Saturday, December 5, 2015

Mad Ship Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Robin Hobb
Publisher: Bantam
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Liveship Traders Book Two
Pages: 850

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(Spoilers for Ship of Magic are below).

When I saw the title Mad Ship, it immediately signaled to me what the plot of this book was going to be. It’s not until nearly halfway through the book that that plot even begins to get going, so this is fairly predictable and slowly paced. For three quarters of the book I found myself really having to push myself to keep reading.  What makes everything work is the endings for all the characters, the potential the paths they can take in the final book, and the continued moral complexities that plague all of the narrators.

With the growing number of characters, I find it easier to bullet point where everything stands at the end of Ship of Magic.
  • Althea is returning home on board the Ophelia, once she returns she will seek the help of the other liveships to help her stake her claim for Vivacia.
  • Brashen continues to serve a group of pirates to fuel his reemerging cindin addiction.
  • Davad Restart continues to try and push the Ludlucks into selling the Paragon. Paragon makes a new friend in Amber the bead maker.
  • Malta is now being courted by Reyn Khuprus a young Rain Wild Trader from a wealthy family. Both Reyn and Malta begin to be tortured by nightmares of a talking dragon.
  • Ronica and Keffria continue to lose money on their estate, putting their hopes on the return of Kyle and the Vivacia.
  • Captain Kennit captures the liveship Vivacia, kills all her crew except for Kyle and Wintrow, and frees the slaves on board. Kennit loses his leg in a serpent attack before capturing the liveship, and it’s up to Wintrow to cure his infected leg or perish along with the rest of the crew.
Mad Ship may be short on plot, but it’s not short on character development and difficult moral decisions. With Kyle Haven, the most antagonistic character in the last book, now reduced to being a prisoner with no power to abuse, the bad guy role now falls to Malta and Kennit. Malta is incredibly selfish and vain. With her connection to Reyn, she is in a position to save her entire family’s finances.  She’s not willing to do it to help her mother or grandmother, or because she loves Reyn, but because she wants to help her chauvinist father.

As for Kennit, he continues to kill people needlessly, he abuses a former whore who idolizes him, and he begins to work on manipulating Wintrow and Vivacia to his cause.  Ironically, Kennit’s cause is the most noble in the whole story, he’s looking to end slavery.  The biggest moral question that Hobb poses for Kennit is will the sociopathy take over and ruin all of the good he’s doing, or will all of the good Kennit’s doing allow him to see the error in his selfish thinking? If Kennit does come around this could be one of the most intriguing moral redemption stories out there.

Althea and Brashen take more of a backseat as they still haven’t received word of the Vivacia’s fall to the pirates. Althea and Brashen both struggle to identify their feelings for one another, but a love triangle element is thrown in. Grag Tenira, another trader with strong family finances, would also like to court Althea.

For the first time readers will also get to meet the despised Satrap. Although he isn’t a narrator we get see him through the eyes of Serilla, one of his Companions of the Heart (a top adviser like position). Serilla has spent her life studying and dreaming of going to Bingtown, a wish that’s eventually granted, but comes with an interesting stipulation that has the potential to change the town forever.

The mystery of Wizardwood and She-Who-Remembers are also explored in more depth, which sheds more light on this mystical magic system Hobb has created.  Hints about Kennit, Amber, and Paragon’s mysterious pasts are also interspersed, and these make for some serious “oh damn” moments if you’re able to piece together their implications. The ending is where everything picks up, and it should leave you wanting to head straight into this trilogy’s final chapter.

Score: 10

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