why* I love Robin Hobb's book so mch is a bit of a mystery!

Geranium Cat: Oh joy. LOL. But weirdly I don't mind a bit. I knew that nothing would be a bed of roses in this series as it wasn't in the Farseer books and no reason to think anything would change.

Oh, that's interesting about the SS series. I seem to recall my husband read those and wasn't too smitten either. How odd. I have one of her books as Megan Lindholm to read too: Wizard of the Pigeons. I'll be very intersted to see what it's like.

I have to say, I was *thrilled* when I realised that her last four books connect with the Liveship Trader books, as I honestly had no idea. I think I might like this LT series better than the Farseer ones and I honestly was not expecting to.

I think with Malta, yes she is rather irritating, but she also has spirit and determination, just needs to grow up a bit, imo. I like her too despite myself. Can't wait to see what happens to her, I have my theories...

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

I am not a huge fan of fantasy and even though I have been introduced to the genre through a couple of author review requests, they are still not books that I would pick up on a regular basis.

I don't like it much when books have that 'to be continued' feel either. I like story (or an episode of it) to have some kind of closure, so that I don't feel pressured to rush out and buy the rest of the series, before I forget what is going on in the storyline.

I think that the real 'deal breaker' for me would be the sheer length of the books. I haven't read a real 'chunkster' for some time and I quite like it like that. It seems to take me so long to read any book these days, that it would seem more of a chore than a pleasure to plow through something this long.

On that basis, I think that this series is definitely not for me, although you have given an excellent account and review and your enjoyment shows through in your words, thanks for sharing,


Lynn said...

I've just read the first in the Farseer Trilogy and loved it - I guess I'll get to this one eventually! Robin Hobb is absolutely amazing and I can't believe I waited so long to read her books.
Lynn :D

Susan said...

As you know, I have this book on my shelf for the OuaT challenge! I've picked it up and put it down, because of it's size - I need to be in the right mood to lose myself in a big book. I'm almost there, for this one :-) Your review makes me so excited about it! I've loved the FArseer trilogy - it's one of my favourites - and tried the soldier son series - I have read book, one, and have book 2 on my shelf. I'm not as enthralled with it, as it's been a few years since I read book one. The Tawny Man series is a sequel to FarSeer and it's excellent too, though I think you are right, there is a key of tormented characters in her work.

I'm glad you enjoyed this one so much. I have high hopes for me now! lol

Cath said...

Yvonne: No, The Ship of Magic is not a book I would have recommended to you in any way. Just as well we don't all like the same thing or life would be very tedious. LOL

Lynn: And I can't believe I waited so long to try this Liveship Trader series. So glad you loved the first Farseer book.

Susan: I hope you do pick this one up for OUaT, I would love to hear what you think. As you may have noticed, Geranium Cat also did not care for the Soldier Son books. My husband felt the same so it's not just you.

Yes, I'll be moving on through the books now as I want to get up to the Rain Wild books... even though I still have two more LT books to read. LOL.