Robin Hobb

"Ship of Magic"

(Reviewed by Jana Perskie FEB 28, 2009)

I am a fan of fantasy novels, BUT only if the books are extremely well written, contain unique and compelling storylines, and are peopled by magical, well developed characters. Now, one could argue that any good novel should possess the above criteria. I agree - but more so with fantasy fiction which is so dependent on the author's imagination and ability to tell a good tale. Robin Hobb, an enormously talented writer, has a particular gift of imagination that transforms readers into addicts. Ship of Magic, the first installment of the author's Liveship Traders Trilogy, caught me up from the very first page and kept me reading well past midnight, every night, until I had completed this book and this series.

"Liveships" are sentient ships. After three consecutive owners, from separate generations of the same family, die upon their decks, the ships become alive. They take-on and retain the memories of those who lived and died aboard them. These enormous trading vessels are built of wizardwood - a magical substance obtained from the dangerous Rain Wilds. Ship of Magic can be a stand alone book...but why would anyone want it to be with such superb entertainment to follow? (The Mad Ship, #2 in the series, and Ship of Destiny, #3). And, make no mistake, the novels and storylines only get stronger.

Bingtown, located on the Cursed Shores, is a major shipping center for all kinds of trade, especially the exotic. A merchant nobility class, made up of old trading families, originally settled the inhospitable land which eventually became Bingtown. They made their wealth developing monopolies on goods produced and sold by the mysterious dwellers of the Rain Wilds. The Vestrits are one such family. Althea Vestrit, an expert seawoman who sailed aboard her family's ship, "Vivacia," since early childhood, long ago developed a strong bond with the vessel. She has waited her entire life to captain the ship. With her father's death, she expects the legacy to pass to her, rightfully and legally. However, her dying father, whose death makes the necessary third in order for the "Vivacia" to "quicken," wills the captaincy and ownership to his daughter, Kefferia and her new, non-Vestrit husband, Kyle Haven. Althea's father ultimately believed that a man's hand should hold the helm. Kyle is a hard and unsympathetic character. He banishes Althea from her beloved ship, and forces his adolescent son, Winthrow, to work on board. The boy becomes despondent, as he is a scholar, studying to become a priest of Sa. A learned, sensitive boy, he is does not have the soul of a seaman. The tensions, unhappiness and ineptitude which Kyle brings to the "Vivacia" threaten to drive her insane. And Captain Kyle plans for a new money-making cargo, slaves - the very thought is enough to send poor "Vivacia" over the edge.

Meanwhile, Althea runs away to sea, disguised as a boy, and signs on to serve on a slaughter vessel. She needs a recommendation from the captain to prove she has earned her stripes serving on a non-family vessel. Brashen Trell, her father's former first mate, signs on with her, as he too has been banished by Kyle Haven.

Ship of Magic has multiple storylines, and a wide array of characters, including pirate Captain Kennit, a killer if there ever was one. He lives to acquire power. He wants a liveship...and a liveship is Power with a capital "P." Then there's "Paragon," a beached liveship, thought to be crazy by most, and seafaring dragons who have lost their way. All Ms. Hobbs characters are multi-dimensional and complex - no one is either all good or all bad. These fictitious people, (and non-people), all have their foibles - the heroes are flawed and the villains have some redeeming traits.

The author has woven together a rich tapestry of adventure, heartbreak, fellowship, courage and many mysteries. Her prose is a joy to read. And the nautical theme especially appeals to me as I love the sea and am an avid sailor. But you needn't be an "old salt" to enjoy Ship of Magic.

The good news, for those who really love this trilogy, is that there are actually 3 interrelated trilogies called "The Realm of the Elderlings." The Farseer Trilogy is the first in the series. The Liveship Trilogy is the second, and The Tawny Man Trilogy is the third. However, if you read the trilogies out of order it really doesn't matter. So, enjoy! Enjoy! Enjoy!

  • Amazon readers rating: from 278 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Ship of Magic at Random House

(back to top)

"Mad Ship"

(Reviewed by Jana Perskie FEB 28, 2009)

"‘Pirates.’ Paragon’s voice was almost dreamy save for the terror in it. ‘I know about pirates. They kill and kill and kill on your decks. The blood soaks in, deeper and deeper, until your wood is so full of lives you cannot even find your own. Then they chop off your face and open your seacocks and you go under. The worst part is, they leave you to live.’ His voice broke into boyish treble before it tremored into silence."

After reading Robin Hobb' first novel in The Liveship Trilogy, Ship of Magic, I couldn't wait to begin book two, Mad Ship, which is every bit as thrilling and unique as its predecessor. Ms. Hobbs cunningly builds upon the original storyline, while continuing to add rich new characters and plots to this second novel. Mysteries galore and a riveting narrative make for an "unputdownable" read.

The Vestrit clan, their sentient liveship "Vivacia," the banished Althea Vestrit, ("Vivacia's" rightful captain), pirate Kennit, and all the others characters, human and non, appear here once again as more developed, detailed figures. Dragons and the lost sea serpents play an ever so important part in this sequel, as do the mysterious Rain Wild Traders and the Satrapy of Jamelia.

