Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb ★★★★
From the back cover (because it’s actually accurate this time): 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. Now 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. For Althea’s young nephew, wrenched from his religious studies and forced to serve aboard the ship, the Vivacia is a life sentence. But the fate of the ship—and the Vestrits—may ultimately lie in the hands of an outsider: the ruthless buccaneer captain Kennit, who plans to seize power over the Pirate Isles by capturing a liveship and bending it to his will.
I picked up Ship of Magic because I’d really enjoyed what I’ve read of Hobb’s Farseer trilogy. My major complaint with Farseer was the lack of female characters, and I was told that the Liveship Traders trilogy was better on this front. I found this to be true. Ship of Magic is an epic fantasy centered on the Vestrit family. Like many epic fantasies it follows a large number of characters and has many different viewpoints. However, unlike many epic fantasies, Ship of Magic actually has multiple female characters, and all of its characters, male and female, are well written.
Robin Hobb is cruel to her characters, but it sure makes for interesting reading. Throughout all of Ship of Magic, most of the characters are stressed, depressed and in terrible situations. Wintrow, my favorite character, is a prime example. He loved his life at the monastery, and the last thing he wanted was to be forced upon the family ship. He’s miserable there, and things just get worse.
Not only were the characters amazing, the world building was too. Bingtown is a relatively new settlement that has started to age and change. I felt that there were many parallels to the American colonies and England, which makes me wonder if the next two books will bring war.
I’d recommend Ship of Magic to anyone interested in epic fantasy or active female characters.
Now, about the cover. I eventually realized that the issue was with the lighting. The light’s coming from the sun in the back (and maybe a bit from the lanterns) but the characters and objects are strongly front lit. As a result, it just looks flat. Here’s a comparison between the original cover and one I Photoshoped to fix the lighting:
It could probably still get darker even. And the sky would look a lot better if it had some of the reds and oranges of sunset.