Book Review

Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb – Book Review

“Maulkin abruptly heaved himself out of his wallow with a wild trash that left the atmosphere hanging thick with particles.”

First line in Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb

Author: Robin Hobb

Published: March 1998

Genre: Fantasy

Series: The Liveship Traders #1, The Realm of the Elderlings #4

My rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis: 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…

Others plot to win or steal a liveship. The Paragon, known by many as the Pariah, went mad, turned turtle, and drowned his crew. Now he lies blind, lonely, and broken on a deserted beach. But greedy men have designs to restore him, to sail the waters of the Rain Wild River once more.



With Ship of Magic, Robin Hobb introduces us to a new and very different part of the Realm of the Elderlings where ships come alive. They form the basis for the vibrant traders community of Bingtown that is starting to see itself threatened by the incoming of outsiders, their backwards values and interest in slave trade. In the midst of all this is the Vestrit family whose ship, Vivacia, is about to quicken, which Althea Vestrit has been looking forward to her entire life because of her strong connection to the ship.

That is where the book and every single character’s sufferings start. Hobb isn’t said to treat her characters well, and in that regard, Ship of Magic is a true Robin Hobb book. Right when you think a character can’t feel any worse, they’re just pulled down even further, and it’s painful reading. But it’s also amazing character-work. You’re being forced to love these characters before you see them suffer so you also appreciate it when they show strength in the face of all these troubles. And then you have the bad guys who are equally well-written. I don’t think I’ve experienced such anger while reading a book before, and it’s a miracle I didn’t destroy my Kindle while reading. That is also the main area where I think this book was better than the Farseer Trilogy. The villains are scarier and better developed in Ship of Magic.

My main complaint concerns the pacing. The book really takes its time, and I don’t think it needed to all the time because I felt there was some repetition when we were building the characters. I think it also felt particularly slow because of the switching POVs. Not every character was equally interesting, and I definitely had my favorites I’d rather read about.

I still think I love the Farseer Trilogy more, but I can also tell that there is a lot more to the Liveship Traders than what I’ve seen so far. There have been hints at some magic that I’m desperate to know more about because it’s feels like we’ve only scratched the surface so far.

I have a few of my favorite quotes to share with you, and after that I’m jumping into a spoiler section where I’m sharing all the thoughts I had while reading the book.

“Refuse the anxiety. When you borrow trouble against what might be, you neglect the moment you have now to enjoy. The man who worries about what will next be happening to him loses this moment in dread of the next, and poisons the next with pre-judgement.”

“I do not keep him in ignorance, Malta. His ignorance is a fortress he has built himself and defended savagely.”

And the best one:

“Kyle. Shut up.”


🌊 Prologue (and thereby initial) reaction:… what the fuck?

🌊 I’ve had Brashen for two pages and I love him.

🌊 We’ve already met two creatures who apparently can plant impulses in people’s heads, and to say that I’m intrigued is an understatement. Is it in any way related to the Skill or the Wit?

🌊 There are so many characters! I really loved the Farseer Trilogy for letting us stay with Fitz for the entire series, so it’s going to take some time to get used to the perspective switching around so much. Almost 100 pages in and we’re still just meeting the different POV characters. Loads of world-building on top of that, but I’m starting to be ready for the book to properly start.

🌊 Kennit just spent an entire chapter “shouting” about how much he hates being made a fool of. So we’re going to see him be made a fool of, possibly by one of the good guys, and then Kennit is going to hold a life-long grudge against that person and spend all his time plotting murder? That must happen.

🌊 I must say I find it a bit convenient that Ronica didn’t realize what kind of person Kyle was until after she had given everything to him and Keffria. Because of the age of the children we must assume Ronica has known him for at least 14 years, and you expect me to believe that Kyle The Mansplainer has been able to hide how despicable he is for all that time? The man we so far have seen been unable to keep his mouth shut? Like I said, it seems a bit convenient for the story, although maybe if we had seen how he and Keffria acted before all of this, it could have been more convincing. All I as a reader know is that it seems absolutely ludicrous that Kyle should own Althea’s ship.

🌊 By the way, Wintrow has my heart too, and I’m loving the dynamic between Althea and Brashen!

