Robin Hobb
Ship of Magic (Book 1 of The Liveship Traders)
Bantam Spectra 1998

After the immense success with her fabulous Farseer Saga, Ms Hobb is now back with the first book in a new series set in another part of the same world. Bingtown is a city very much dedicated to trade. They control the sea trade between the heartland of the Jamailian empire and the Chalced states and even trade as far away as the Six Duchies. But their most important trade is up the Rain Wild River, where they can buy marvellous artefacts touched by the river's wild magic. Not anybody can go up that river. No, you need a special kind of ship, a magical ship, a living ship. A liveship.

Vivacia is the Vestrit family liveship. The Vestrits are an old Trader family, counting their history back to the original settlers in Bingtown a few hundred years ago. As an old Trader family you have certain privileges, but also certain responsibilities. One privilege is the Rain Wild trade. One responsibility is to keep one's contracts with the Rain Wild trader families. In blood or gold. The Liveships are built by the people upriver, and the costs are enormous. Vivacia was ordered by Captain Vestrit's grandmother, but the family's still paying off the debts. And the ship hasn't come alive yet!

Three Vestrits, three captains, must first die, letting their blood flow into the ship. Two has done that already, and the Captain's time is now close. He's dying, but who's to be the next captain? Althea Vestrit, the Captain's youngest daughter, knows that she's the ship's rightful next captain - but she's still young, and her brother-in-law, Kyle Haven, is a far more experienced sailor and captain. Still, he's no Vestrit, and what does he know about liveships anyway? Enough to save what's left of the family's fortune? Enough to save his daughter from being taken to the Rain Wild River to become some trader's wife - and affected for life by the wild magic?

It's not easy to follow up a series like the Farseer Saga. Everybody will be expecting marvellous things. Some more of the same, some a new epic just as unique as the Farseer Saga. Ms Hobb chooses a way between these expectations - a very different epic set in the same world.

It's different in many ways. Because of the setting, ships are important, and trade. I can't remember anything that wasn't happening either out on the sea or in a port town. Shipping slaves, hunting sea animals, privateering and honest trade are all part of the mix. But the most unique part of the sea stories is of course those told for a sea serpent perspective.

But the life of a Bingtown trader isn't just shipping. There're also balls and other social occassions, lovely for a young lady coming to age, and terrible for a young woman like Althea Vestrit who'd rather be at sea. Life in Bingtown is really quite interesting in itself, the combination of old Trader traditions, the destructive influences from the slavers of the Chalced states in the north and the nouveau riches arriving from Jamailia in the south. In many ways it feels like the mythical American South of "Gone with the Wind" and stuff like that. It's interesting, although it feels strange that such a society should exist not that far away from the harsh, more or less medieval society of the Six Duchies described in the Farseer Saga.

If it hadn't been for the Farseer Saga being set in the same world, I would be all delight about this new book. It's a good one, really. But there are so many new, strange things added that I find it harder and harder to put it together into one world. Still, Ms Hobb tells us, or so it's been said to me, that she knows quite a lot about how the magic of her world really works, and then, well, I guess I just have to trust her. And enjoy the ride.

Karl Henriksson

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Books by the same author:
Assassin's Apprentice
Royal Assassin
Assassin's Quest
The Mad Ship

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Henriksson & Henriksson 1998.