Title: Ship of Magic (1998)
Author: Robin Hobb
Series: Liveship Traders #1, Realms of the Elderlings #4 (Series Tracker)
Ship of Magic sheds the traditional high fantasy habitat and fixed perspective employed by the Farseer trilogy to tell a seafaring tale with multiple points-of-view. Moving south from the Six Duchies, we’re introduced to the Vestrit family, whose bloodline has been in possession of a Liveship, a sentient vessel who has recently awakened. Such an awakening is a great blessing for a trading family, but the Vestrit’s can’t anticipate the pirates, sea serpents, and family divisions that come alive, as well.
With the added flexibility of multiple POVs, Robin Hobb deposits her new characters across the map and deftly moves them about to do her bidding. There is no significant forward momentum towards the larger story arc, but each character’s individual story was compelling enough to hold my interest. Most plot lines feel rich with potential, but I had hoped for a more complete story to take shape.
Something Hobb does especially well in this new territory is establishing legitimate threats to the characters across several levels. On a personal level (Jerk son-in-law Kyle Haven, Malta the brat), a regional level (the overindulgent Satrap, enterprising pirates), a physical level (pirates and conniving sea serpents), and an unknown level (the mystical Rain Wild river folk) — All combine to form a daunting maze for our heroes to navigate. This was a good start to the trilogy and I suspect the next two installments will build on the foundation that Ship of Magic establishes.
★★★¾ out of 5