🌊 Soooo Amber kind of both looks and acts like the Fool… Anything you want to say, Hobb?

🌊 Kyle is awful of course, but I always find it interesting to analyze the communication from manipulators like him. And he’s doing it like an expert. There is a tiny bit of truth to everything he says but he has wrapped it in lies and exaggerations, so it is very difficult to argue against him. If you’re agreeing with that tiny truth, you’re agreeing with all of the lies too because of the way he frames it. Like how he’s talking about Althea and how she’s unfit to captain a ship because of her inexperience. He’s probably right about that. She would run into trouble, but that doesn’t mean that everything else he says about her is true as well. That she wouldn’t care at all about her family? I doubt it. That she shouldn’t be aboard the ship at all? She absolutely should!

🌊 So I’m at the halfway point. If all chapters from now on just follow Althea and Brashen, I wouldn’t complain. I do like Wintrow as well, but I just can’t get enough of the other two. They have a very odd relationship and I’m so intrigued to see how it develops. I’m also now certain that Amber is The Fool. The comment about being an actress playing different sexes? It just implies that just because she is a woman now doesn’t mean she always is. I’m hoping for some clarification on that, but I somehow doubt I’m getting answers in this book.

🌊 For some reason I’m waiting for Mild to live up to his name, but that whole scene with the bear seems to tell me that I shouldn’t keep my hopes up.

🌊 Oh, that chapter with Malta made me so angry! Like, yes, it’s natural for her to feel the way she does… but you also just want to strangle her. And why is Kyle at the root of everything bad that happens? Actually giving Malta money to go behind her mother’s back? The hypocrisy is astounding! Everything he has criticized Althea for, he just accepts with Malta. He claims Althea is ruining her reputation while he straight up funds activities that will do the exact same to Malta. And I haven’t even talked about how he himself claims they don’t have enough money, but sure, let’s give Malta an expensive dress she doesn’t need.

🌊 Brashen and Althea slept together. And right when I was enjoying the slow burn! It reminded me of Fitz and Molly who also slept together faster than I had anticipated, but I was really enjoying the will-they-won’t-they thing Brashen and Althea had going so I’m a bit sad based on these developments. I had expected their relationship to turn romantic at some point but not until way later. That slow burn could have given us so much more.

🌊 Malta, you idiot! I swear I’m never having kids!

🌊 Wintrow 😭😭 He got the slave tattoo! I must have momentarily forgotten that this is a Robin Hobb book because I had convinced myself that surely someone would come and save him. And the way it all came about is not that unexpected either, showing that you can’t be a good person in such a brutal world. It was always going to be his kindness and good-hearted nature that would take him down, and now I’m really afraid of what being a slave will do to him.

🌊 Finally we’re seeing Kennit’s story linking up with the others. It has seemed pretty obvious that Vivacia was the liveship he was going to go after. The slaves are breaking free and I’m just crossing my fingers that someone is going to kill Kyle. I don’t care if I don’t get to see it. I just want someone to do it.

🌊 WHY, WINTROW, WOULD YOU SAVE YOUR SORRY-ASS OF A FATHER WHEN WE WERE THAT CLOSE TO BEING RID OF HIM!! I can’t believe we were that close. This is going to come back and haunt him, right? Just like it did for Fitz with Regal in Farseer. And now they’ve been taken over by pirates. Everything’s just great.

🌊 The way Kennit was talking to Vivacia… I think I’m going to be sick 🤢 And because we’ve been in his head for so much of this book, we know that it’s all lies. But because Vivacia has been treated so horribly, I expect she going to be very susceptible to such charms, and I do not like where this is going. Because what about Althea? She finally has something go right for her, but I’m not so sure that Vivacia wants Althea as her captain at this point, and probably even less if Kennit manages to win her.

🌊 Final thoughts: While I do like this book, I also feel it had some pacing issues. Very, very slow at times and I didn’t feel all of the characters were equally interesting. Especially the Kennit chapters dragged a lot, so while I’m glad the ending proved why they were necessary, I think it could have been done more efficiently. It was pretty obvious what kind of person he was.
My favorite characters were Brashen, Wintrow and Althea, so I preferred to spend time with them, but Wintrow had the most interesting storyline by far. I feel every other character was mainly set up for something in future books, so I’m still very excited to continue on. And I didn’t get a confirmation on my “Amber is the Fool”-theory but I’m still pretty confident. You’re allowed to laugh at me when I’m wrong.
I’ll also say that I have absolutely no idea what was going on in the chapters with the serpents. I have no theory at all.

