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Ship of Magic, by Robin Hobb
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Spectra
Published: 1999
Review Posted: 6/9/2013
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 9 out of 10

Ship of Magic, by Robin Hobb

Book Review by Joshua Palmatier

Have you read this book?

I read Robin Hobb's first series, The Farseer Trilogy, quite a while ago and loved the first two book enough to propel me through the third while still wanting to read anything else that Robin Hobb wrote. I managed to get The Liveship Traders series at the time in hardcover . . . but then lost the first two books in a flood. It's taken me a while to get back to Robin Hobb now, but I'm glad that I did.

Ship of Magic is the first book in the series and it takes up the threads of numerous lives in and around the port city of Bingtown, focusing mostly on the Vestrit family, one of the Old Trading Families in the town. These traders have magical ships called Liveships because . . . well, the ship itself is alive through the quickening of a special kind of wood. Here, we get to see one of the Liveships quicken on the death of its captain and the resultant chaos that comes from the death. The entire family is shaken to its foundation as the will is read and not everything that everyone had planned came to be. In addition to following members of the family and the ship itself, we also follow the life of a pirate, which becomes entangled with that of the Liveship late in the novel.

What I liked about the book was that the world building was lush and detailed. Bingtown and the ships, the coastline and the crews, everything was given life, so that you really felt as if you were a part of these people's lives as you read. The world felt real, and it held just enough mystery that I wanted to know more. The characters also felt real, each of them distinct and each of them vying for something that they desperately wanted. Their motivations were clear, and I could easily see how the circumstances of their lives would change due to events mostly outside of their control, as well as due to their own decisions at key moments.

However, sometimes their choices didn't always make sense. A few characters do things for reasons that aren't always clear and that make the situation much worse, not only for one of the other characters, but for themselves as well. This didn't happen that often, but in the few cases where it did, it felt wrong. Not all of the characters are likeable, and I actually liked that, but the characters that aren't likeable still need to act in their own self-interests.

I also felt that in some spots the highly detailed world building could have been cut and trimmed down. This is an 800 page paperback, and I felt it could probably have been trimmed down to about 600 pages without really loosing the cool world and characterization that much. Characters spend a lot of time explaining to themselves (and thus us) what they're thinking, which wasn't always necessary in that amount of detail. I'm not sure the plot line really needed that much detail get us to where we end up by the end of the first book.

But that said, I'm immediately moving on to the next book. Because the world IS interesting and I DO want to find out what happens to some (perhaps not all) of these characters, how their lives intertwine and eventually affect one another. Definitely a book and an author I'd recommend.
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