Book review of Robin Hobb’s Mad Ship
Ship of Magic was one of my favorite fantasy reads to date, and Robin Hobb has certainly gained in popularity in recent years, so for the second novel in The Liveship Traders trilogy, I had fairly high expectations. To the joy of readers everywhere, Hobb continues in top form with Mad Ship, bringing back many of the memorable characters from the first novel, and introducing a few new ones.
The concept of living, breathing, talking ships is certainly novel, and Hobb continues to explore this inventive theme in Mad Ship. She does so with the same enthusiasm displayed in Ship of Magic, and in Mad Ship takes the idea to a new level. In Ship of Magic Hobb reveals a richer backstory to the liveship theme that lends even further credibility to what was already a logical and believable magic system in Ship of Magic. I won’t get into details and ruin the book for those who have yet to read it, but suffice to say the storyline following the sea serpents, their connection to liveships, and some of the history backing the story are very satisfying.
Hobb brings back a wonderful cast of main characters such as Althea, Captain Kennit and Wintrow, liveships such as Ophelia and Paragon, and introduces or focuses more on supporting characters such as Malta, Reyn, Brashen, Amber, Serilla and Magnadon Cosgo. Also, there is a dragon in Mad Ship. We thrill to see Althea return to Bingtown and struggle with deciding to stay and support her family versus returning to the open sea to save the family liveship, Ophelia. We struggle while Wintrow fights to survive aboard Ophelia, while Ophelia struggles to determine how to handle her kidnappers, pirates lead by Captain Kennit. We are frustrated and occasionally appalled watching Malta quickly mature from a young girl into a young woman, and how she immaturely tries to handle the courting of a Rain Wild man, Reyn. In short, there are characters in Mad Ship you will connect with, and will come to love.
Another aspect of Mad Ship I enjoyed thoroughly is the structure of the chapters, and variety of the story lines. I immediately noticed the similarities with the structure of George R.R. Martin’s novels. In the first eight chapters of Mad Ship, you’ll find six or seven different story lines and point of views. The variety is healthy enough that the reader will never get bogged down in one single plot, but not so much to be overwhelming. The key is how Hobb ties all the point of views together, to weave the beautiful overarching story that is Mad Ship.
Of course, we are presented with Hobb’s powerful writing chops, including fantastic descriptive/introspective passages like this example:
It was like sweeping his fingers across a stringed instrument, save that the chord he awoke was not sound. Kennit’s life suddenly sang with his own. Wintrow reeled with the force of the connection, then sat down hard on the deck. A moment later, he tried to describe it to himself. It had not been Kennit’s memories, nor his thoughts or dreams. Instead, it had been an intense awareness of the pirate. The closest comparison he could summon was the way a perfume or scent could suddenly call up detailed memories, but a hundred times stronger. His sense of Kennit had almost driven him out of himself.
Did I forget to mention there are boats in Mad Ship? There is high seas action aplenty here, and you’ll eat up every moment of it.
Hobb also manages to work in some good advice in her books, and here’s a quote I particularly enjoyed:
“Especially then,” she replied sweetly. “That’s how it’s done, Trell. You break your heart against this stony world. You fling yourself at it, on the side of good, and you do not ask the cost. That’s how you do it.”
Mad Ship is a quality follow-up to a fantastic first novel in The Liveship Traders trilogy, and if you liked the first book in the series, you’ll absolutely adore the sophomore edition. I absolutely devoured this 850-page paperback in record time.
You can purchase Mad Ship over at Amazon.com.