Those were all my thoughts on Ship of Magic. If you’ve read it, I’d love to know what you think of it.

7 thoughts on “Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb – Book Review

  1. “Kyle. Shut up.” already has me very invested in this book 😂 I obviously didn’t read the spoiler section, since I plan on coming back to it once I’ve read the book, but all of this sounds like I have a lot to look forward to! 🤗 I definitely don’t mind the sound of more complex villains and exploring an entirely new part of this world. And I feel like the premise also sounds more original than the Farseer Trilogy’s… Hopefully, the slowness will entice me more than it will bother me, because I can’t wait to get back to what Robin Hobb has to offer!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I need you to come back to this post and tell me that “Kyle. Shut up.” was your favorite quote as well 😁
      But yes, the premise is definitely more original, also compared to anything else I’ve read. And I felt the slowness was different than the slowness in Farseer where it really didn’t bother me. It had all that politics going on in the background, while Ship of Magic is more just following the characters’ everyday lives. But I’m very excited to hear what you think of it when you get to it! 😄

      Liked by 2 people

  2. “Kyle. Shut up.” is even more awesome now that I’ve actually read this book 😊 I HATED KYLE SOOOO MUCH! Seriously, he’s possibly even worse than Umbridge! And arrrrrgh, all of his manipulative mansplaining made me want to punch him even more badly than I wanted to strangle Malta! 😡

    And we very much agree on who the best characters were – although I would like to petition for Paragon to be added to the list, because Paragon was undeniable the best. I have never cried so much over a ship before. (Though, to be fair, most of the crying took place during book three 😂)

    Still, even the Kennit chapters were super interesting, despite me not liking him all that much. They gave me so much to think about how politics worked in this part of the world, and then there were all those Igrot hints that I was dying to piece together. And the charm! I was so interested in the charm!

    Also, I am not laughing, but impressed by how quickly you caught on to the “Amber is the Fool” theory. It took me a lot longer to get there – maybe because I was so busy piecing together my “Kennit is a Ludluck” evidence. But I am more and more convinced that we must be right, because us both having the same batshit crazy theory independently of one another is statistically highly improbable. Right?

    Anyway, I’m sorry for spamming your comment section so much in one day… I just couldn’t resist 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If there is an author who can write a character worse than Umbridge, I’m also thinking it would be Hobb. I’m undecided on whether Kyle reached that level but he’s definitely a strong contender.

      And I’m sorry, but I wasn’t all that interested in Paragon, not even in book three. Since the start of book two, I didn’t care much about anything that wasn’t Wintrow so it’s nothing personal against Pargon 😅 I just really suck at reading multi-POV stories. But yeah, that’s probably why “Kennit is a Ludluck” came so much out of nowhere for me.

      I was also very interested in Kennit’s charm, but didn’t feel we got much to work with. I had no theories!

      And I must admit that I was extremely unsure of my “Amber is the Fool” theory at this point. It was mainly based on her being a foreigner and kind of mysterious, and still somehow involved in stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Normally, I would agree with you, but all the POVs here were so interesting! I did like Althea and Brashen’s a tiny bit more, and Kennit’s and the serpents’ a tiny bit less, but I was never not invested 😊

        And yes, I’ll also admit that the charm remained mysterious until the end 😅 I think its main point was to stop Kennit from ignoring his past and to make him actually confront the emotions he had tried to repress with the help of Paragon (😭), but since Kennit ignored it so completely, it was ultimately unable to save him from committing the crimes that paved the way to his death 🤔

        And, well, I still think you were onto something! You must have subconsciously picked up Amber’s inherent foolness 😂 My first note on Amber in this book literally says “She reminds me of the Fool”, though at that point, I was still utterly clueless and didn’t even consider that they could be the same person. But then, in The Mad Ship, there was all this talk of prophesies, and when she started carving Buckkeep insignia stuff onto Paragon, I just could not unsee it!

        Liked by 1 person

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