Backlist Reviews, Book Reviews, Fantasy

Backlist Review: Ship of Destiny by Robin Hobb

A Backlist Review series for books that I loved but read previous to running this blog, applying only to anything that isn’t a new read for me. It’s the prefect excuse for a reread of old favourites!

The dragon, Tintaglia, released from her wizardwood coffin, flies high over the Rain Wild River. Below her, Reyn and Selden have been left to drown, while Malta and the Satrap attempt to navigate the acid flow of the river in a decomposing boat. Althea and Brashen are sailing the liveship Paragon into pirate waters in a last-ditch attempt to rescue the Vestrit family liveship, Vivacia, who was stolen by the pirate king, Kennit; but there is mutiny brewing amongst their ragtag crew, and in the mind of the mad ship itself. And all the while the waters around the Vivacia are seething with giant serpents, following the liveship as she sails to her destiny…

Spoiler warning for books one and two.

It has taken me most of a month to get through Robin Hobb’s hefty Lifeship Traders trilogy, but it’s certainly been worth it. I have spent every moment I could lost in this complex series, and despite it being a reread, I could not put it down, especially this epic conclusion. My main frustrations with Ship of Destiny were the moments I felt wasted pages, especially at the beginning when a lot of things were repeated that had been told at the end of The Mad Ship. I know it makes sense because as they were being written people would not have binge-read them as I did, but I’m still allowed to be itching for the story proper to get started! My other complaint, and a bit of a warning, is that the last two books in this series suffer a lot from frequent allusion to and actual sexual violence.

The story picks up where the last one left off, with Reyn and Selden trapped in the collapsed ruins of the Elderling city, Malta trapped on a boat with the Satrap, flowing steadily down a corrosive river with no hope of rescue, and a dragon newly awakened to the world. This was the most high tension point at the end of The Mad Ship, and though then the dragon Tintaglia had vowed to save the humans who freed her, the start of Ship of Destiny sees her immediately distracted by her need to hunt and then find others of her kind. It adds some suspense to a moment I had thought resolved, but I still wish it had gone a bit quicker. The other element that dragged for me was the events on the Vivacia for most of the first half; they had a lot of build-up in book two which I really enjoyed, and there had to be rest moments, but the whole back and forth between Wintrow, Kennit, and the newly transformed ship was a bit repetitive. That’s all I can say without giving too much away, but those who have read it hopefully know what I mean. I think the presence of She Who Remembers was the thing that kept me going for that time…

What I did love, though, was Bingtown. Of course, I didn’t love the fact that in the last book we saw Bingtown essentially collapse in on itself after the violence of the Satrap’s kidnapping, but it was so satisfying to watch the slow, painstaking rebuilding. I enjoyed the political and economic machinations that came to the fore after the anarchy, and even the people making things worse by trying to pull power to themselves were interesting to read, because there were still those intent on putting the pieces back together. Not just that but having Bingtown, a place divided between Old Traders, New Traders, servants, slaves, and Three Ships families, decide that their future must involve them all if they are to survive was so so good to read. And the fact that Ronica Vestrit, an older widow who has lost all her possessions and half her family, is a driving force behind that was incredibly badass. Watching her and then Keffria come into their own was – and I know I keep using this word – so satisfying!

The Vestrits stood together, no matter what else might come. 

In fact, the Vestrit women were all a joy to read: Malta, despite the horrible things she endures, learns to turn her circumstances to her favour as well as the benefit of her family and town; Althea finally has a chance to prove her talent as a sailor; Keffria learns to stand on her own without relying on a man to make every decision, and flourishes; Ronica learns to let go of the way things were for the chance to build something better in the future, despite the people who would say her life is almost over. I would say that this series, and this book in particular, is driven so much by the strength and desires of strong female characters.

And character really is at the heart of this trilogy… sure, the mystery of the Liveships and the truth of their origins is fascinating, and the slow unfolding of secrets and conspiracies kept me hooked, but they would all have fallen flat without the work that Hobb put into every single character. This is a world without one Big Bad to defeat, and the tension comes from people’s ambitions and actions. All characters, even the minor ones, had motives that made sense, and so it all felt incredibly real and fleshed out. It meant that when things happened that could only be attributed to destiny, they didn’t feel like too much because they were well balanced by the characters’ very real reactions to them.

As you can probably tell, this reread has cemented the series as a favourite of mine, and I’m sure in another five or ten years I’ll pick it up again. In the meantime, though, I plan on giving The Farseer Trilogy another go – I never got past Royal Assassin because I couldn’t watch poor Fitz endure any more – and then read the rest of the books set in the Realm of the Elderlings, which I’ve not had a chance to before. I think I’m enjoying losing myself in a well-established world and knowing that I can pick up book after book without needing to wait for a release date for the next one. As much as I love reading new publishing, I am definitely in a backlist reading period.

Book Info

Published: 1st August 2000 by Voyager (UK)
Genre: fantasy, nautical
Pages: 912 (my edition)
Series: The Liveship Traders, book three – part of the wider Realm of the Elderlings series
Narration style: third person past tense, multiple points of view 
Format read: paperback
Content Warnings: violence, references to sexual violence, rape, slavery, misogyny, blood

4 thoughts on “Backlist Review: Ship of Destiny by Robin Hobb”

  1. I really enjoyed these books too (and love what they lead to in the following series), but I agree about the parts in which it dragged. I remember getting a little impatient to get going in those spots.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s