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Ship of Magic

A book by Robin Hobb

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A sort of magical "Two Years before the Mast"

  • Aug 3, 2004
"Ship of Magic" is a little over 800 pages long and tells a slo-o-owly developing story from the multiple viewpoints of a family of liveship traders, the liveship herself once she is awakened, plus various sea serpents, a pirate king, and other more peripheral characters--at least they're peripheral in "Ship of Magic" but this is the only the first book of a trilogy, 'The Liveship Traders.'

I've also read this author's 'Farseer Trilogy,' and once settled into one of her books, it is very hard to put down until the last page is read. I'm kicking myself because I didn't immediately order the two concluding books of this trilogy as soon as I started "Ship of Magic." If Patrick O'Brien had collaborated with Charles Dickens and written "Oliver Twist Goes to Sea in a Magical Ship," this book might have been the outcome.

All of the characters are minutely detailed and believable, even the would-be pirate king, who is a much nastier man than Gilbert and Sullivan would have him. He ends up performing glorious deeds by accident, and I wouldn't be surprised if his title turns out to be 'the Great Liberator' rather than 'King' by the end of this trilogy.

The man who does the most evil in this book is a merchant captain who believes that he alone knows the right course to steer, both for his liveship and his family. In fact, I wonder if "Billy Budd" was also an inspiration for "Ship of Magic." The relationships between the self-righteous captain, his unworldly son, and an evil Claggart-like second mate are almost pure Melville. The innocent boy is even accidentally responsible for the deaths of his shipmates, brought about when he tries to comfort a dying slave.

Merchants, pirates, slavers, and hunters (meat ships) are all brought to life in a fantasy setting that seems to draw on the 18th century British Empire for its inspiration. The trading port of Bingtown is only a few generations away from having been forcibly settled by convicts and debtors. The fortunes of its most prominent merchant families are bound to their liveships, which are sailing vessels partially constructed of wizardwood. When the well-respected Captain Vestrit dies in his prime, he wills his liveship 'Vivacia' to his priggish son-in-law rather than to his daughter.

Thus begins his family's precipitous decline, and the start of what promises to be a fascinating saga. I am very much looking forward to the arrival of "Mad Ship," the second book in this magical seafaring trilogy.

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More Ship of Magic reviews
review by . March 19, 2011
Vivacia is a liveship - a seagoing vessel made of wizardwood sailing out of the trading hub Bingtown - that has magically come alive into self-awareness after the death of Ephron Vestrit, patriarch of the family that owns her. His youngest daughter, Althea, feels her it is her rightful legacy to command the Vivacia but the elders of the family, her mother, Ronica, and her older sister, Keffria, persuade Ephron before his death that it is in the family's best interests to give the captain's …
About the reviewer
Elaine Lovitt ()
I'm a retired geek whose goal is to move to Discworld and apprentice myself to Granny Weatherwax. I have degrees in Astronomy and Computer Science, but was seduced by the Dark Side a few years before … more
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About this book


Robin Hobb, author of the Farseer trilogy, has returned to that world for a new series.Ship of Magicis a sea tale, reminiscent ofMoby DickandPatrick O'Brian'sAubrey/Maturin series in its details of shipboard life. It is also a fantasy adventure with sea serpents, pirates, and all sorts of magic. Theliveshipshave distinct personalities and partner with specific people, somewhat likeAnne McCaffrey'sBrain ships and their Brawns, though these are trading ships and have full crews.

Hobb has peopled the book with many wonderfully developed characters. Most of the primary ones are members of the Vestritts, an Old Trader family which owns the liveship Vivacia. Their stories are intercut with those of Kennit, the ambitious pirate Brashen, the disinherited scion of another family who served on the Vestritt's ship, and Paragon, an old liveship abandoned and believed mad. The sentient sea serpents have their own story hinted at, as well.

Though Ship of Magic is full of action, none of the plotlines get resolved in this book. Readers who resent being left with many questions and few answers after almost 700 pages should think twice before starting, or wait until the rest of the series is out so that their suspense won't be too prolonged. But Hobb's writing draws you in and makes you care desperately about what will happen next, the mark of a terrific storyteller. --Nona Vero --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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ISBN-10: 0553575635
ISBN-13: 978-0553575637
Author: Robin Hobb
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Spectra
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