With the concluding volume of her "Liveship Traders" trilogy, Robin Hobb is once again at the top of her form; in fact, she's right on top of the whole sf/f heap. Ship of Destiny shines, its dual themes of self-realization and selflessness twined throughout and binding a profusion of plot lines with surprising elegance.
Bingtown lies smoldering, the strata of its citizens as embattled with one another as they are against the invading Chaldedeans. Ronica Vestrit, the matriarch of a once-proud Trader family, finds herself destitute and labeled a traitor. She is the last of her line in the fiercely independent port city, and with nothing to lose but her life, resolves to remove the blight from the Vestrit name. As battles rage and infighting eats away at the heart of Bingtown, Ronica desperately tries to bring Old and New Traders, Three Ships folk and the ex-slave Tattooed together to save their city and themselves from being apportioned out to the greedy outsiders intent on destroying and looting their livelihoods.
While Ronica's heastrong younger daughter Althea sails on the mad liveship Paragon in hopes of retrieving the family liveship, Vivacia, from the would-be pirate king Kennit, the other Vestrits find themselves in equally untenable positions. Althea's sister Keffria, still grieving over the disappearance of her seafaring husband and their eldest son, now mourns the apparent death of her daughter Malta, last seen in the bowels of a huge underground city as a massive earthquake struck the strange and wonderful Rain Wilds. With the sudden emergence from the ruined subterranean city of a single legendary dragon, Malta's betrothed, the native Rain Wilder Reyn, dares hope that he might yet find his love alive. The haughty Tintaglia, an arrogant and magnificent creature, has only one goal, and only one use for the otherwise insignificant humans: to keep her kind from extinction.
Malta is alive, but damaged -- a wound to her head is bearing for fruit a disfiguring scar. Her beauty suddenly taken from her, the difficult girl comes into her own as a young woman, finding withing herself a burning desire to make the most of her life. Held captive with the petulant figurehead ruler of Jamaillia known as the Magnadon Satrap, she discovers that her worth to their captors is only as high as her erstwhile companion's. When they are taken from the treacherous Chalcedeans by a ship of Kennit's pirate fleet, Malta takes a desperate gambit to not only preserve her own life but to try to salvage her ruined family.
Wintrow, forcibly bound to the Vivacia by his father, has grown to love her. He's also grown to respect the destiny of her new captain, the pirate Kennit, and to secretly love Kennit's woman Etta. He stands behind Kennit in his quest to become King of the Pirate Isles, but when Vivacia learns the secret of her origins, the ship flees to a secret part of herself and Wintrow finds himself suddenly shut out of the most important relationship of his life. As the destinies of the Vestrit family members converge asea, escorted by a roiling tangle of monstrous sea serpents, the secrets of the liveships and of their humans collide, leaving the fate of their future teetering precariously in the balance.
Robin Hobb weaves a daunting mob of plot lines expertly into one of the best stories seen recently in the genre. The characters living the tale throw the weight of their secret shames and their driving passions against what holds them back, and the complexities of their fears and hopes are what really drive Ship of Destiny to the heights of near perfection it attains. Hobb is well on her way to inclusion in the genre pantheon, and Destiny's stunning conclusion only leaves readers hungry for more from her pen. Indeed, a few well-placed references to the Six Duchies of the "Farseer Trilogy" whets eager appetites for the rumored continuance of FitzChivalry Farseer's tale.