Ship of Magic is the tale of a liveship (sentient sailing ship with a living figurehead), the family who owns her, and the friends and foes who hope to possess her. It follows the lives, and rides around inside the heads, of the characters. And there are plenty. Each one of them has their own storyline that eventually connects them to the liveship.
I finished Ship of Magic and dove headfirst into Mad Ship, which moves a lot faster than the whopping first book. The first book was 600-some pages and the time spent in the characters' heads sometimes had me so antsy I had to resist the impulse to read ahead, but the worldbuilding, the heady conflicts, and the depth of the characters was tantalizing. I love and hate a few of Hobbs' characters in almost equal measure, but each and every one of them is multi-faceted. It is a character-driven book, made up of a web of fascinatingly interwoven relationships. I particularly love how the characters transform and make unexpected bonds based on those transformations. Their development is fluid, like it should be, and no one of them seems completely good or evil (though there's one I just can't help but hate all around).
Ship of Magic addresses social and political issues, including slavery, treatment of women, political corruption, and financial greed. I've seen these issues rise from the prose of other novels, including the Discworld series. "Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things" is an appropriate quote from I Shall Wear Midnight. Slavery and being treated as things is part of what the female characters in the Liveship Trader series have to deal with on a daily basis, but it's evident in the prose that the author intends readers to feel as disgusted by it as the characters do. From the main character Althea being considered improper and a shame to her family because of her desire to sail instead of run a household, and the Chalcedean treatment of women as objects for men to use, there is a lot to get your righteous indignation up about.
Reading this book is an emotional rollercoaster, sometimes satisfying and sometimes frustrating, making your inner feminist ball up her fists in outrage. There are large parts that drag with exposition, making the second book a lot lighter in comparison. Hobb doesn't viciously kill off her characters like some authors do, but tortures them a lot more than I expected, having never read her before. Because of that, the series is sometimes difficult to read and yet I still want to find out if it ends well, or if certain characters get paid back for what they've done. Since Ship of Magic is the first book, a lot of the payback doesn't happen until the second, and even then drama is high and torture is staple.
I'd recommend Ship of Magic for someone who's in the mood for a big, thick epic fantasy story, heavy on dynamic female characters, piratey escapades and magical vessels. Either Hobb's style tightens up by the second book or I don't notice it as much, so if you can get past her over-decorated descriptions in Ship of Magic, you'll find it worth it.
|Ship of Magic (Hobb's writing) as a cake|
Just for fun, here's my impression of Terry Pratchett's and Robin Hobb's writing as cakes. I have no idea how the cake on the right would taste, but it's certainly pretty to look at! I'll let you decide why I chose them.
|Discworld (Pratchett's writing) as a cake|