While Althea Vestrit, accompanied by Brashen Trell, disgraced heir of a wealthy Bingtown family and her father's onetime first mate, intently pursue her goal to regain the captaincy of the "Vivacia," the pirate Kennit continues his campaign against slave ships. He holds Althea's nephew, the boy's father and the captured "Vivacia," hostage, and is determined to fulfill his destiny - to become the King of the Pirate Isles. Meanwhile, back in Bingtown, a corrupt new ruler threatens the old merchant nobility class and their way of life. The Vestrit family are now financially bankrupt and turn to their distant relatives, the Rain Wild Traders, for assistance. The mad ship "Paragon" is launched once more. "Paragon," liveship and "mad ship," is the wonderful non-human, but very much alive, vessel of the novel's title.

Although Mad Ship is part of a trilogy, it is most certainly a strong and vivid novel which takes the story in new directions. Robin Hobb is an enormously talented writer, who has a particular gift of imagination that transforms readers into addicts. Her characters are multi-dimensional, and the excellence of her work is amazingly consistent in all of her novels. The author is a magician who weaves new worlds and beings into her original storylines. And most importantly, her writing shows her understanding and love of language. An extraordinary read...and don't miss Ship of Destiny, the last book in this series.

  • Amazon readers rating: starsfrom 174 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Mad Ship at Random House

(back to top)

"Ship of Destiny"

(Reviewed by Jana Perskie FEB 28, 2009)

"Don't walk away, you fool. Never turn your back on a dragon. If you do, she will think you are so stupid that you deserve destruction."

Ship of Destiny is the extraordinary conclusion to Robin Hobb' The Liveship Trilogy, and even at 800+ pages this thrilling fantasy will flash by in the blink of a red eye...or two!! I stayed up until 2:00 A.M. finishing the novel. If you're as entranced with the books in this series as I am, you will probably move on to the author's next trilogy, The Tawny Man, which is interrelated with this tale.

Update: Bingtown, a once flourishing port city, has been destroyed and its citizens are at war with the Chalcedean mercenaries who are besieging the harbor. The city's formerly wealthy shipping merchants are also at war amongst themselves - the Old Traders vs. the New. Vestrit family matriarch Ronica, and her daughter Keffria, are almost without resources since their once splendid estate was plundered. The two Vestrit women struggle to unite the tattooed peoples of the Rain Wilds and the native inhabitants of Bingtown in order to recapture and liberate the city. However, someone within their ranks is determined to see them fail. Althea Vestrit, Brashen Trell, and Amber sail the emotionally unstable liveship "Paragon" into Pirate Captain Kennit's waters in a dangerous attempt to recapture the beloved Vestrit vessel, liveship "Vivacia." Meanwhile, Satrap Cosgo, Kekki, his devoted companion, and Malta, Keffria's daughter, do their best to survive the acidic waters of the Rain Wild River as their small boat is swept up in the raging current.

Ms. Hobbs has woven her storylines and subplots into an extraordinarily vivid and complex tapestry. Like most large works, if you stand too close you cannot see the entirety. So, with Ship of Destiny, this third and last book in the The Liveship Trilogy, the author forces the reader to step back and look at the bigger picture. Suddenly the primary characters, with all their hopes, dreams and machinations, who were so important heretofore, now take a somewhat secondary place as the main theme of this trilogy becomes apparent.

The sea serpents, who have surfaced, literally, throughout the series come into their own as they struggle to survive by migrating to the cocooning beaches. Their purpose throughout the tale is finally made clear when Althea's nephew Wintrow liberates "She Who Remembers." Legendary dragon Tintaglia is finally released from her wizardwood coffin in the long buried City of the Elderlings and finds that the world she knew so long ago has disappeared forever.

My summary barely skims the surface of this fantastic finale. As I've said previously: Robin Hobb is an enormously talented writer who has a particular gift of imagination that transforms readers into addicts. Her characters are multi-dimensional, and the excellence of her work is amazingly consistent in all of her novels. The author is a true magician, creating creates credible new worlds and beings. And most importantly, her writing shows her understanding and love of language.

  • Amazon readers rating: starsfrom 165 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Ship of Destiny at Random House

(back to top)

Bibliography: (with links to


Farseer Trilogy:

The Liveship Traders Trilogy:

Tawny Man Trilogy:

Rain Wilds Chronicles:

Other Elderlings:

Soldier Son Trilogy:



(back to top)

Book Marks:


(back to top)

About the Author:

Robin HobbRobin Hobb (b. 1952) is a pseudonym used by Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden who also writes contemporary fantasy and some science fiction under the name Megan Lindholm. She has been a professional writer for over 30 years. Works under the name Megan Lindholm have been finalists for the Hugo award, the Nebula Award, and the Endeavor award. She has twice won an Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Readers’ Award.

In 1995, she began use of the pseudonym Robin Hobb for works of epic traditional European Medieval fantasy.

In addition to writing, her interests include gardening, mushrooming, and beachcombing. She and her husband Fred have three grown children and one teenager, and three grand-children.

She lives and works in Tacoma, Washington About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014