Book Review: Ship of Magic

Ship of Magic
Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pirates, sea serpents, and magical ships that talk; what more could you ask for?!
Robin Hobb has such amazing character development, and her plots always surprise me. I never know what direction the story is going to go next!

Althea wants nothing more than to sail on her family’s magical liveship, the Vivacia, but she is thrown off the ship by her evil brother-in-law, Kyle, who claims legal ownership of the liveship. Wintrow only wants to return to his monastery and continue his training to be a priest, but he is forced aboard the Vivacia to learn a sailor’s trade. Captain Kennit, an evil pirate, desires to capture his own liveship, and will do anything and kill anyone to get one. Brashen is a disgraced sailor forced off the ship he loves and looking for work. Ronica is the matriach of the liveship family, trying to keep the family business afloat despite their mounting debts.

Although the narrative bounces between about 7 different characters’ storylines and perspectives, to my mind, the main characters are Althea and Wintrow. The only character that I completely love is Wintrow. Everyone else annoys me just a tiny bit, but that is part of their reality, what makes them such true and complex people!

Althea gets on my nerves a little. She’s not so quick with the thought processes because she’s swept along on this wave of emotion. Why doesn’t she just ask for help?! But I suppose that’s where her development as a person will come in. I DO admire her courage and determination though. She is purposeful and full of energy, but not always sure where to direct that energy.

Wintrow is a soul after my own heart! Sensitive and caring, generous and kind, with a heart that cannot bear any sort of cruelty, he reminds me of myself a lot. I’ve never understood why practical jokes are funny to some people; they just seem cruel to me, and Wintrow is the same way. He’s also a very introspective, spiritual, and analytical person. He looks at the world around him, and asks, “Why is it that way?”
He analyzes people, and finds it difficult to understand why people deny the goodness inside of themselves and choose to do evil. He himself is such a good-hearted person, without an evil thought in his head, that he cannot comprehend the wickedness and stupidity of the world around him.
I love this kid, and seeing him deal with the difficult circumstances he is placed into was so hard to read about! His attempts to be accepted by people with whom he has nothing in common, his gradual loss of childish innocence, his frustration at never being understood or taken seriously, and his constant stretching to find spiritual truth; all these reflect my own life journey, so of course I related to Wintrow’s story very closely!

There’s a lot of suffering in this book. The poor characters get one shining moment of beauty and then it is snatched away from them and it’s back to the suffering. Emotional suffering, physical suffering, mental suffering… It’s all there in exquisitely painful detail, and so well written that I FEEL their struggles and their stress and frustration! And then when that next shining moment of contentment happens, I also feel their relief and joy. Brilliant writing. It really drags you in!

Robin Hobb really has a talent for writing horrible villains that get under your skin. Kyle is a truly awful villain because his evil is so subtle. At first he’s emotionally abusive and manipulative, and then he moves on to domestic abuse and worse. He’s spiteful and vindictive, and his wickedness actually has it’s own mad reasoning behind it that makes sense to him. Kyle truly believes (or has deceived himself into believing) that he’s doing what is best for his family. But actually he’s just a petty bully who wants to control everyone’s lives, and be the big man on top. You can’t reason with him or explain to him that his way is wrong, because his view of reality is utterly distorted to his own foolish desires. He’s unreasonable, petty, and stupid. He makes me so frustrated!! Excellent writing to make me feel so strongly about this villain that I want to jump into the book and punch his ugly face!

The best part of the writing is the reactions of his family to Kyle’s increasing abuse. They are confused and doubting the truth of their experiences because he has twisted the truth so much. They’re shocked and paralyzed in a way, unsure what to do. This is EXACTLY the way that real abuse makes people feel. This was difficult to read because it so perfectly mirrors a real abusive situation.

The story switches perspectives between 7 or 8 different characters. Usually I hate it when the POV changes, but since the story is told in 3rd person by an all-knowing narrator, then it’s not quite so jarring to switch storylines all the time. I wish it didn’t switch so often though. It IS always clear who the POV is though, and with so many characters, that is a must.

Another thing that I did not like was the sex and drugs. Farseer trilogy did not have so much of all that, but I guess this is a story about sailors, so there’s more of it. I could’ve done without any of that nonsense.

The book could have been about 200 pages shorter, I think. The story is wonderful, but there are bits where there’s just so much detail, and we have to go into every single characters’ thoughts and motivations and wishes and dreams and on and on. I mean, I love to have some character detail that shows their development, but seriously… not EVERY character in EVERY scene!
(In Farseer, this was kept in check b/c we only had Fitz’s perspective and perception of other characters thoughts and motivations.)

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