36. SHIP OF MAGIC, BY ROBIN HOBB (Book 1 of The Liveship Traders, Book 4 of The Realm of the Elderlings)
I was already a big fan of Robin Hobb (REALLY big fan, like, flag-waving shirt-wearing fan) so I wondered if I should read any of her books this year. After all, the whole point of this reading challenge was for me to discover new good female authors... But then, I can’t be too strict with myself, especially when it comes to my hobbies. Besides, in spite of being such a fan of her writing, I’ve only read her Farseer trylogy and a few of her short stories, so it’s not like I’d have to look too hard to find stuff I haven’t read.
So this is totes not cheating. Don’t argue with me.
Synopsis: After the death of Ephron Vestrit, the patriarch of a great Trader family, many changes are wrought in the lives of the survivors. His son-in-law, Kyle, wants the same kind of power Ephron had and will hesitate to brutalize his family to get respect. Althea, the youngest daughter, feels cheated for not getting the family ship as her inheritance. Ronica, Ephron’s widow, accustomed to being the matriarch and handling the land and holdings, tries desperately to reconcile Kyle’s tyranny with the family’s needs. Keffria, Kyle’s wife, feels adrift in the turbulence of wills that has become her day-to-day life. The land itself is changing, with the new king revoking his promise to the people of the colony and allowing new settlers to arrive, bringing slavery and piracy to their shores and ignoring the mystical customs of the people. In the midst of it all, Vivacia, the family liveship, a sentient entity containing the knowledge and experience of three generations of Vestrits, but with her own feelings and emotions, awakens.
Overall enjoyment: As I've said before, I’m a big fan of Robing. I have never read something of hers that I didn’t enjoy. This was no exception, but the ending left me wanting. This is the first book in a trilogy, so it’s to be expected that the story wouldn’t end with it, but I did expect some kind of partial conclusion.
Plot: As usual with Robin, the story starts very slow. The plot depends a lot on the political background and characterization, so there’s a lot of information she has to give you before the action starts. The story doesn’t end with this book, so I can’t judge how it goes, but so far it’s very interesting and compelling. The kind of book you stay up late reading because you just can’t put it down.
Characters: This is, indisputably, her strong suit. She’s good at everything else, in my opinion, but her characterization and character development is FLAWLESS. She makes me want to fall to my knees, raise my arms up and shout I’M NOT WORTHY!!! She is who I try to mimic when I write my own characters. She takes “show, don’t tell” to the extreme: there isn’t a single personality description in the entire book, but I could still write essays on every character’s personalities. Including the secondary ones. Hell, even the ones that appear for two paragraphs. She’s that good.
World/setting: It’s the Realm of the Elderlings, the same setting of the Farseer trilogy. Actually, it’s the same world, not exactly the same setting: the Farseer trilogy is set in the Six Duchies, the Liveship Traders is set more to the south, in a number of different coastal cities. It is an amazing place, fascinating and magical, very carefully created. If I had to find fault in it, however, I would say that she doesn’t create speech variations for people who live very far away from each other. And she doesn’t mention any different languages, so I assume everybody speaks the same language all over the world; that is a bit of a stretch in world-building.
Writing style: Very clear and straightforward, with just enough poetry in it to set the fantasy atmosphere.
Representation: This, on the other hand, is her weak spot. She doesn’t have a lot of representation for POC. In fact, the slavery she describes happens in the Roman model; therefore, between white people. There is no variation of ethnicity in her world. She is only marginally better at representing different sexualities. In this book, there isn’t much of it. There probably will be some further in the story, since she tends to do “straightbaiting”. I’ll just have to wait and see.
Political correctness: She does an amazing job at portraying women. And she also shows the effects of slavery; not just how it affects the slaves, but how it affects the people who live in places where slavery is commonplace. Actually, when someone takes so much care with the characterization, it’s very hard for them to commit PC gaffes, since she treats all the people like people.
Up next: Dollbaby, by Laura Lane McNeal