Sunday, 8 January 2017

Ship of Destiny by Robin Hobb

The liveship Vivacia is in the hands of the pirate king Kennit, who has won the living ship's heart with his kindness and rejection of slavery. But Althea Vestrit is not prepared to let her family ship be taken into piracy. Having refloated the liveship Paragon and assembled a crew, she now plans to retake her vessel. Meanwhile, the forces of Jamaillia and Chalced have sacked Bingtown. The surviving Traders have to rebuild and reassert themselves in times of great adversity. But, far to the north, the first dragon seen in the world for centuries has taken wing...

Ship of Destiny concludes the Livship Traders trilogy, the second major movement (of five, so far) in Robin Hobb's Realm of the Elderlings mega-series. The conclusion to her first series in this world, The Farseer Trilogy, was sabotaged by the book being incredibly overlong, with poor pacing and structural issues that made ploughing through it a chore. Ship of Destiny is certainly a far superior ending, juggling a much larger number of stories and interesting characters far more effectively, although some similar issues remain. It does feel like events continue to unfold more slowly and laboriously than they really should, and the book has more endings than the film version of The Return of the King.

Still, Hobb's gifts of characterisation continue to shine with her treatment of her major cast. After being fairly restrained in the previous novel, it's good to see Althea reassert herself as a major protagonist and after all of his self-delusions and justifications, it's good to see Kennit's flaws and plans blow up in his face. However, I can't help but feel that the mechanism Hobb uses to make it clear that Kennit is a villain and not a cool, amoral antihero - the rape of another character - is a little too obvious. Unlike some characters who introduce this idea into their work for shock value, Hobb owns this story decision and follows through on its consequences effectively, which is a refreshing change even as it makes for some grim reading.

The storylines and characters are developed satisfyingly, although as we reach the climax the focus shifts to events on the Vivacia and Paragon and the storylines in Bingtown and Trehaug are completely abandoned. This is a bit surprising as major characters vanish abruptly from the story for hundreds of pages at the end of the novel, but Hobb actually makes it work quite well when we eventually catch up with those characters at the end of the story.

Ship of Destiny (****) is a surprisingly relaxed conclusion to a highly enjoyable and some different kind of fantasy trilogy, with Hobb's fine gifts for characterisation on full display. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.

1 comment:

Wastrel said...

Just on the rape point: I think anything else would feel like a cheat. Arguably the entire trilogy is about rape - the reasons for it and the reactions to it - with half a dozen different major characters being raped, put in lingering threat of rape, or implied or suggested to have been raped with the facts not made clear to the reader. And in particular, Kennit's entire personality is, not to go too far into spoilers, built on rape. It's the inevitable conclusion of events right from the beginning, with lots of foreshadowing, and swerving to avoid it would seem disrespectful.

[Thinking about it, even the bigger-picture issues are rape-adjacent. The slavery question is explicitly connected to, and of course symbolically an extension of, rape. And even the serpent/dragon issue is all about the reproductive systems of sentient beings being exploited against their will. Given the constant return to themes of rape in most of Hobb's works, and indeed also abortion (if we put that under the general heading of "women's control of their own reproductive system"), these parallels may well be intentional.]

Glad you liked the book, though. After your (not unfounded) complaints about earlier installments, I feared you might hate this one, given that the series continues to grow and grow...