Monday, May 24, 2021

31. Ship of Destiny: Book 3 of the Liveship Traders trilogy by Robin Hobb

The year before last, when I was really getting back into reading form, I cast about looking for a deep fantasy series with excellent worldbuilding.  Voices across internet came back to me with a pretty consistent recommendation for Robin Hobb.  After having completed the first two trilogies of her multi-trilogy (4 trilogies and one quadrology to be precise) epic which I believe is now called The Realm of the Elderlings (ROTE for short), I can attest to the voices.  While I have mixed feelings about some of Hobb's narrative choices, I have definitely been satisfied from this deep fantasy dive and am hooked enough to want more.  She can be very rough on her characters and there are some really frustrating behaviours and because of that the books can become a bit of a slog in the down sections.  So I am not going to devour these like one might a Joe Abercrombie.  But when my appetite is renewed, I will start on the next trilogy.

Ship of Destiny is the final book in the Liveship Traders trilogy and while it wraps up the storylines of so many characters (primarily the Vestritt family children), more importantly it fully reveals the ecology and history of the sea serpents and dragons.  If you are at all interested in reading this trilogy, you have already read too far spoiler-wise.  I can't talk about this book without revealing some cool stuff that you would rather discover yourself.  The dragon backstory is really cool and the depth of both the world's history and how what happened is impacting the current story is so well done.  You don't even realize it at the beginning that what the book is ultimately about are the dragons (again).  It all comes together in a way that makes you want to soldier on to find out what will happen (and to still learn what happened to the Elderlings, since that is not yet revealed).

And there is some soldiering on.  Again we have several situations where characters make wildly extreme assumptions and then run off in their head about how bad everything is based on those faulty assumptions.  It's really annoying and feels at some points like Hobb is trying to force conflict in order to extend the storyline.  It just isn't necessary.  Reyn Khupra, who is in the beginning the mysterious and alluring Rain Wild son who sets his eyes on innocent and headstrong Malta Vestritt.  Their love and the evolution of their characters is mostly really cool, until they are separated and the dragon refuses to rescue her.  So we have to have pages and pages of Reyn being all suspicious and angry at the dragon. It's just so stupid, anybody with half-a-brain, which Reyn has would be somewhat circumspect at least here.  I get you are disappointed, but full-on blame and being the anti-dragon guy just feels forced.  Likewise with Wintrow, who is totally into captain Kennitt, but then becomes like his zombie slave and refuses to listen to his aunt when she tells him that he raped her.  I get that there is often disbelief in rape victims and I guess that is a theme Hobb wanted to put in here, but it just seemed so artificial for Wintrow to at least not question Kennitt's behaviour (which was totally erratic).  These things just piss me off and they sometimes conflate with more naturalistic behaviours and actions that also piss me off and so at times I have to put the books down and take a break.

Which does bring me to another cool thing about these books.  They are very "woke" but it's all deeply embedded in the fantasy stuff. This is a book about multi-generational trauma, both how it impacts individuals and how it impacts entire societies.  As the past is revealed in the last book, you realize that everything that is happening in the stories you read is because of previous abuse, either in the form of the rape of a young boy or the destruction and theft of dragon's eggs.  These terrible crimes are forgotten and their victims living in unself-conscious ignorance of how their current existence is entirely based on such crimes.  It makes for some interesting soul-searching and character reactions when the past is slowly revealed to them, as well as the bigger problem of how to move forward with the current reality. 

I preferred this trilogy to the Farseer trilogy mainly because it was warmer and there was more cool fantasy creatures.  It also had a more satisyfing and happy ending.  The climax and payback was not rushed this time and the main bad guys (the Chalcedeans; so far the only ones painted simplistically) got housed.  The ambivalent antagonists also got either a comeuppance or some learning.  

I hope that part of the reason I enjoyed this trilogy better than the first one is that Hobb was also improving.  These were written over 20 years ago and cranking out one trilogy and then two, you must get better.  I mean I am nitpicking here. This is some incredible fantasy writing and I am happy I have so much more to dive into in the same world.

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