In keeping with my promise to do something about all those unread books that populate the shelves of my loft, especially those which have been waiting for my attention for some time now, I elected to start Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders trilogy. Yes, to my shame it was still just sitting there, all three volumes purchased in hardcover format upon their release. Hey, what can I say!?! Graduating from Law School, passing the Bar, and trying to maintain some semblance of social life take their toll on you...;-) Can you believe that I have an Advance Reading Copy of George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones!?! And no, it's definitely not for sale!!!:-)
I have to admit that I initially had reservations concerning Ship of Magic. Of course, I had read The Farseer trilogy and absolutely loved it, even with its anti-climatic ending. So I was no stranger to Hobb's work. But this series appeared to be so different. The cover blurb is particularly uninspiring. Bantam Spectra's marketing people really let one slip...
At first, it looked as if it would be a rousing seafaring story, with a lot of action and filled with stereotypes. Hence, I had definite doubts pertaining to this fantasy on the high seas... Well, I should have known better!:-) Hobb's tale draws you in, catching hold and not letting go. I simply could not put it down, which is the mark of a wonderful storyteller!
As always, Hobb shows an extraordinary talent for characterization. This is a novel filled with well developed characters, all of them with much depth. And she hints at a lot of things to come. However, this is not a book based on a lot of action. But if you enjoy convoluted plots and countless subplots, then this will be quite a treat!:-)
The Liveship Traders encompass all that is traditional. But now, due to a corrupt ruler to the south, they must contend with a new breed of traders, bringing new commercial ideas and slavery in their wake, to the detriment of those who have toiled for generations to achieve success. The Old Traders are desperately attempting to retain their rightful position in Bingtown, and to keep their secret covenant with the exotic and mysterious Rain Wild Traders, who possess arcane knowledge and powers. Social issues such as slavery, servitude and the emancipation of women also occupy an important place in the storyline. And at the heart of the tale lie the Liveships. These vessels made of wizardwood can become sentient beings after a number of generations.
This is probably the most innovative fantasy I've read in years. The addition of unusual fantasy concepts such as pirates and sea serpents also brings a new dimension to this series.
In a genre where veritable originality is hard to come by, Hobb has created a world that really captures the imagination. It is a delight to follow Althea, feisty female heroine bereft of her rightful inheritance for the ostensible good of the family; Wintrow, a young man torn from his vocation to become a priest of Sa to live a life he never wanted; Captain Kennit, a pirate who would rise above all the others to rule the uncharted Pirate Isles and who desires to capture a Liveship for himself, something which has never been done before; Maulkin, Sessura and Shreever, enigmatic sea serpents who are desperately looking for She Who Remembers before they forget that they have to be reborn and become Masters again; Paragon, a Liveship that went mad, or so it is believed; Malta, a young woman who may have unwittingly courted the son of one of the most powerful Rain Wild Traders' families, and the list goes on and on...:-)
The only negative aspect of this book is the fact that it's, in essence, a very long introduction to what will be quite a story. Which means that there is basically no resolution at the end, only more questions. So if you're a one-plot kind of reader, you may resent this novel.
But if you enjoy multi-layered storylines, this one is definitely for you. Ship of Magic stands on its own, brilliant and refreshing, in a sea (no pun intended!) of weak and lackluster fantasy series.
Highly recommended. Will be hard to put down!:-) If I could sum it all up with one word, it would have to be "unique." If you are looking for something special, something different, this one comes with the highest possible recommendation.
Final verdict: 9/10