The Liveship Traders #1. Author: Robin Hobb.
Wizardwood, a sentient wood. The most precious commodity in the world. Like many other legendary wares, it comes only from the Rain River Wilds. But how can one trade with the Rain Wilders, when only a liveship fashioned from wizardwood can negotiate the perilous waters of the Rain River? Rare and valuable a liveship will quicken only when three members, from successive generations, have died on board. The liveship Vivacia is about to undergo her quickening as Althea Vestrit’s father is carried on deck in his death-throes. Althea waits for the ship that she loves more than anything else in the world to awaken. Only to discover that the Vivacia has been signed away in her father’s will to her brutal brother-in-law, Kyle Haven… Others plot to win or steal a liveship. The Paragon, known by many as the Pariah, went mad, turned turtle, and drowned his crew. Now he lies blind, lonely, and broken on a deserted beach. But greedy men have designs to restore him, to sail the waters of the Rain Wild River once more.
Robin Hobb creates a rich, complex world of many layers and much backstory. The pov characters at first seem scattered, but soon their paths begin to weave together. None of the characters were completely likeable – in fact, the only character I really liked was Paragon. But they were all believable, multi-layered, round characters who were fascinating to follow. The story has a deceptively leisurely pace on the surface at times, but it is packed with conflict. There is Man vs. Self in multiple characters, Man vs. Man plays a very large point, Man vs. Nature plays a role, and finally there is another overarching conflict of Man vs. Man. There are the individual fights and struggles- and the background clash between new traders and old, traditionalists and youngsters. The story was satisfying and believable and drew me on, but many questions were left unanswered for the next book. The moral code of her characters left something to be wished for, especially the pirates, who came the nearest to stopping me (there were, as noted, a few explicit scenes.)
Sexual content: Boy remembers a man making unwanted sexual advances, he had to fight him off. Mention of ‘whore-houses’ – multiple times as a pirate ship makes port it is clear the pirates plan to have sexual intercourse with payed women. One of the pirates is a pov character and there is an explicit scene. Man and wife are described as ‘making love together’ in bed. Thirteen-year old girl dresses in revealing clothes, her grandmother says she looks like a whore. Lewd jokes among sailors. Two characters, both slightly drunk and using a form of drug, have sexual intercourse together. Pirate takes a woman with him on board, she regularly spends the night with him in his cabin. Some innuendo in speech.
Language: 100 d***, 15 derogatory names.
Violence: Character remembers killing an artist with a sword. Character slaps another. Liveship remembers another liveship burning to death. Ship taken by pirates, multiple men killed in swordfights, live men thrown to sea serpents. Large numbers of seals slaughtered by arrow. Character throws a boy into a wall several times. Man slammed to ground by a bear, then caught in a bear-hug and several ribs broken. Boy has his ribs broken by bear. Swordfight – one man killed by a cut throat, two others killed in the dark, two men stabbed through heart. Character knocked out by a blow to the head. Slaves are chained up and maltreated. New slaves are pinned down and tattooed with an identifying mark. Serpent snatches man off ship and eats him whole. Men are burned by acidic mucus. Serpent bites into man, another character cuts his leg off. Slave chokes herself, a slave drowns himself. Character slams another’s head on the ground repeated times until he is dead.