Liveship Traders Trilogy, by Robin Hobb

These are hefty books, not kind to tired or painful wrists. The setting is basically mediæval-fantastic, something I’m always extremely wary of, particularly from American writers, as they not infrequently try to afflict some of their characters with strange accents that they no doubt fondly imagine sound rural, rather than embarrassing. Fortunately, Ms Hobb is not one of these. Admittedly, one character in the last book of the trilogy does have an odd accent, but at least it’s not a major character, it’s justified by the plot, and nor is it laid on with a trowel so much that it makes you squirm (authors of the Forgotten Realms books, please take note).

The books are genuinely well-written, a rare thing indeed. Only too often have I been forced to read books in translation rather than the original, for the simple reason that the original’s prose was unbearably stilted: Forgotten bloody Realms again, of course; the excruciating writing really put me off that roleplaying universe. The translator might not have the storytelling talent of the author (it’s not required of a translator, after all), but by Jove (s)he knows how to write sentences that flow and leaves the excruciatingly fake accents to fall and starve by the wayside, as they deserve.

Anyway, back to the books. I was laid up for six weeks last summer with a very nasty case of Old War Wound and a friend lent me some of the Farseer series in French. I enjoyed it. So I took the big step and ordered the books I hadn’t already read in French from Amazon, prepared to be disappointed by the style but enjoy the plot. I wasn’t disappointed by the style at all. Lots of adventure, very little bodice-ripping and the story was easy enough to follow while zonked out of my head on painkillers

So what’s all the fuss about? The liveships are merchant ships made from a mysterious magical wood that, in very specific circumstances, becomes animate – and fiercely loyal to the family that owns it and brought it to life. The fortunes and misfortunes of one such merchant family are central to the books. Woven into the story are strange, abandoned, alien cities full of wondrous artefacts and the peculiar transformations suffered by the people who live near them; pirates; slavers; greedy, scheming nobles; pampered, foolish boy-kings; a deadly river that only liveships can sail; sea serpents, and treacherous allies. A spot of bodice-ripping, which you can always skip if you’re not into that sort of thing. There is not one central character but several, and all are allowed to develop naturally throughout the books (except perhaps the one with a clear-cut case of paranoid personality disorder, though that doesn’t mean he’s without interest from a dramatic point of view). The universe is well-crafted and coherent, each of the protagonists has his or her own distinct, personality, and Ms Hobb takes her time in bringing the various threads of the tale together. In fact, this is generally so subtle that I can only severely discourage reading these books while tired or feverish: the danger of missing an Important Clue is too great.

If you like medfan literature and/or romantic adventures on the high seas with added dragons, you should enjoy these books.

  1. Ship of Magic
  2. Mad Ship
  3. Ship of Destiny

Complete trilogy via Amazon UK here: Robin Hobb – The LiveShip Traders Trilogy – 3 Books Collection Set (Ship of Magic, The Mad Ship, Ship of Destiny)

I really ought to throw this one in too: Robin Hobb Collection 3 Books Set Pack (The Farseer Trilogy) ( Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin, Assassin’s Quest)(Farseer Trilogy) (The Farseer Trilogy)

There’s also the Tawny Man series. Unfortunately, I have neither read nor heard any good reports of the rest of Hobb’s novels, so I can’t really recommend them.
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