Wednesday, July 15, 2020

45. Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb (Book 1 of the Liveships trilogy)

Crazy book-finding story about this trilogy.  As was my plan, I decided I was going to stay in the Robin Hobb universe and jump into her next trilogy.  Her books are hard to find used anyways and stores were still closed due to the pandemic, so I decided to just buy the trilogy new.  I had ordered the previous trilogy online from a big used book seller in the US but it took 6 weeks to get the books to me.  There is no equivalent store for used books in Canada. I like Bakka-Phoenix in Toronto and they had all 3 in stock so I ordered them new.  They came quite quickly and sat on my shelf for a week.  The day that I decided to start reading the first book, my wife said that she noticed several boxes of books in the alley behind our house.  "Mostly trade paperbacks, I don't think there will be much there."  Well any box of books in an alley starts me drooling and there has never been any in our actual alley so I rushed out.  It turned out to be an insane treasure trove of fantasy and horror paperbacks, amongst somebody's entire life of stuff.  It was moving day in Montreal and this often happens when somebody is evicted or died or just had to leave to  a smaller place and they dump their stuff in the alley or the sidewalk.

They were in quite poor shape, well-read but also discarded haphazardly, many covers ripped and pages folded.  They were also a bit musty and some smelled like cigarettes.  I ended up spending two days going through it, pulling out 10 books or so to keep and organizing all the rest in boxes that I put out on a busy corner for people to take.  I just couldn't bear to see the rest just tossed.  There was a lot of mainstream fantasy that I am not so interested in, like David Eddings, most of Game of Thrones, Piers Anthony.  And of course, you guessed it, the entire Liveships trilogy by Robin Hobb in way nicer earlier paperback editions than the one I ordered!  I was walking around the house with my mind blown while wife and daughter rolled their eyes at me.  I was seriously wondering if by ordering the trilogy new I had created some quantum overlap in the timelines.  There were no other Robin Hobb books.  Just the exact three that I had ordered two weeks earlier and just started reading that very day!  I will keep you all posted.

So on to the book itself.  Ship of Magic is the first book of the Liveship trilogy. It takes place in the Pirate Isles to the south of where the Farseer trilogy unfolded and just a little bit later chronologically.  So far in the first book there are no direct connections, but you hear rumours about the northern lands and their customs.  The war there affects trade in this region which has greater social and political ripples.  This is the kind of immersion I was looking for.  The story here is about an old Trader family who patriarch is sick and dying.  The Trader families have made generations-old deals to procure living ships made of magical wood.  When the third generation dies, the ship "quickens"and becomes conscious, with all the memories of its past voyages and the three generations of captains who steered him or her (they are gendered).  The mast head can talk and they are super badass trading ships, whose intelligence and rapport with the captain and the crew makes them far superior to a normal ship.  

Unfortunately, the widow decides to give the captaincy to her son-in-law, rather than a member of her family as they consider her daughter too wild, even though she has great potential and was super close to her father and the ship.  The son-in-law turns out to be a total bastard, ignorant and unwilling to learn the old Trader ways.  Shit goes bad and we then get to follow the storylines of all the different characters impacted by the situation.  There are several main characters in this first book and more threatening to become major: Althea the daughter, Kennit the pirate (no relation), Wintrow the son who wants to be a priest but forced to sale are the main three.  We get lots of suffering and hardship and character-building but it does not seem to be as consistently down as in the Farseer trilogy which started to get me down.  There are ups and downs and some satisfaction in this first book.

The worldbuilding is also really cool here.  The set up around the liveships is rich and interesting, going beyond just how they work but touching on generations of trade agreements, settlers and a complex mesh of politics between the old traders, the new traders, the faraway decadent Satrap and the Chalced States to the north, the market for slaves.  Slavery is a big factor here as well and the portrayal is brutal.  There is also lots of great sea stuff, piracy and ships in storms and that, which is extra fun when there is also magic.

While the bad guy is sort of extremely bad and beyond stupid, it is not as pervasive and annoying as it was in the Farseer trilogy.  The family that gives him the captaincy does it all right at the beginning and quite quickly realize their mistake and start trying to fix it.  So while it was really stupid to have done that (and not super convincing that they would have given the power of blood with the Old Trader families), the stupidity is over quickly and the rest of the book the characters are pretty rational.  I want to jump right into the second one, but this one was over 800 pages and took me almost three weeks to read, killing my book count.  So I need to take a little break and go with some shorter books to try and meet my 5 books a month goal.

A tale of two trilogies (or is it two timelines?)

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