The Liveship Traders Trilogy
By: Robin Hobb
First published 1998-2000
Book 2/10 of my 2015 SFF Reading Challenge
Wizardwood, a sentient wood. The most precious commodity in the world. Like many other legendary wares, it comes only from the Rain River Wilds.
But how can one trade with the Rain Wilders, when only a liveship fashioned from wizardwood can negotiate the perilous waters of the Rain River? Rare and valuable, a liveship will quicken only when three members, from successive generations, have died on board.
The liveship Vivacia is about to undergo her quickening as Althea Vestrit’s father is carried on deck in his death-throes. Althea waits for the ship that she loves more than anything else in the world to awaken. Only to discover that the Vivacia has been signed away in her father’s will to her brutal brother-in-law, Kyle Haven…
As part of my SFF Reading Challenge at the beginning of the year, I challenged myself to read the second Liveship Traders book. After I had read it, I immediately went ahead and finished the trilogy, so I’ll review both the second book, The Mad Ship, and the third, Ship of Destiny.
You can read about my impressions of the first book, Ship of Magic, in a separate review: https://maijareads.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/ship-of-magic-review-2014-high-fantasy-challenge-410/
The Liveship Traders trilogy mainly follows the members of one family, the Vestrits. Unlike Robin Hobb’s The Farseer Trilogy, which was told through one first person perspective, this series has many point of view characters, and is written in the third person. The main characters are from three generations in the Vestrit family: the grandmother and family matriarch, Ronica, her children Althea and Keffria, and Keffria’s children, Wintrow, Malta, and Selden. But there are also liveships and sea serpents and pirates, as well as a mystery character that some of the readers might recognize.
I had found the first book to be a bit slow, and it hadn’t yet made me form strong connections to the characters. This definitely went out the window the moment I started reading the second one. The build up in the first book had laid the foundation of making me care about these people. The plot also started to move at a breakneck speed, with revelation after revelation thrown at us. I grew to like some characters that I’d found annoying before, and in true Hobb style, there were some new awful people added to the cast that I quickly learned to hate with a fiery passion! The second book was a wild ride, and my favorite of the whole trilogy.
The third book was good with all the plot lines converging and coming to an end, but since most of the character development and big revelations had happened in the second one, I didn’t love it as much. There were also a lot of threats of sexual violence, as well as actual rape, and I grew a bit tired of that. There were some occasions in the second book already, which didn’t bother me then, but when so many more were added in the third one, the sheer amount wound me down. By getting tired of it I don’t mean that the subject should not be written about, nor that Hobb handled it gratuitously: I mean started to grow cold, to harden myself to expect this all the time, and it made me distance myself from the book. The book was good, but this distancing really marred the emotional connection I had with it, which is part of why I didn’t enjoy it as much as the second one. Perhaps if I had read it a decade ago this wouldn’t have happened to such a degree, but there’s been so much sexual violence in fantasy stories lately, what with the emergence of the grimdark genre and the decisions of a certain TV show, that I feel oversaturated by it. But let’s move on.
Let’s talk about the characters. My favorite character in the series was Paragon, the mad liveship. His life was just such a mystery, his storyline was very interesting, and I really sympathized with him. In the first book it took me a while to get used to the idea of living ships, but Paragon quickly became my fave. My next favourite was Malta, who I grew to love as the series went on. I also liked Wintrow and Vivacia, although perhaps more in the first two books than in the final one. And of course Amber, who could forget Amber? One character that I never found interesting, though, was Brashen. I didn’t really get anything out of his point of view chapters, except when he hung out with Paragon. I was also surprised that Althea really didn’t have that much to do.
The pirate captain Kennitt, the man with almost zero morals, was a very intriguing character. While I never liked him in the sense that he was likable, I found him very interesting to read about. He was so messed up. The way he had almost no concept of trust or friendship, and instead manipulated other people’s perception of him, as well as continuously misunderstood the motives of the people closest to him, was interesting to follow.
When I originally read Hobb’s books, I was so into Fitz and the Fool from the Farseer trilogy that I skipped Liveship Traders and just read Tawny Man when it came out. It was such a bad idea! I’m now rereading Tawny Man, and there are so many callbacks to this trilogy in the first book already. But even if you leave Hobb’s other books out of consideration, the Liveship Traders are just, plain and simple, great books, with amazing writing, surprising plot, and characters that have so much depth your feelings don’t know what to do with it all.
I gave the second book 5 stars and the others 4, so the whole series gets
4.5 out of 5 stars.