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Mad Ship, by Robin Hobb
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Spectra
Published: 2000
Review Posted: 7/1/2013
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 8 out of 10

Mad Ship, by Robin Hobb

Book Review by Joshua Palmatier

Have you read this book?

I finished Mad Ship on my way back from Kansas City this past week. It's the second book in the Liveship Traders series by Robin Hobb, and yes, that means I'm woefully way behind in my Robin Hobb reading. But I'm making inroads.

This picks up the story from the first book, Ship of Magic, pretty much right after the ending of that book. Really, this isn't so much a trilogy as it is one long extended book, so I'll be doing a little bit of comparison between it and this one. First off, I felt that this book was much more solid in terms of plot. The first book had the feel, in spots, that things weren't connected and the author was simply trying to find something for a particular character to be doing while the rest of the important stuff was happening elsewhere. Not so with this book. Here I felt that all of the various character threads were interwoven and were heading toward a central conclusion. That conclusion doesn't really happen in this book, but many of the threads do come together at the end for a relatively satisfactory ending. There are still some massive dangling threads, and we do have some "cliffhangery" types of details, but the ending was still solid.

Another thing that I felt was carried off better in this book was the characterizations themselves. In particular, we get to see Malta--a spoiled brat in the first book--mature and change completely and in utterly believable fashion. That was the strongest characterization here. But attention was paid to Malta's grandmother and a few of the others. There were a few characters that didn't seem to change much, but I feel that this is mostly because of what is going to happen in the third book.

In this book, we get many revelations regarding exactly what was set up in the first book. We find out what the serpents are, learn many intriguing details about the Liveships themselves, and we get to see exactly how the Rain River Wild people live. All of these were interesting pieces in the first book that left me wanting to read more, so the fact that they haven't been kept secret "until the very end" is nice. Instead, we get even more intriguing things to think about here. I like how the plot lines are all progressing, and like some of the rather dramatic changes we see in the world itself (one of my pet peeves of fantasy novels is that often the world doesn't seem to change much, just naturally nor in reaction to the events of the novel). So not only are the characters changing significantly here, the world is reacting as well.

The only reason this isn't getting a higher rating is because, as in the first book, I once again feel that the writing itself is a little unnecessarily dense. There are a lot of words here, and I don't feel that they are all needed to get the point across. Some of the details of the world, minor and not needed for the plot, are exceptional and really place me in the world. These I like. However, too many of them becomes overwhelming, and in many situations the reader gets "reminded" of events that have happened before to a particular character a little too often, even when referring to events that have happened in this book. I think this is a consequence of the fact that there are so many characters and plotlines to follow, so the author feels the reminder is needed because we may not have read about that character in over 150 pages. I'm a fairly slow reader, but I didn't feel the reminders needed to be so prevalent.

So, a much better book than the first in the series in my opinion, with much clearer plot and some interesting developments in character and world. I've already moved on to the third book in the series (where some of those cliffhangery things are still trying to get resolved). I'd certainly recommend this series to people who aren't afraid of a thick fantasy novel with perhaps some extra and unnecessary padding.
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