Tuesday, 14 August 2001
Robin Hobb: The Mad Ship (1999)
Review number: 903
The second of the Liveship Traders trilogy is Hobb's poorest novel to date, the only one in which the reader becomes conscious that it is very long. The story, like many mid-series fantasy novels, continues that of Ship of Magic without introducing any new elements and this, combined with the diffuse nature of the narrative (alternating between the main characters) is what makes it less gripping.
Some issues which are not perhaps properly thought out become more obvious in the novel, as there is less of interest to distract the reader. Structurally, the most important of these is that no particular reason is given why events coincide, the coalescence of the pirates as a nation opposed to the slave trade at the same moment that there is upheaval among the sea serpents. Unless these events are connected (which may of course be only established in the third part of the trilogy), there is no reason why they should coincide.
It is only at the very end, in the strange city of Trehang in the trees over the Rain Wild River that The Mad Ship comes to life, with scenes of some power in the ruined chambers of the Elderlings beneath it. This is Hobb back up to her usual standard, and so she hooks the persistent reader once more to get them to go on to the third volume.