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Ship Of Magic (1999)

Ship of Magic (1999)

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4.09 of 5 Votes: 5
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000649885X (ISBN13: 9780006498858)

About book Ship Of Magic (1999)

Final verdict: a great antidote to A Game of Thrones, with brilliant, complicated characters.My friend introduced to me to Ship of Magic because I'd been complaining about annoying stupid characters. She recommended Robin Hobb in general, but Ship of Magic especially, primarily for Althea Vestrit, our primary protagonist. One thing I want to point out is that I would have never picked this up on my own. Not for the title, not the cover (yes, I'm disproportionately attracted to pretty covers--there's a blog post in there somehow), and not even the cover copy. Although Althea is my middle name. But normally not even that. Thank goodness for my friend, because this book seems to have marked a change in the books I'm reading--after a streak of at best mediocre reading, I'm enjoying it again! (That can't be attributed entirely to this book, but did contribute to the exhilaration of my reading experience.)Althea Vestrit is the younger daughter of a liveship trader family. In essence, the elite of colonial Bingtown. Liveships are just that: living ships. But you don't just build a ship that's alive, or buy one, it has to be built first of wizard wood, and 'grow': that is to say, quicken. A liveship, though, will only quicken after three of its family members die on-deck, through which they gain knowledge and awareness. And a liveship will only respond to a member of the family, especially once it is alive.And I haven't even gotten to the story yet. Continued in vaguely topical order:World buildingRobin Hobb has built an incredible, complex world, much of which is gradually revealed throughout the story, naturally and through the characters' perspectives. The world-building is crucial to the story's success, because in many ways, its core theme is the clash of worlds, old and new. There isn't one simple conflict between good and evil or even two families. Bingtown is a colony, only now, they're being settled again by people who don't understand the land and customs--and worse, Bingtown has started following the customs of the mainland, even those that just a generation ago would have been too horrifying to contemplate. Now, the newcomers may not understand the reasons for Bingtown's customs, but the locals won't explain them either (more on that later).The conflict of cultures is so important. Worldly Jamaillia is decadent, rich, slave-owning. And the slaves can be anyone: the educated call for particularly high prices. Bingtown once had equal relations to men and women: they've borrowed the madonna/whore complex from Jamaillia and now are looking to slavery. But Bingtown has a strange relationship with magic and the people up the river who make it. Back to Althea. Because she's the natural daughter of the Vestrit's, who own a liveship just one death away from quickening, Althea fully expects to be the next captain. After all, she's been sailing with her father for years, and her older sister is married: settled with children. But as the summary states so baldly, Althea doesn't get Vivacia, her brother in law does. Ways in which Ship of Magic exceeds A Game of Thrones:*The characters matter. The majority of characters in A Game of Thrones are AT BEST observers, and often not even good at that; all the characters (especially viewpoint characters)in Ship of Magic have agency: they are making things happen, everything they do affects the plot, the story. In A Game of Thrones the plot is happening around the characters--when they could make a difference, they don't, because characters get in the way of the plot. That could work, but only if the reader has a sense that characters caused the plot in the first place. Ship of Magic only takes place because of decisions made generations ago, and how the current people are trying to live around and with those decisions. There is a deep, complicated back story that at no time takes over what's happening now, but only makes it possible. Can I say how much I've missed this?*A Game of thrones suffered from odd, arbitrary chapter breaks that always followed only one character (ideally, and when Martin didn't abruptly drop into omniscient when he forget what he was doing) and didn't follow the same characters in a row BECAUSE. The chapter breaks and POV changes in Ship of Magic are based on the timeline and pacing. And they don't just skip the big scenes to sum up later.*The characters in Ship of Magic are so much better. In fact they're so awesome, I'll have to get back to this.*The women are just as complex as the men! and just as active! and compelling! and have equal textual representation in a sexist world! and there's no creepy, overdone euphemisms for genitalia! and no glorified, underage, fetishized rape scenes! uhhhh....I feel like I shouldn't have to expect such things, but I am comparing it strictly to GoT here.