I will be honest, I went into this book with as open a mind as I could muster, but I did not really expect to like it that much. This is because I did not end up liking the Farseer Trilogy very much at all, for a variety of reasons (despite having rated the first book in that series four stars, which I should honestly revisit and lower). Ironically, I went into those books fully expecting to love them.
But much to my surprise, and despite the book having quite a strange audiobook narrator (I never quite clicked with her, but listening was still oddly satisfying? very hard to describe), the more I listened to the book, the more I wanted to listen to the book, and by the end I had this desperate need to just find. out. what. happens. Which is not a feeling I have ever experienced with Robin Hobb’s books before! I then went and bought the stupidly expensive paperbacks ($27 for a paperback!!! What!) because I just want to be able to zoom through the story and not have to listen to thirty-five hours of audiobook. I have honestly not been this emotionally engaged with an epic fantasy series in a very long time.
Ship of Magic is set in the same world as the Farseer books, but feels like it takes place in another one entirely (the characters make note of the culture that Fitz lives in, and they are hilariously contemptuous of them). Not only do they have different cultural values, but our characters live in a place that is very alien in comparison to the rest of the world they inhabit. Most of our main characters are part of the Vestrit family, who are traders living in the Rain Wilds, an area rife with danger and magic that ancient trader families survived, largely by working together and living by a strict code. The magic in the area means beautiful things exist there, but also things like blood plagues born of magic, and one out of four human pregnancies endigh with a non-human baby being born. The people who live directly on the river are physically altered, such that they cover themselves with veils when entering polite society. The big thing with trader families is Wizardwood, a magical wood that can quicken into life, and when ships are made out of them, the ships come alive, too (after three members of the same family die while aboard).
The Vestrit family’s liveship is named Vivacia, and the real story here kicks off as she quickens upon the death of the family patriarch, Ephron Vestrit. We follow multiple POVs, and that worked so well here, really giving insight into the world and the cultures. We were stuck in Fitz’s head (in first person, no less) for the entirely of the Farseer trilogy, but here, if one narrator was irritating or infuriating, we would move onto the next.
We get POVs from: Althea Vestrit (Ephron’s daughter, who expects to inherit the Vivacia), Wintrow Haven (Ephron’s grandson, a priest-in-training, of the god Saa), Ronica Vestrit (Ephron’s widow), Keffria Haven (Althea’s sister, who is married to Kyle Haven, the captain of the Vivacia), Malta Haven (Keffria and Kyle’s daughter; imagine early years Sansa except 10,000 times worse), Brashen Trell (the first mate of the Vivacia), Amber (a wood carver who lives in Bingtown, a bit of an outsider), Vivacia herself, and another liveship, the mad Paragon, who killed three crews and is now beached and alone. Oh, and then there’s Kennit, a pirate captain who has ambitions, and who makes significant steps to become a pirate king during the course of the novel. His greatest dream is to capture his very own liveship.
I could say so much about this book. I have so many feelings all up and down the spectrum about all of the characters. Kyle Haven may be the fictional character I have hated the most in the past five years. I would call him my nemesis, except I think I may be doing myself a disservice there, because Kyle is a petty, stubborn, ignorant, small-minded, misogynistic, arrogant asshole with no redeeming opinions whatsoever. At first I was giving him credit for loving his wife so much, but then there’s scene where SPOILERS he essentially mocks her for being a shy virgin during their courtship, turning all of Keffria’s memories of their sweet getting to know one another into a parody of themselves END SPOILERS, and then all that was left was hatred. I honestly deserve a better nemesis. I was watching Legend of Korra all weekend because it’s on Netflix now, and something great about that show is that all of the villains are right in some sense about their causes; they have ideals and wish to make the world better, in their own fashions, even if the way they go about their plans are destructive and nefarious. I want someone like that for a nemesis. Kyle Haven is just a handsome dick biscuit.
Anyways, I’m not going to be able to get to the last two books until November and December, but I eagerly anticipate doing so. I’m so happy I liked this book!
[4.5 stars, rounded up]