Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Written Word Wed. - Liveships and Traders and Slaves, Oh My!

It's time once again for Zinger's favorite feature here at CoIM: my reviews of books he will never read! This one is a semi-sequel to The Farseer Trilogy; it's set in the same world, but only has one character in common.

The Liveship Traders by Robin Hobb

Vol.1: Ship of Magic
Vol.2: Mad Ship
Vol.3: Ship of Destiny

When Bingtown Trader Ephron Vestrit passes away on the deck of his ship Vivacia, his ebbing lifeforce completes the quickening process which awakens the wizardwood of the ship, transforming it into a sentient being bound by magic to his bloodline: Vivacia will not sail without a Vestrit aboard. But Ephron's decision to cede control of the ship to his son-in-law Kyle Haven, instead of his younger daughter Althea, sets in motion a chain of events that will change the course of their world forever. Kyle, a foreigner with little regard for, and less understanding of, the traditions of the Bingtown Traders not only banishes Althea from the Vivacia, he also recalls his son Wintrow, long ago dedicated to the priesthood of Sa, imprisoning him on the ship as the obligatory Vestrit representative. While Althea and Wintrow both struggle against the upheavals in their lives, Kyle transforms the Vivacia into a slave ship, a move which not only torments the fragile mind of the newly awakened liveship, but which also brings her to the attention of Captain Kennit, would-be King of the Pirate Isles, whose plans for power are based around one thing: the capture and control of a liveship. The actions of Kennit and the Vestrit clan will awaken ancient secrets: secrets about the strange behavior of the deadly sea serpents swarming their waters; secrets about the past of Paragon, a long-abandoned and half-crazed liveship rumored to have killed his entire crew; secrets about the Rain Wild Traders and their discoveries in the cities of the Elderlings, and secrets about the true nature of the liveships, secrets that could spell doom for an entire race.

While this trilogy shares many of the same traits as The Farseer Trilogy, the rules of magic are vastly different; instead of focusing on Skill and Wit, this series is focused on the power of the liveships. Although this trilogy could definitely stand on its own, there are several things which would be better appreciated by someone who had read the previous trilogy. While this series has many of the trappings of the Epic Fantasy sub-genre, the lines between "good" and "evil" are seldom cut and dried.

Overall, I think I enjoyed The Liveship Traders books a bit more than The Farseer books; a large part of that may have been due to the fact that they were written with shifting P.O.V.s, while the previous books were told entirely from Fitz's side of things. These books would have suffered greatly if the author hadn't given the reader a chance to get inside the mind of Kennit, Wintrow, Althea, et al. I found Kennit to be a particularly intriguing character: a power-hungry sociopath who is so innately charming (not to mention lucky) that he is able to bend almost anyone he meets to his will, despite a complete lack of understanding of a normal human's motivations. While I hated to see the degradation of the character in the final book, it did serve to make me think about why I was so willing to blithely accept most of the horrible things the character did without any qualms, only to have one particular horrible act make me long for the character's demise; was this conceptual whiplash intentional or a mistake on Hobb's part? My second favorite character was Wintrow, who in many ways reminds me of Alain, my favorite character in Kate Elliot's Crown of Stars series. My third favorite character was the enigmatic Amber, the only character not to have her P.O.V. shared with the audience; some questions about her were answered, but many more remained a mystery, making me look forward to reading more about her in the future. My least favorite character for a good portion of the series was Wintrow’s sister Malta, an obnoxious spoiled brat whose teenage narcissism drove me to distraction; I can barely describe the relief I felt when she finally started to grow up.

While I enjoyed the series overall, the third and final book ventured into territory that drives me crazy: almost every character was operating under totally false assumptions about the motivations of every other character. A little of that goes a long way with me, and it seemed like almost half of the book was dedicated to things like "Oh, she is talking to that handsome man, she most love him and not me" and "Oh, he is being brusque, he must not love me anymore" and the like. I could handle it better when the assumptions were about mistrust of people, but when it comes to romantic entanglements it just drives me crazy. The books still held my attention and interest (stayed up until almost 2 A.M. on Tuesday finishing the series up) and I would heartily recommend them to any Fantasy fan, but I would have enjoyed them much more without that aspect.

Like her previous trilogy, The Liveship Traders is an entertaining and original Fantasy which kept me enthralled with its exploration of this new world.