*This is also a vaguely historically-based world with only rare magic. Only here it's embedded from the beginning, and while not understood and distrusted by the inhabitants of the world, it doesn't follow the pattern of: 100 pages of ambiguity 1 sentence maybe? (x3) 100 pages ambiguity full-on firewalking and suckling dragons!PlotLike A Game of Thrones, Ship of Magic has several major plot threads (approximately eight, some embedded in the 'world' arcs), all given roughly equal treatment, and a great many POV characters (at least eight). I wonder if there's something to those numbers. and Martin is praised because he's willing to kill off 'anyone', which just makes me suspect a paucity of decent literature in the fantasy section. Ship of Magic made me care about the characters, even without ever having a POV of their own, and _then_ they died. CharacterGetting into more spoiler-y territory, I loved the conflict between Ronica (Althea's mother) and Kyle (her brother-in-law).Kyle really seems like just your standard sub-boss evil. In most novels (The Name of the Wind), he'd be petty and cruel, and basically the antagonist until the confrontation with the real bad guy happens. In some ways, Kyle is all of those things. But his main threat is in how he threatens, and represents the threat, to the liveship trader way of life. And Ronica loathes him for it. But he's been her son-in-law for 15 years, IIRC, and no one in the family has tried to make him understand these traditions and why things are the way they are in Bingtown. There's a lot of hidden history that's gradually being revealed, but the locals don't discuss it amongst themselves, much less outsiders like Kyle. At least once, the truth has been actively hidden from him. These are cultures clashing because their people (on any side) cannot understand comprehend a way of life different from their own.Wintrow, Althea's oldest nephew, lived with the priests since infancy, because in Bingtown, it's an honor. Wintrow can't wait to be a priest. But since Kyle captains the Vivacia, he needs a family-member by blood on board, especially now that Vivacia is conscious. Wintrow's struggles: to stay safe, to stay sane--my heart BLED for him. Btw: Hobb has built an incredible, convincing fictional religion. Kennit is about as villainous as a villain can be. As I said in a forum: "[he] knows he’s not a good guy, goes around plotting like mad, but is just going after what he wants in any way he can. He knows he’s not a good guy, but doesn’t care: he just wants power. He also goes around going good deeds, but evilly...He’s a pirate freeing slaves because then they’ll voluntarily be his army to help him take over the world. And he’s surrounded by people who are unbearably loyal to him: even his sentient charm fashioned in his image hates him and doesn’t think he deserves what he has."One thing that Hobb does beautifully that Martin fails entirely, is have a focus to her narrative. Althea's story is central to the unifying thread. All of these characters have very important stories of their own, but Althea's is going to be right in the middle of it all.Slut ShamingOne note about the characters: sometimes they aren't all good. Or bad. (Unless it's Kennit) They can be whiny, infuriating, annoying, ignorant, just-plain-stupid, and often wrong. For instance, Althea's quest to retake the Vivacia? Well, first she has to learn that she wasn't qualified to captain a vessel on her own, that when she traveled with her father, she was playing at sailoring. So she goes off on her own to learn--and learn she does. Slowly. Which is possibly the best part.Now that I've been working on this for two hours, I want to touch on a subject I know is important to many of my GR friends--and the reviewers I follow who have no idea who I am: slut shaming.THERE ISN'T ANY!First you have Malta, Althea's niece, all of thirteen years old, *IIRC. O Good Lord, Malta. She takes the place of Martin's Sansa: obsessed with boys, rather stupid. Only Malta specifically wants sex. Preferably before babies and marriage, because she doesn't want to end up with an icky husband. Is she too young for this? Hell yes, she's spoiled rotten, doesn't understand how her own society works, and despite her interest, completely ignorant of what said sex would actually mean. Sansa, I just hated, but while I wanted to smack Malta upside the head, I also ached for her. She is so completely unaware of how vulnerable she is--and she does have to work at ignoring it too. Unlike Althea, she retreats from what scares her, what's hard (although Althea has her moments), and Keffria (her mother) and Ronica are only just learning how much they've neglected to teach her.As for Althea--Spoilers! Please click carefully, because this section is so important to her character development! It wouldn't ruin the book, but it would color the reading experience.(view spoiler)[After Althea goes off to learn sailing while disguised as a boy (explained in text) she sleeps with Brashen (well, okay, it's clear he's a love interest from the cover copy) while both are impaired. She's concussed and they're both drunk and high, I think. He might be concussed too. It turns out, despite being 'upper class' in this society, and their expectations for women, she's had sex before. The first time when she was fourteen under skeevy circumstances. When she goes home to tell her sister, Keffria makes her get a charm to prevent pregnancy and STDs, assuming her sister is easy. It's the betray of trust that Althea has a problem with, she doesn't think of herself that way. In fact, she's NOT damaged by the experience, and she knows it's supposed to be pleasurable, so she seeks it out herself, occasionally. But it's not a flaw of her character that she's sexually active, and while other characters may not like it, it's never a view condoned by the text. Thought you guys might like that. (hide spoiler)]

