Mad Ship by Robin Hobb

Mad Ship.jpgEvery once in a while I stumble upon an author who has written something that speaks to me on a very basic and emotional level. It’s often hard for me to predict when that is going to happen. With Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy I felt her getting close to that point. Fitz is the kind of character who is just too frustrating to love completely.

With the Liveship Traders I believe that she has completely hooked me beyond the possibility of release. This world expands into multiple viewpoints, dozens of characters, and new governments and history and life.

I understand all the complaints that get leveled at Hobb — I understand them but I disagree. This is a book to savor. To dig into the long and thoughtful prose and be swept away into a world of tragedy and sorrow and pain and loss where hope and redemption seem so very distant.

Hobb writes long books and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Without the length and heft of her writing this world, these characters would not grow so vastly.

And they all grow.

Althea might have been the hero in the first book but she is forced to face the consequences of her immature and selfish actions. Brashen also is slipping into his old habits, ones of addiction and sloth. Malta, who, in the first book seemed on her way to becoming a first-rate villain, begins to grow and change in other ways as she sees the position that her family is in. Wintrow is put in a position to question his place in the world and Kennit is tricked by luck into making some good decisions.

This book continues the story of the Vestrit family and those who orbit around them. The tragedy that struck when they lost their liveship to pirates and how they scrape together the resources to restore a ship gone mad in order to get her back.

One thing that strikes me about these books is that this is a story about women. The only reason this stands out is that it is so rare in fantasy. More than half of the viewpoint characters are women and each of them is motivated by different things and reacts in different ways. None of them are saints, none of them are free of mistakes. They are all heroes.

Why does this not happen more in fantasy? Even books written by women tend to feature mostly male casts. Is that a marketing fiat decision or just a default position?

Robin Hobb is at top form here and in her usual way she kicks all the characters into the mud and drags them around in it a bit. These characters go through the kinds of hell that none of us wish to ever see.

Hobb leaves a glimmer of hope at the end and a swath of unanswered mysteries to propel the reader on to the next book. She knows her craft and this is one of the prime examples of it.

Robin Hobb is one of the premier fantasy writers still working today and I can’t wait to see what she will write next.

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