Recent reading: Liveship Traders

Okay . . . over the past couple of weeks, I very slowly worked my way through SHIP OF MAGIC, MAD SHIP, and SHIP OF DESTINY by Robin Hobb.

Honestly . . . I can’t decide what I think of them. They’re solidly in the modern-epic-fantasy subgenre. Lots of pov characters, lots of intersecting plotlines.

The difference between this trilogy and George RR Martin’s series is: nobody important gets killed in the first book. Actually, I don’t think anybody really important gets killed at all.

The difference between this trilogy and Joe Abercrombe’s BEST SERVED COLD trilogy is that all the characters either become better people over time, or at least don’t start off as decent people and then become corrupted, weak, and/or evil. And one of the more evil characters? Turns out there’s a very good reason for why he is the way he is, and I don’t mean a pseudopsychological explanation involving unhappy childhoods. (Though he also had an unhappy childhood, but seriously, that wasn’t why he was the way he was.)

When I started this trilogy, I was pretty sure I would wind up giving it away. And maybe I will. But I ended up liking it a lot better than I thought I would, largely because of the characters growing up and changing in good ways over the course of the books.

We have The Willful, Headstrong Heiress, Althea. I am not a big fan of the Willful, Headstrong Heroine in general, but Althea was not as annoying as some and she did turn out well.

Then there’s her niece, the Other Willful, Headstrong Heiress, Malta, who is also selfish and stupid. Thank the Lord, she grows up a LOT and becomes a very different kind of person by the end. Plus, she turns out not to be stupid after all, once she gets over being ultimately self-centered.

There’s the Dispossessed Son Trying To Prove Himself. Brashen does okay, though. He’s flawed in believable and not-too-serious ways and he really is a competent guy.

There’s the Evil Pirate, Kennit, who turns out to be very interesting, though ordinarily I’m not at all interested in seeing the pov of the bad guys. Too, too tedious. But he’s a sociopath trying to pass himself off as a good guy, which raises all these questions about what it means to be a good guy. I mean, if you do all these good-guy things, but don’t feel it, are you a good guy after all? Or not?

There’s the Whore-Turned-Pirate-Queen, Etta. Okay, I DID love Etta, right from the first.

We have the Oppressed Wife, Keffria, who takes longer to stand on her own two feet than seems strictly necessary. And her Evil Husband, who raises the question: Is he actually insane? Or just extremely selfish and stupid?

And Ronica, her mother, who works so hard to protect her family, against considerable odds. Though if she hadn’t supported Kyle over Althea in the beginning, well, whatever. I guess that would have changed the plot a whole lot.

And the Satrap’s Companion of the Heart, whose name I unfortunately have forgotten, who has some pretty dramatic ups and downs when it comes to coping with her life. Granted, she has a lot to contend with from time to time, but she’s definitely making more of her own problems than some of the others.

There’s The Boy Priest, Whitrow, who does enough stupid, stupid things in the first book to nearly make me give up on the whole book. Like: leaving the ship with no money and planning just to wing it on your way back to the monastery? This is your plan? And then letting yourself get drawn in to the very first altercation that you pass? It’s not like all his trouble is of his own making, but his worst trouble sure is.

And Reyn, who listens to dragons a bit too much, or just enough, whatever.

There’s the mad liveship, Paragon. Actually, Paragon was almost the only character I found interesting in the first book — the others grew on me later, but Paragon was always fascinating. We barely see him in the first book, though.

There’s the other liveship, Vivacia. I liked her, except when her Evil Twin took over for a while.

And last — the serpents! I like them fine. They are not exactly nice or pleasant, but they are interesting and not at all human. And the dragon herself is SUCH a selfish, egotistical creature, but I guess I can see why. Not that I liked her. Very interesting, for Robin Hobb to choose to create really unlikeable dragons.

I think that’s, what, fourteen point-of-view characters? Excessive much?

Still, there’s no doubt Hobb is a good writer. And okay, okay, yes, it did work out in ways that made me like it. I’m glad I read it all the way through. Really. But I’m not sure I will ever read it again, so I think it is still destined for the give-away pile.

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6 thoughts on “Recent reading: Liveship Traders”

  1. I never really warmed to the Liveship Traders, either. (Though Paragon was awesome, and my favorite part of the entire trilogy was when Amber carved him with Fitz’s face.) Oddly, though I often quite like Robin Hobb’s books on first read, they’re not really reread material for me.

  2. I am kind of working backwards in time through Robin Hobb’s books, because I read the dragon ones first and that’s what got me interested in the liveship trilogy. So I don’t know Amber from any other series and had no idea whose face she was giving Paragon.

