The prologue, titled “The Tangle,” is a short few paragraphs in length. In it, Mauklin, a leading sea-serpent, rouses the other serpents in his group–the titular tangle–to answer his dimly-perceived recollections of time and begin to migrate to some uncertain end. The other serpents are resistant, but they eventually follow, leaving shed skins behind them as they swim north.
The prologue, focusing on non-human–indeed, non-humanoid–creatures immediately differentiates the work from the earlier Farseer series; though dragons factor into the text, those shown started as humans, even if they are other than the people who read of them, and the animals that feature as Wit-bonded companions are still filtered through human perceptions. Neither applies here, however, leaving no doubt that the present series is a different thing entirely. (The lack of Asimovian encyclopedia-style entries is a subtler clue, though still worth noting.)
Symbolism in the prologue seems to be more overt than in much of the Farseer novels. Maulkin’s false eyes are noted explicitly, of course, and it is hard to miss the sloughing off of reptilian skin as a sign of leaving old ways behind. The emphasis on poisons, though, seems of interest. Maulkin emits and consumes poison to affirm his honesty; are readers to take the notion that words are potentially perilous? It would be something consistent with other work Hobb has published (if later), as I’ve noted elsewhere. That Hobb’s corpus tends to ascribe that peril to the non-human likely has some additional resonance that might be worth untangling.
More personally, the Liveship Traders series that begins with Ship of Magic was the first of Hobb’s series that I read; Ship of Magic was the first of her books that I read, one recommended to me by Gloria at Books to Share in Kerrville, Texas. I’ve been buying books at that store since 1986, taken there originally by my late maternal grandmother, who had been one of the store’s first customers. It was also the first book in a still-emerging series that I recall; it was the first one I read and hungered for more to come out–with the expectation that I would have that hunger sated.
I still have the copy of the book I bought that day; it’s the one I am reading again for this reread. I most recently previously read it while putting together my paper for the 2019 International Congress on Medieval Studies, which can be read here. I’ve not read it as often as I have the Farseer novels, even if I read the Liveship Traders first. I’m glad to be reading it again, though, and I look forward to this portion of the project.