A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 104: Ship of Magic, Chapter 3

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The following chapter, “Eprhon Vestrit,” starts with Ronica Vestrit tending to her titular husband in his final illness and grousing about the servant, Rache, that had been sent her by Davad Restart and who had tended Ephron poorly. She mentally rehearses their life together and the plans that Ephron’s illness has halted. She also recalls arguments they had had regarding their daughter, Althea, and notes the shift in practice in Bingtown towards “keep[ing] one’s womenfolk free of such tasks” as estate management before musing on the falling fortunes of the Vestrit family and public shits towards slave labor and trading in Bingtown.

This might be the kind of thing on which the chapter ends.
Image from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources by way of the Pittsburgh City Paper, which I think means it’s public domain, and used here for commentary

Ronica is roused from her reverie by Davad calling at her home. Amid likely unintentional rudeness, he carries an offer from another Trader family to buy some of the Vestrit holdings. Ronica’s refusal carries the weight of tradition and history, of which she reminds Davad (and allows Hobb to inform readers, a smooth bit of exposition). Davad rebuts with assertions that the old ways his family and hers had followed are ending, and Ronica’s own refutation grows emotionally charged and fraught for them both. They retreat a bit, laying the blame at the feet of the governing Satrap, as Ephron wakes and asks for pain medication.

Ronica takes the chance to escort Davad out. Despite their earlier argument, they reaffirm their friendship and their common legacy of suffering. And as Ronica looks out over Bingtown afterwards, she muses yet further on the changes already in progress–changes that look as much like depredations as anything else to her old eyes.

While the previous chapter, treating Althea, made some motions toward it, the present chapter, where it focuses on Ronica, presents something of a feminist vision–not of feminine dominance, but of parity. This is something that Hobb’s Farseer works treat, certainly, as noted by both Bokne and Katavić, among others, but it is more prominent a concern in the Liveship Traders books. Given what I know about large, loud sections of the fantasy-literature fanbase, particularly those who focus their devotions on the Tolkienian tradition of which Hobb partakes to a limited degree, it is likely the cause of the lesser attention given the Liveship Traders books; a damned lot of readers (yes, I mean “damned”) mislikes “politics” in their reading, with “politics” being “a position I do not espouse and from which I do not benefit” in such minds, and questioning patriarchy as the Liveship Traders books begin to do in earnest in the present chapter reads as such a position to entirely too many people.

Perhaps related to the burgeoning feminist thread, too, are certain Marxist leanings–Ronica makes much of the shifting economic base, though she remains in the employer’s position rather than the laborer’s, so perhaps some other term than “Marxist” applies–and ecocritical possibilities–Ronica also makes much of the balance between the Bingtown Traders and their environment, noting the changes to that balance occasioned by the shifting labor conditions. Being out of academe, I am out of practice with such theoretical approaches, so that I am not the best person to follow up on their implications, but it is clear even to me that they are there to follow–which is another argument, among many, in favor of Hobb’s writing.

I continue to appreciate your support.


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