Anyone who read and loved Robin Hobb's "Farseer Trilogy" (Assassin's Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin's Quest) will delight in this first book of "The Liveship Traders." Ship of Magic showcases Hobb's impressive ability to blur the lines between the good guys and the bad, creating flawed protagonists and sympathetic antagonists. Such rich characterization coupled with a unique milieu makes this novel a must-read for fantasy fans who want more than business-as-usual in their personal libraries.
Althea Vestrit has waited her whole life to become captain of the liveship Vivacia, a vessel constructed in the magical but dangerous Rain Wilds near Bingtown. Built specifically for her Old Trader family several generations back, Vivacia will become completely sentient when three Vestrits have died upon her decks. But a dying Ephron Vestrit, Althea's beloved father whose own death is that necessary third, stuns his younger daughter by willing her inheritance, the captaincy of Vivacia, to his newcomer son-in-law Kyle. A hard man determined to pull the family out of debt, Kyle banishes Althea from the liveship and brings aboard his son Wintrow to develop the Vestrit bond with Vivacia. The adolescent boy despairs when he is torn from his studies to become a priest of Sa, but his father is relentless in pushing him to become a passable sailor.
Althea, desperate to regain the Vivacia, signs on as a ship's boy on a slaughter vessel to get at least one other captain to vouch for her abilities. With her is her father's first mate Brashen, the disinherited older son of another Old Trader family whom Kyle also dismissed from the Vivacia. A budding intimacy between the two could be Althea's undoing. While at home Kyle's daughter Malta vexes her grandmother with reckless behavior, endangering the Vestrit family's standing back in Bingtown, Vivacia's new captain threatens the newly quickened liveship's sanity by preparing to haul the surest money-making cargo available: human slaves. Althea's hope to reclaim Vivacia, and Wintrow's longing to return to his devotion to Sa, ultimately lies in the hands of the ambitious pirate Kennit. The man's two highest aspirations? To become King of the Pirate Isles and to procure a liveship.
Ship of Magic teems with magic, mystery and heartbreak. Teasing glimpses of deeper secrets and profound revelations ensure that readers, despite this first book's length, will be eager to jump headfirst into the second volume of "The Liveship Traders." Hobb proves once again (as if there were any doubt after "The Farseer" books) that hers is one of the most original voices in contemporary fantasy.