Ship of Magic

Posted by : atcampbell | On : March 1, 2000

Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb

Ten people attended this discussion. Ship of Magic is the first in a fantasy trilogy about a seafaring society where a few rich families have magical “liveships.” Liveships are special because their figureheads are intelligent and can talk, and the ships are made of a special wood that enables them to travel in waters where other ships can’t go. The book begins when a liveship captain dies and his family has to pick a new captain and get the family finances in order. The main characters are the captain’s family, several members of the crew, and a pirate who hopes to capture a liveship. The story features sailing adventure, sea serpents, rebellious teenagers, and slave revolts.

Despite a length of over 800 pages, we all had no trouble finishing the book. We found it to be a gripping yarn. We loved the concept of the liveships. It was obvious that the author knows sailing and has a passion for it. The characters are vividly drawn, and we all found that we liked certain characters and loathed others. The author puts her characters through drastic and irrevocable changes, including breaking family ties, weird marriage contracts, and crippling injuries. The ships themselves are important characters, and we were all touched by the story of Paragon, the ship who went insane due to the death of his family. The book contains a great deal of foreshadowing, both for events later in this book and for events in subsequent volumes. Even those who don’t normally read fantasy liked this book.

We did find a few drawbacks. Some of us felt that the story took too long to get moving, since the first hundred pages are a slow-paced introduction to the large cast. Some also felt that the number of viewpoint characters was too large.

Overall we liked Ship of Magic a lot, and we’d recommend it to lovers of sea adventure and fantasy. The second book in the series, Mad Ship, arrived in paperback three days after this discussion; it sold out immediately, primarily to members of the Reading Group. Robin Hobb has gotten us hooked on her Liveship Saga.

–A. T. Campbell, III