July 22nd, 1998. North Queensland, Australia. Huddled in blankets, too late to still be reading, young Tom Whalley turns the page on yet another of his father's collection of science fiction and fantasy novels. "That was cool," he thinks, "but I don't get why all of these books are about space stations or castles. Why can't someone do something cool about pirates?"October 6, 2001. Brisbane, Australia. The lunchtime conversation, hidden under the teacher's staff room at a high school, turns to life goals. As artists, programmers, and racecar drivers reveal themselves, the conversation comes around to an older, yet still young, Tom Whalley. What does he want to be? "I don't know. An actor, maybe? Or a writer? I just wanna do stories. Like, oh man, imagine something cool about pirates."January 12, 2011. Greensboro, North Carolina. Left alone in an apartment with two cats, an older still Tom Whalley, one who isn't yet allowed to work in the US, finishes the last book in his apartment. He complains to his wife, via instant messaging, that still, nobody's writing any good books about piracy. She ignores her work duties for a second to send a quick, four word response back. "So write one, dummy."He began.Not because he had any huge passion for this particular project (at the time, he was still undiagnosed for his ADHD, and didn't know to stick with a long project like that) - his writing dream at the time was a novel about an illegal restaurateur who needed to explore the ends of the earth to get a Food License so she could get her wait staff out of jail - or, even, because he was particularly invested in writing - he was, passionately, but he was more interested in building up skills to earn a regular paycheck. No, he began because he thought "nobody is writing the novel I want to read, dammit."He wound up putting both those novel ideas aside within months, to start on six more novels, eight board games, three videogames, two blogs, and finally, a regular psychiatrist appointment where he would be prescribed Adderall so that he could focus, successfully, on being an adult in one field for more than five minutes. The question still hung in his mind, the one plaguing his thoughts from all the way back in 1998 - why was nobody writing that book?Robin Hobb was.Ship of Magic, by Robin Hobb, is a book about pirates and traders and sea serpents and weird magics and talking ships and guys, sexism and patriarchy and control and this is the book I'd been searching for. It existed the whole time and nobody even told me, not once. It follows a family of traders who own a magic ship as they desperately try and get themselves out of a financial hole. It deals with the ramifications of unchecked patriarchy, with dealing with grief, with the constant battle of responsibility versus passion. In short, it's goddamn wonderful.But, but see, it gets better - this isn't some regular old author here, telling us how The Protagonist Got To Get Their Dreams. This is Robin goddamn Hobb. If you remember from back when I reviewed her Farseer trilogy, you'll know where I'm going with this. If, however, you're literally everyone, it's simple: she's really good friends with George RR Martin, and the two of them like to compete with how badly they can fuck over their characters.In my mind, Hobb always wins.Robin Hobb is a sadist with little competition. Yes, there are authors that torture their characters more, but they're deliberately trying to make you sad. Or, I guess, get off on writing suffering. Hobb will - not can, she will - put your favorite character through more hell than you would think. She'll write a book where you sit and hope, desperately, that she'll ease off on someone just this once, for almost every single page. But she does this, somehow, without making the book a grimdark, depressing, angry, sadistic, melancholy, claustrophobic combination of one or two of those words. She puts people through hell and back, but manages to still give you a sense of wonder, of joy. It's like when you were eight, and first picking up Tolkien, before you had the taste prepared to read things that weren't dictionaries. A little dude's wandering over a hill? Awesome! Oh man, is that some kinda sweet wizard? Dip. Hobb writes that kind of world, that kind of story; one where you're just full of sheer enjoyment at this amazing adventure.She writes dewy-eyed, sparkle-vision suffering and mayhem. Nobody else does this. No-one else can."But wait," says the internalized Tom Whalley of now, "you only gave this four stars. I thought this was every dream come true in a dramatized series of miniature anecdotes."....yeaaaaahhhh, that's the thing. I can't give this book a five star rating until I've read the series. It's not that I want to hold off from judgement - just look at my reviews, there's plenty of series where I've given the first book five stars and everything else lower. Hell, the aforementioned Farseer trilogy is just that.My complaint is simple. See, I like books with endings. I like to feel like, even in a series, that something major was achieved at the end of a book. In Ship of Magic, from about the halfway point, you already know what's going to happen to Wintrow. You've already guessed the grand climax, so you sit and wait for the other shoe to drop. You wait, and wait, and suddenly the book is over, and what happens now? This isn't a regular ending. This isn't even like Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself; a novel that, to me, felt like an extended introduction. Ship of Magic just ends, and nothing about it feels like an ending. It was so abrupt that I had to check my e-reader for file chunk errors, and try to find out where ebooks are even stored on this thing just to run a scan to see if somehow the book had glitched out the ending four chapters. Nothing. That, that is where this incredible novel ends?January 17, 2015. Bethesda, Maryland. Modern Tom Whalley read a book with incredibly complex characters, super strong women, suffering dealt through both consequence and chance, and held a sense of joy the whole time. It was even about pirates! He then wrote a review, stepped back, and realized he was unsatisfied with the whole thing. He's going to read the sequels, but he's got a strange taste in his mouth. One full of citric acid; so sour and bitter, he can't quite place what's happening. He'll tell everyone to read this, no doubt. He just won't like it.

