This book does what it wants. I kept trying to read it faster than it wanted me to read it, and it took me twice as long as I thought it would. Not because it was bad, but because it was Too Much and I kept having to stop and process things. Also, sometimes when books stress me out I have to put them down because who knows what fool thing is going to happen next, and that was also going on here as well. The end result is a book, that like the first one, gets into your head and makes you feel things, and then wrenches you around until you just want to scream “Uncle!” I don’t know how else to explain it.
The world is great here, and the conflict feels real and lived in, but the characters are the real stars. I don’t want to spoil anything, but pretty much all our main players go through dramatic changes in this book. It also manages to push the story forward enough to avoid middle book syndrome. We’re not just treading water here. The three main storylines are the raising of Paragon—the titular mad ship; the brewing civil war in Bingtown,—a proxy civil war for what’s going on in governing country Jamallia—as Malta and Ronica and the other Vestrits deal with their crumbling fortunes, and learn that Vivacia has been captured by pirates; and finally, the story of the captured Vivacia herself, and whatever is going on with Kennit the pirate. I still don’t know how I feel about that guy. One second I feel for the guy, the next I want to punch him in the face. Also in the background, the ongoing mystery of the sea serpents, and what happened to the dragons, is unfolding.
Wintrow remains my favorite character. That poor little bugger, I really hope things work out for him. Malta remained The Worst for the first half of this book, but as had been promised to me by several friends, her character takes a much appreciated turn and it is supremely satisfying. I started the final book last night, and I can’t wait to see what happens to all these people and where Hobb is going to take the story. Part of me still can’t get over that this is the same author who delivered the Farseer Trilogy, which I found to be a complete slog by the end, and which I never really warmed to.
[4.5 stars, rounded up]