Wizardwood, a sentient wood. The most precious commodity in the world. Like many other legendary wares, it comes only from the Rain River Wilds. But how can one trade with the Rain Wilders, when only a liveship fashioned from wizardwood can negotiate the perilous waters of the Rain River? Rare and valuable a liveship will quicken only when three members, from successive generations, have died on board. The liveship Vivacia is about to undergo her quickening as Althea Vestrit’s father is carried on deck in his death-throes. Althea waits for the ship that she loves more than anything else in the world to awaken. Only to discover that the Vivacia has been signed away in her father’s will to her brutal brother-in-law, Kyle Haven…Others plot to win or steal a liveship. The Paragon, known by many as the Pariah, went mad, turned turtle, and drowned his crew. Now he lies blind, lonely, and broken on a deserted beach. But greedy men have designs to restore him, to sail the waters of the Rain Wild River once more.
Ship of Magic is book one in The Liveship Traders series. It tells the story of the Vestrit family of traders from Bingtown. The story starts with the death of the patriarch Ephron Vestrit who dies on the Vivacia. The Vivacia is the family ship and a liveship, a magical ship made of Wizardwood (a substance that gives the ship its magical properties). When Ephron dies on board of the Vivacia, it allows the vessel to “quicken,” meaning the ship comes to life and becomes a sentient being. Althea is Ephron’s youngest daughter and the one who should have inherited the ship, but much to her surprise Ephron gives the ship to his older daughter Keffria who subsequently gives it to her husband, Kyle. Althea and Kyle cannot stand each other, and since the Vivacia needs a blood relative of the Vestrits to operate, Kyle orders his son Wintrow, who wanted to become a priest, to come on board of the ship making the boy’s life miserable. Parallel to this story, we meet Kennit, an ambitious pirate who dreams of one day uniting all pirate townships and conquering all pirate ships including the Vivacia.
If the 80s American soap-opera Dynasty had a nautical version, it would be called Ship of Magic. The amount of family drama in this book is unlike anything I have read in a long time. The first fifty percent of the book is just bickering between all members of the Vestrit family, especially between Althea and Kyle.
The pace of the book is irritatingly languid. To quote Stephen King, ” When a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring’, the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with the powers of description and lost sight of his priority…” Indeed the majority of the book is descriptions of people and places to the point you wonder if anything is ever going to happen in this novel, or if this story even has a plot. Ship of Magic does have a plot, and things do eventually start happening but much later in the book, and by then I had read several other novels in between.
At a hefty eight hundred and eight pages, at the end of this book, you feel like you have been reading about Kyle, Althea, Wintrow, Vivacia, and trade families for years. That might have been Hobb’s idea all along since this is book one in the series and the introduction to all the characters and this magical, nautical world. I was happy to have stuck with it, and I actually loved the story all things concerned. However, if you enjoy your fantasy books a little faster paced, Ship of Magic might not be for you.