Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
Ship of Magic
Book One of The Liveship Traders

Robin Hobb
Bantam Books, 685 pages

A review by Wayne MacLaurin

Oh boy... pirates, talking ships, magic, sea serpents, slave revolts, dashing heroes, bloody battles and lusty maidens... Ship of Magic has all of this and a whole lot more. If it sounds like a cross between Xena Warrior Princess and The New Adventures of Sinbad, that is about right. Except, you have George Lucas directing a cast of Academy Award winners instead of cheesy Saturday afternoon "Action Pack" TV. (Hey! stop throwing those rotten tomatoes, I like Xena.)

Ship of Magic is the newest from Robin Hobb, author of the acclaimed Farseer Trilogy. The start of a new series, Ship of Magic is set in the same world as the trilogy but is, so far, entirely unrelated. It is a tale set around Liveships -- sentient, magical sailing ships -- for which families mortgage themselves for generations to build and which are unparalleled on the sea.

But, unlike the Farseer Trilogy which concentrated on one main character and one major plot, the Liveship Traders series is much more complex. Not only is it the tale of the Liveships, but it is also a tale of pirates and the rise of a pirate king. It tells of a family in turmoil and the struggle between generations. Ship of Magic also has a much wider cast of major characters than the other series did. There is Kennit, the would-be-pirate-king; Althea, daughter of Ephron Vestrit, who believes that the liveship Vivacia is rightfully hers; Brashen, the reluctant hero who struggles with his duty; Vivacia, the liveship at the centre of this novel; and many others who fill the nearly seven hundred pages of this book.

Be warned, Ship of Magic is definitely the first in a series. The novel takes a long time setting up and introducing all the characters. On the plus side, it makes for depth in both character and plot, but it is a tad slow to start. Hobb introduces the two major plot lines, the pirate Kennit's quest for power and the struggles of the Vestrit family following the death of the elderly Ephron and the quickening of Vivacia. Basically, these liveships become sentient after a certain number of generations have passed, at which point they are living, talking creatures. The Vestrit family is the focus of most of the novel, but since it is the Liveship Traders series, that isn't surprising.

Robin Hobb weaves an intricate web of sword play, intrigue, family conflict and personal struggle all the while dropping delicious hints of darker secrets and unknown magic throughout the novel. She is a delight to read and has a knack for keeping a reader guessing at what is happening between the pages of the written novel. For example, the Ephron family is somehow involved with a group called the Rain Wild Traders. Early on, Hobb reveals that they are source of the liveship Vivacia and the Vestrits have some sort of mortgage against the family as a result. But, what exactly the Rain Wild Traders are, why they are so secretive and what hold they have on the Vestrits is only hinted at. It keeps you reading, looking for the next clue. Similarly, at the very beginning of the novel, Kennit meets a creature called an Other. From the description of the creature, it would appear that they are somehow related to the sea serpents that plague the novel but, what that relationship is or how it is going to impact the series is a mystery, and a compelling one at that.

So much more could be said about this book but, since it is the start of a series, I'll hold the rest of my opinions to myself until the second novel appears.

Copyright © 1998 by Wayne MacLaurin

Wayne MacLaurin is a regular SF Site reviewer. More of his opinions are available on our Book Reviews pages.

Ship of Magic
Robin Hobb
Robin Hobb, aka Megan Lindholm, was born in California in 1952. At the age of about 9 she moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, where she graduated from high school. Later, after a brief stint at the University of Denver where she majored in Mass Communications, she married and moved back up to Alaska, where she started writing under her maiden name. She started publishing her short stories about twenty years ago in small magazines. Shortlisted for the 1989 Nebula Awards in the categories of novella ("A Touch of Lavender" -- also a 1990 Hugo Award nominee) and novelette ("Silver Lady and the Fortyish Man"), she was also nominated for the Nebula for her short story "Cut." She lives in Tacoma, Washington.

Robin Hobb Website
ISFDB Bibliography: Robin Hobb
ISFDB Bibliography: Megan Lindholm
Robin Hobb Tribute Site
Another SF Site Review: The Farseer: Assassin's Quest
SF Site Review: The Farseer: Royal Assassin
SF Site Review: The Farseer Trilogy

Past Feature Reviews

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or other stuff worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide