With so much being churned out in the way of epic fantasy, it’s always a pleasure to come across something original and unique. I felt that way about Robin Hobb’s Farseer books and wondered if she’d be able to maintain such high standards in Liveship Traders.
While I don’t believe she quite got there (it is after all a pretty high bar she set herself), this series certainly stands on its own as quality fantasy, and Ship of Destiny is a fitting conclusion (though one wonders if that word has been banned from the genre).
The basic storyline is both original and interesting, and Hobb manages to avoid the typical banalities of genre fiction. She creates characters far more often than character types and then flings them out into her world on their own or in various twos and threes. Best of all, Hobb’s characters are often conflicted over their motives and actions, allowing for a depth of introspection seldom seen in the genre. And nowhere is this better done than in her main character Kennit, who alternately has the reader pulling for his success and hoping for his well-deserved comeuppance. It is a tightrope act she attempts with this character and I at least would have to say she pulled it off. It is tough enough to evoke an emotional response in a genre where characters all too often barely squeak into two dimensions, let alone three, but here Hobb swings for the fence in an attempt to elicity a multiplicity of responses. And she connects fully. Not only with Kennit, but with others as well. It takes a brave soul to attempt a character made out of wood; it takes an excellent writer to make me care about that character.
Is the final book as strong as the first? I personally don’t think so, but it doesn’t tail off much. Some plotlines are all too neatly resolved (one of her characters tries to make a distinction between “coincidence” and “destiny,” but I wasn’t buying it myself) and some characters’ roles/personalities change a bit too abruptly, but in a work that spans three good-sized novels and a dozen major characters, these turn out to be minor complaints, far outshadowed by the quality of the story and especially the characters. She’s two for two in series and I look forward to her next work — I wouldn’t even mind if it’s another multi-book “epic.”
Ship of Destiny is a fine conclusion to an extremely well-detailed and imaginative series. It departs from the genre in that its characters are not exceptionally gifted or powerful adventurers or warriors. Instead, they’re traders and sailors and matriarchs in more of a sixteenth to seventeenth century atmosphere. The discussions amongst the Vestrit women in Bingtown and the political machinations do tend to drag in places, and some of the plot lines are tied either too neatly or too loosely at the end.
Nevertheless, as with THE FARSEER TRILOGY, this trilogy is a breath of fresh air — with some fine writing, too. In sum,Ship of Destiny and LIVESHIP TRADERS are imperfect, but they are engaging. The first,Ship of Magic, is particularly strong.
Ship of Destiny is slow in spots, the political discussions run on a bit too long, and I never liked the plotline involving the Satrap’s advisor, but this is still a strong and exciting conclusion to an excellent trilogy. I loved the evolution of most of Hobb’s characters (especially Malta and Wintrow) and the way she used this setting to explore power, freedom, immigration, pain, family, and feminism.
THE FARSEER SAGA — (1995-2013) Words Like Coins is a short e-story published in 2012. The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince is a related prequel novella published in 2013. Publisher: Young Fitz is the bastard son of the noble Prince Chivalry, raised in the shadow of the royal court by his father’s gruff stableman. He is treated like an outcast by all the royalty except the devious King Shrewd, who has him secretly tutored in the arts of the assassin. For in Fitz’s blood runs the magic Skill — and the darker knowledge of a child raised with the stable hounds and rejected by his family. As barbarous raiders ravage the coasts, Fitz is growing to manhood. Soon he will face his first dangerous, soul-shattering mission. And though some regard him as a threat to the throne, he may just be the key to the survival of the kingdom.
LIVESHIP TRADERS –(1998-2000) Bingtown is a hub of exotic trade and home to a merchant nobility famed for its liveships — rare vessels carved from wizardwood, which ripens magically into sentient awareness. The fortunes of one of Bingtown’s oldest families rest on the newly awakened liveship Vivacia. For Althea Vestrit, the ship is her rightful legacy unjustly denied her — a legacy she will risk anything to reclaim. For Althea’s young nephew Wintrow, wrenched from his religious studies and forced to serve aboard ship, Vivacia is a life sentence. But the fate of the Vestrit family — and the ship — may ultimately lie in the hands of an outsider. The ruthless pirate Kennit seeks a way to seize power over all the denizens of the Pirate Isles… and the first step of his plan requires him to capture his own liveship and bend it to his will…
TAWNY MAN — (2001-2003) For fifteen years FitzChivalry Farseer has lived in self-imposed exile, assumed to be dead by almost all who once cared about him. But that is about to change when destiny seeks him once again. Prince Dutiful, the young heir to the Farseer throne, has vanished and FitzChivalry, possessed of magical skills both royal and profane, is the only one who can retrieve him in time for his betrothal ceremony — thus sparing the Six Duchies profound political embarrassment… or worse. But even Fitz does not suspect the web of treachery that awaits him or how his loyalties to his Queen, his partner, and those who share his magic will be tested to The breaking point.
THE RAIN WILDS CHRONICLES — (2010-2012) Publisher: Guided by the great blue dragon Tintaglia, they came from the sea: a Tangle of serpents fighting their way up the Rain Wilds River, the first to make the perilous journey to the cocooning grounds in generations. Many have died along the way. With its acid waters and impenetrable forest, it is a hard place for any to survive. People are changed by the Rain Wilds, subtly or otherwise. One such is Thymara. Born with black claws and other aberrations, she should have been exposed at birth. But her father saved her and her mother has never forgiven him. Like everyone else, Thymara is fascinated by the return of dragons: it is as if they symbolise the return of hope to their war-torn world. Leftrin, captain of the liveship Tarman, also has an interest in the hatching; as does Bingtown newlywed, Alise Finbok, who has made it her life’s work to study all there is to know of dragons. But the creatures which emerge from the cocoons are a travesty of the powerful, shining dragons of old. Stunted and deformed, they cannot fly; some seem witless and bestial. Soon, they become a danger and a burden to the Rain Wilders: something must be done. The dragons claim an ancestral memory of a fabled Elderling city far upriver: perhaps there the dragons will find their true home. But Kelsingra appears on no maps and they cannot get there on their own: a band of dragon keepers, hunters and chroniclers must attend them. To be a dragon keeper is a dangerous job: their charges are vicious and unpredictable, and there are many unknown perils on the journey to a city which may not even exist…
FITZ AND THE FOOL — (2014- ) Publisher: FitzChivalry — royal bastard and former king’s assassin — has left his life of intrigue behind. As far as the rest of the world knows, FitzChivalry Farseer is dead and buried. Masquerading as Tom Badgerlock, Fitz is now married to his childhood sweetheart, Molly, and leading the quiet life of a country squire. Though Fitz is haunted by the disappearance of the Fool, who did so much to shape Fitz into the man he has become, such private hurts are put aside in the business of daily life, at least until the appearance of menacing, pale-skinned strangers casts a sinister shadow over Fitz’s past… and his future. Now, to protect his new life, the former assassin must once again take up his old one….