Man, these books have been so much more fraught than I expected. I thought the first one had whiny unlikeable good guys and over-the-top-evil bad guys. I only read the second one because I’d already bought it. The good guys got better in that one, but so did the bad guys! I railed against unearned redemption arcs and wished for bloody vengeance. The third book did not deliver everything I wanted, but it did make me think.
Teenaged Malta reminds me of Sansa Stark. She has an idea of how the world should be, with romance and pretty presents and enjoying her family’s (and later her husband’s) wealth and power. The loss of her family’s liveship, and her father (both captured by pirates), tears those daydreams to shreds, and Malta has to learn in a hurry about real life. She becomes a clever, strong survivor, helping shape the destiny of the rest of the characters.
There’s adventure and piracy and hardship, while Brashen, Althea, and Amber go after the lost liveship Vivica in the mad liveship Paragon, and of course nothing much goes according to plan. Captain Kennit the pirate king torpedoes all his redemption points by locking the crew belowdecks and then setting Paragon on fire (after convincing Paragon this was all for his own good). Our heroine Althea ends up back on her ship Vivicia, but even though that’s what she’s been after for three books, it doesn’t go well. Vivicia is now part dragon (too complicated to go into), and doesn’t want or need Althea anymore. So Kennit locks her up, keeps her drugged for a couple days, and then rapes her, and that’s when I nearly put the book down unfinished. I’ve been waiting for Kennit to end up in tiny painful pieces for three books! He just tried to burn Paragon and Brashen alive! I don’t need even more proof that he’s evil! I don’t need an additional terrible thing to happen to Althea! Come ON!
But then I started thinking, maybe I’m looking at this a little too much like early Malta would. Do I want to only read books where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad ones? Well, yes. But does it hurt to me read stuff that’s not all puppies and rainbows? I tried to keep that in mind while Althea escapes, but NO ONE on the ship including her nephew Wintrow believes her, and then Kennit goes on to have a noble, quiet death. I was incensed. Where was my vengeance? Where was Althea’s closure? But it worked within the context of the story, because preserving Kennit’s legend will go on to do a lot of good for whole swaths of people who ended up outlaws through no fault of their own. And Althea and Brashen end up together, and Malta and her Rain Wild dragon-liaison, and there are dragons, and pretty much all the good guys live through everything.
There’s so much else going on in the story (kidnapped rulers, revolution, more with the serpents who are really baby dragons, truces and alliances), but I guess mostly I ended up here with an emotional summary instead of a plot summary. This trilogy was tough for me to get through, and made me examine how I look at stories, and what I want out of books. Apparently mostly what I want is fluff and a happy ending, but I acknowledge that, like Malta, maybe sometimes it’s good for me to be challenged.
(I kept thinking of the mice from Babe saying “Pig! of! Destiny!” every time I saw the cover, so that did help lighten things up a little.)