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12/21/10I'm about 75% through with this book, and I'm finding it frustrating. As others have said, it's very much a character-based book, and I can dig character-based books if I like the characters, but I'm having a hard time really latching onto anyone that I don't want to smack upside the head. Actually, no, I do like some characters (Brashen and Paragon, for instance) - but the ones I do like we don't seem to spend enough time with, while we spend far too much time with the likes of Kyle and Malta. And I have a love-hate relationship with the shifting perspectives. When I'm slogging through a particularlty annoying or slow perspective, I'm grateful for its end, but there are other times when things are finally get interesting, only for the action to then cut-away from what's going on, and I have to wait 150 more pages to get back to what I was interested in. (And then, when we do get back to it, often time has passed, and so we're not taken back to the moment that had captured me anyway.) So far, I've been reading this book for 9 days. That's a long time for me to take on one book. Part of the problem is that I'm just not really motivated to pick it up. I'm not attached enough to the characters to long for the time when I can pick the book back up, and, sometimes, I even find myself putting it off during my daily allotted reading time. But I don't hate it. Thus far, I would probably rate it 2 stars. And I guess that's what's so frustrating, because I think I could like it more, like it could almost be a book I loved, but it's just not. *shrugs****12/22/10So I finally finished. I was promised some actual character development by the end, and it did happen, of a sort. Also, some stuff came together and there was actually some action. Yay! I wish that the events hadn't been quite so predictable, but at least the last 100 pages or so moved at a better pace.I know do feel the need to continue, when, before, it was more of a "I suppose I must", but a lot of this is because nothing gets resolved in this book. It's definitely not a stand alone.Anyway, even though I feel slightly more favorable to the book than I did above, I still feel like it could've been chopped down, a lot of the character set-up was repetitious and tedious, and I can easily see how some scenes could've been combined. I'm still not sure I like any of the more major players, though.1.5
—colleen the fabulous fabulaphile

I jumped into this book after finishing the Farseer trilogy. Like that series, Hobb takes her time to set things up. I felt this book started a bit slower than Assassin's Apprentice, but like that book, once it really got going, it was hard to put down.This book uses 3rd person, with multiple perspectives compared to the single first person perspective of Farseer. With all that was going on, I think the change of style was warranted.Hobb introduced an interesting ensemble of characters. The likable characters took me a while to warm up to. However, the unlikable characters of Kyle and his ignorant and arrogant daughter Marta had me screaming at my book. I think that's a great sign of how well she was written. Kennit provides an interesting villain so far.So far there is little connection to the first trilogy, though I have my suspicions about some things that will tie in to the Fool as this trilogy unfolds.Unlike Assassin's Apprentice, this book's ending left me unfulfilled. I think it was certainly written with the intention of a trilogy. It reached a good stopping point, but nothing was resolved. I feel like should could have easily tacked on "To Be Continued..."Overall I'd say if you like Farseer trilogy, this will be worth your time, before moving on to Tawny man.I'm eagerly looking forward to the next two books, but taking a short break for some other reading.

Absolutely amazing!I was entranced by this book from the start. It left me wanting more and more with every flip of a page, so much that I ended up slacking in my classes just so I could get the chance to read this. Robin Hobb is going to be my downfall, I swear. Anyways, this book was almost impossible to put down. There was barely an combat (save maybe a scene or two), no insane bursts of magic everywhere, no goblins or demons running around. But it was still fantasy at its finest. There was adventure, some talking ships, but what was so magical about this book was the deep characterization. Everyone felt so real, you could relate to so many of them. They had real life issues to deal with, which was really the story's biggest strength. It was really plot driven. There wasn't a deal of events that happened. I wouldn't say that the plot was nonexistent but it was subtle. What I really paid attention to was the character's actions and relationships with one another. I think that's really what makes Hobb's writing so treasurable. I can't wait to read the next book, and I hope that its as good as this if not better.

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