    But I could hardly believe she waited so long to carve him a new face, no matter what Brashen or Paragon himself thought about it.

    My favorite part was when Vivacia gives Kennet back to Paragon at last. But that whole part near the end where everything comes together is excellent.

    I think it’s just hard to really get into a book when there are so many different pov characters and so many disparate plotlines, especially when all the characters are unlikable and/or immature. There may be lots of room for them to develop, but if I don’t like them in the first place, it’s hard to care whether they get their lives in order or not.

    I also have THE FOREST MAGE by Hobb, but after reading reviews about it and the other two in its trilogy, I have to say, I may just give it away without reading it. Self-loathing protagonists are really not likely to do it for me, and I gather that’s what we have in that trilogy.

  3. I’ve never read The Forest Mage, mostly because of listening to my sister’s rant about it after she finished it. (Though she was most upset about the body horror, I gather. Hobb has a tendency to have her characters undergo intense and transformative physical suffering — I’m thinking in particular of the nastiness with the developing wings in the dragon books — which Forest Mage apparently has in spades; my sister said she felt physically sick reading it.)

    I really liked the Assassin trilogy and its follow-up trilogy, The Golden Fool (both of which are set mostly in a land far to the north of Bingtown), but they are one whole long exercise in “How Much Can I Make This Character Suffer” and I have to be in a particular mood to reread them, which I haven’t done in years. Fitz, the young man whom Amber carves as Paragon’s face, is the main character of those books, but his glancing cameo in Traders is really just an Easter egg for the fans.

    Regarding multiplicity and unlikeability of characters — I have little enough time to read these days that when I pick up a book, I want to spend time with characters I like. What’s the point in sitting inside a character’s head for several hours and several hundred pages when I’m loathing him or her the whole time? I don’t mind if a character is prickly or defensive or even hard to like, so long as there is some reason for me to do so. (I’m thinking of Nick from Demon’s Lexicon or Hallie from Wide Open, both of whom I ended up adoring very quickly, although they’re both very difficult people). But if a character is just a downright nasty or miserable or annoying person, why bother? Even if they grow up at the end, the payoff isn’t always worth the slog to get there. There are far too many wonderful books and characters out there for me to spend several hours wanting to give these ones a swift kick in the pants.

  4. Yeah, I’m thinking, given your sister’s comments, The Forest Mage is not for me. And yes, it’s interesting, the difference between a character like Nick or Hallie, versus a character like Kennit or Magda Malta, I mean — oops — from the liveship trilogy. The young Maltais not only really annoying, she’s annoying in such a tedious way. Nick is anything but tedious and annoying! Same for Hallie, whom I really liked. Same actually for Maria in Shinn’s SHAPE OF DESIRE — she was ridiculously obsessed with her boyfriend, but I really enjoyed reading about her anyway. And all of those characters are people I liked, too, and rooted for, and wanted to do well — and of course they all did do well, in the end, or I would have wound up disliking the books.

    I wonder how much of the unlikeability that most turns me off is actually boredom with a character who’s unlikeable in some cliched way?


  5. I’ve never liked any Robin Hobb nearly as much as her earlier work as Megan Lindholm. And somewhere along the line I skipped a LOT of pages in one of the Hobb books and didn’t notice anything missing when I restarted around a third of the way to the end. So I stopped reading her. I remember Fitz’ story was very frustrating, and irritating: She never let him succeed, and she put him through misery all along the way.

    Nick and Hallie are both difficult, but interesting. I think part of the difference is they care and the author lets them accomplish something they care about. I find it almost impossible to care about a character who doesn’t care about something. And if the author pulls the rug out from under them every time as I recall with Fitz, well…. that wears me out.

    Then there’s the character in THE HOLLOW CITY. He’s got problems, but he wants to do the right thing. And sort of does, I think, in the end.

    Leah Cypess has written a difficult setting and character in NIGHTSPELL. Very prickly and rather limited. And I’m not completely satisfied with the conclusion, but I think it was the best she could do with the character.

    the library tells me the Shinn has come in and is on hold for me, so I’ll soon get a look at Maria.

  6. Well, the Liveship trilogy wasn’t bad in that way, actually. Althea and Breshen both care about important things, and achieve them (pretty much); and so does Amber. Reyn cares about Malta and about freeing the dragon, and he does get the girl and free the dragon. Malta is SUCH a twit, but eventually she cares a whole lot about surviving — and she does turn into quite a good diplomat, though driven at first purely by her own survival.

    Still, I don’t think Hobb is going to be in my top-ten-favorite-authors-of-all-time list.

    What of Lindholm’s would you particularly recommend?

    I’ll look forward to knowing what you think of Maria!

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