Ship of Magic Review (2014 High Fantasy Challenge 4/10)

Ship of Magic
Ship of Magic

(The Liveship Traders #1)
By: Robin Hobb
First published in 1998
Book 4/10 of my 2014 High Fantasy Challenge

Description from GoodReads:
Bingtown is a hub of exotic trade and home to a merchant nobility famed for its liveships – rare vessels carved from wizardwood, which ripens magically into sentient awareness. The fortunes of one of Bingtown’s oldest families rest on the newly awakened liveship Vivacia.

For Althea Vestrit, the ship is her rightful legacy unjustly denied her – a legacy she will risk anything to reclaim. For Althea’s young nephew Wintrow, wrenched from his religious studies and forced to serve aboard the ship, Vivacia is a life sentence.


I really loved Robin Hobb’s Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, so I was excited to start the Liveship Traders, a series that takes place in the same world, but follows mostly different characters.

Ship of Magic definitely reads like the first third of a longer story. In this book, the pieces are set, the backstories are told, and all the groundwork is laid for what will happen next. There isn’t really a finishing point; the book cuts off at the end and everything will be continued in the next one. All of this setting up means that the pace of the book is a bit slow – there are a lot of character moments, but it’s quite easy on the action. There were some times when I felt a bit bogged down, especially with the scenes dealing with people back in Bingtown.

I enjoyed the book, but didn’t form as strong a connection to the characters as I did with the other trilogies I mentioned above. Character work is where Hobb is very strong, so I can predict a lot more emotional reaction from myself in the later books, when I’ve grown more into these new characters. There were definitely times when I realized it had been a while since I’ve read a Hobb book. I would be all: “This is the part where he will win those guys over to his side!”, only to have the character fail. Yeah, the protagonists always have a hard time in Robin Hobb’s books!

The concept of sentient wood was very interesting, and really helped bring a unique feel to the world. The whole concept took a while to get used to, but I soon found myself liking all the sentient wood characters! I’m very interested in what will happen to both of the more major liveship characters: Vivacia and Paragon. Out of the human characters, I most like to follow Wintrow and Althea. I do also have a penchant for Amber, for reasons. That isn’t to say that the rest of the characters, like Althea’s mother Ronica, aren’t interesting, but I admit I would have much rather been reading for example about Wintrow than Ronica, and Althea than Kennit.

I will definitely continue on with the trilogy; it would not do to leave the story unfinished! In fact, I already bought the second book. I won’t be starting it immediately, which means I didn’t absolutely love the book and the ending didn’t leave me on the edge of my seat. I can see myself picking it up after a month or two, though, to find out what happens to Wintrow, Althea, and the liveships. I’m also very intrigued to learn more about the Rain Wilds!

Despite the slow pace, I was won over by the world-building, solid writing, and intriguing liveship characters. I’m rounding my 3.5 star rating up to 4 out of 5 stars.


Next up in the challenge
I might pick up The Lies of Locke Lamora, or, if I don’t feel like starting another series, I might go with the stand-alone fantasy classic, The Last Unicorn.

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6 thoughts on “Ship of Magic Review (2014 High Fantasy Challenge 4/10)

  1. Keep going you will start to attach to these characters in Mad Ship. Also, there is a great Audible version read by Anne Flosnick if you don’t have the time to actually sit down and read it.

  2. It’s been so long since I’ve read this series, I can’t piece out what I felt about each individual book. I remember really enjoying the whole trilogy. And looking back, I’m really glad this was the kind of thing I was reading when I was younger.

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