Richard's Reviews > Ship of Magic

Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb
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's review
Dec 12, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, bookclub, series
Recommended to Richard by: SciFi & Fantasy Group 2010-12 Fantasy Selection
Read from January 18 to 19, 2011

Robin Hobb’s Ship of Magic is an epic fantasy with the bones of a romance novel.

Epic not in scope or grandeur, but in the breadth of the plot and complexity of the many twining plot lines.

The romance aspect is the troublesome part. As I see it, at the heart of a romance novel is the misunderstood relationship. Start with a pair of people that think they know something of one another, but whose conceptions are fundamentally flawed. A woman might think a man is uncouth and unworthy of her; a man might think the beautiful and passionate woman he desires as a wife is inwardly as beautiful and will only be passionate towards him. Amplify these mistakes with careless words, with poorly timed absences, with whatever contingencies the author can toss in, and you have the melodrama of romance.

The biggest flaw in Ship of Magic is that Hobb overdoes this; she dips into the trick bag too often and too blatantly. There are probably half a dozen different pairs of people in this story that could anchor a quieter novel, and it strains the readers credulity that so many relationships could be warped in such similar patterns.

That, and one lesser problem, are what keep this from being a five-star novel. That other problem is that after eight hundred pages one would hope for something more than such an abrupt ending, leaving every thread hanging and every subplot under tension.

Still, what Hobb does well she does very well. There are over a dozen major characters, and each is a vibrant presence. Even better, she doesn’t rely on some of the common crutches of her trade: no one here is so trivial as to be “purely evil” — there are no Lord Saurons or Voldemorts, just evil born of selfishness and callousness, as we see in our own world. Thus even when we despise the actions of her villains, Hobb shows us enough that we pause before we despise the villain, and in some cases what we find instead is sadness, or pity, or disgust. Curiously, I think she sometimes illuminates the inner lives of those antagonists better than her heroes. She also crafted a narrative that transmits emotions and thoughts with fluid grace, and the story gallops along at a breathless pace for most of those eight hundred pages.

If you chose to read Ship of Magic, it seems likely you will want and need to read the remainder of the trilogy, so be forewarned. Hobb makes that fairly easy; the pages pass by quickly — but it is still a commitment.

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