Tuesday, 20 March 2001

Robin Hobb: Ship of Magic (1998)

Edition: Voyager, 1999
Review number: 786

Though set in the same world as the Farseer trilogy, Ship of Magic has almost a completely independent background; there are only two or three references to the places and events of those novels. The main part of the action is based in the port of Bingtown, home to the liveships. These are made of wizardwood, and come alive ("quicken") three generations after being built, having a special relationship to the family that commissioned them and abilities as ships which make them extremely valuable.

There are two important liveships in Ship of Magic. The first, the Vivancia, the magic ship of the title, is just on the point of quickening with the death of the current head of the Vestrit family, and will immediately become the focus of bitter feuding. The second is quite a dire warning of what might happen; Paragon is a still living ship which is being allowed to rot in Bingtown harbour because of a reputation for ill luck and madness. He (nicknamed Pariah) is a pathetic character, bitter about his fate and handicapped by blindness (after someone took an axe to the ship's figurehead).

Surrounding theses two ships are a fair number of characters, and the cast is rounded off by a group of pirates who want to capture a liveship. Despite the large number of people in the novel, Hobb manages to bring it alive and keep it from becoming confusing. It does initially seem to be less involving than the Farseer novels, but picks up reasonably quickly to convince this reader, at least, to continue with the series.

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