My rating: 4 stars
When readers start immersing themselves in the fantasy world presented in The Liveship Traders Trilogy by Robin Hobb, they have more questions than answers. Fortunately, by the end of Ship of Destiny, the last instalment in the second series set in the Realm of the Elderlings, almost all of those queries have satisfying answers. Some of them can be predicted based on the information provided in the previous books, Ship of Magic and The Mad Ship, while others come as a surprise. Although the development of the plot is not perfectly paced and not all of the strands are equally gripping, most characters are outstandingly portrayed.
In the previous two books various complications arise in Bingtown, Jamaillia, the Rain Wilds and the Pirate Isles. The time has come for the characters to sort it all out. The people of Bingtown have a serious conflict in their midst. Will the Old Traders, New Traders, Tree Ships and slaves manage to forge peace and create a better society? Will Althea get Vivacia back? The origin of wizardwood continues to be explored too with suspicions being surely confirmed. Kennit’s past is further delved into and readers learn why he was so eager to own a liveship.
All the books in the series are told in the third person from various perspectives. In this instalment, they can be grouped into two main strands that gradually start converging. While one is set on land, the other takes place mostly on the high seas. They are not equally gripping, however. The one Althea and Brashen are involved in is not only more engaging, because of their defined goal, but also more affecting, thanks to the detail and care with which their actions are conveyed.
It’s the characters that make Ship of Destiny (and all the books in the trilogy in general) shine brighter, despite the plot also being captivating. Althea and Brashen’s relationship is endearing and realistic. Their feelings are skilfully portrayed. There are moments of desperation that are extremely vivid and raw. In spite of being a liveship, Paragon’s emotions can feel as real and be as affecting as those of the humans. Kennit, who has always been intriguing, becomes an even more interesting character as his past and motives become clearer. His actions are often enraging, though, and what he suffered doesn’t excuse them.
Seeing that the book features a large number of characters, it’s not surprising that not all of them are equally appealing, leading readers to connect more with some than with others. Malta and Reyn have interesting journeys, for example, but I didn’t warm to them as much. Moreover, some characters are done a disservice when their emotions are not enough focused on. At first, there’s something unconvincing about Serilla’s portrayal. Her ordeal in the previous book doesn’t seem to fully justify her actions. It all makes more sense when her inner feelings are further delved into.
How women are treated in this part of the world is a recurrent theme in the series. Them not being believed even by those who are supposed to be close to them is particularly important in this book and is depicted in a realistic way. Furthermore, it’s also explored how women from Bingtown are not as able to choose their own destinies as men. Althea feels restricted by a still sexist society that idiotically attributes certain guidelines to women.
“She is, Althea thought uneasily, what I pretend to be: a woman who does not let her sex deter her from living as she pleases. It wasn’t fair. Jek had grown up in the Six Duchies, and claimed this equality as her birth right.”
Reading Ship of Destiny is like travelling to a distant, bizarre land. The visual descriptions aid in making all the locations and the surrounding nature come to life.
“The sea was not dark. The tips of the waves caught the moonlight and carried it with them. Starlight snagged and rippled on the backs of the serpents that hummocked through the water beside them.”
Robin Hobb’s books don’t always have a faultless pacing. That’s also the case of Ship of Destiny, which feels too slow at various occasions at the beginning and in the middle, while many of the last events play out too swiftly in just a couple of chapters, as if they were an epilogue. Nevertheless, it is a worthy, bittersweet ending for an engaging series that made me downplay one of my fantasy pet peeves – speaking animals.