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Merle

Merle

Ship of Destiny - Robin Hobb For one reason or another I haven't given any of the Liveship books especially good star ratings, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy them: I really did. This is a fun book with an intense, compelling plot and I certainly enjoyed following the adventures of the characters I'd been with for a couple of books now. Actually, just the fact that I read all three books in the trilogy back-to-back speaks well of them (because often I need a break in between).

In this last book, in particular, I really liked seeing how Bingtown society responds to everything that has happened thus far. Hobb does an excellent job of showing a society moving forward after a crisis--unlike in a lot of fantasy, there's no pretense that things will go back to being the way they were before, or that the way things were before is necessarily better--without losing sight of the divisions within that society. Unfortunately, the larger story and political backdrop seem to get lost in the later part of the book, which focuses heavily on those characters whose quests are primarily personal (Althea and Wintrow, for instance). And in the end, much of the international conflict here gets brushed aside as if it were an afterthought, while the focus shifts to lots of shipboard action. The shipboard action is cool and all, but when there are murmurs of a brewing war throughout the series I feel rather cheated to see it not come to anything in the end. One of the antagonists' stories is also cut off abruptly, before he can have any of the confrontations I was hoping for and expecting.

There is a lot to love in this trilogy. The character development is strong, and in particular there are several great, relatable female characters, much more realistic than normal fantasy fare. We get to read about a seafaring, merchant-based society that has a 16th-century feel; there's political and social change, and an overall progressive ethos--Bingtown has to change and move forward, not return to what it was in the past; there's no ultimate evil, but rather a bunch of characters all struggling to get what they want. The story goes interesting places.

But.... the world feels underdeveloped; not only is it underdescribed in a purely physical sense, but even where the focus is on societal change, the societies don't seem to have much substance; think "well-to-do merchant society" and you already know everything there is to know about the Bingtown Traders. As is common with Hobb, there is bloat: how many times do we really need to be reminded that the channels in the Pirate Isles shift and are thus impossible to chart? And as one might guess from the title of this last book, Hobb uses "destiny" to explain certain coincidences and the supernatural plays a role in a couple characters' psychology, which I wasn't thrilled about. But while I might have preferred a bit less of it, the magic fits well into the story, and it's fairly unique--living ships with talking, thinking figureheads aren't something you're likely to see anywhere else.

Ultimately, this trilogy is solid entertainment. It's a fun seafaring adventure with complex characters and some interesting concepts. With a better world, and a writing style better than merely serviceable, it might have been fantastic, but in the end I don't regret reading it. And I found it to be more consistent than either of the other Hobb trilogies I've read (Farseer and Soldier's Son). There are a lot of things Hobb could have done better, but even where she fell short it's still better than most fantasy out there.