A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 117: Ship of Magic, Chapter 16

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

The succeeding chapter, “New Roles,” opens with Althea–masquerading as “Athel” aboard the slaughter-ship Reaper–settling into her role as a ship’s boy. The adjustments she has been making are rehearsed as she sets about her assigned tasks. By chance, Brashen is serving aboard the same ship, and the two of them confer briefly; it is all that her guise as a ship’s boy will allow.

This looks about right.
Brashen and Althea from Liveship Traders by Jenny Slife on Twitter, image used for commentary

Below deck, Althea considers her situation and the fact that Kyle had been correct to call her spoiled before. She ruminates on the decisions that had led her to that point, as well as on the help she had had in reaching it. Brashen, meanwhile, considers his own circumstances; he is serving as second mate on the Reaper, the work of which ship he reviews in his mind. Althea’s presence on the ship weighs on his mind, however, and he asks after “Athel” when a sailor comes to him for medicine. What he learns is some comfort to him.

Aboard the Vivacia, Wintrow struggles with the rigging. He does have some appreciation for the seacraft involved, though, and he finds himself conferring with Mild again. The conversation turns to the ship’s intended function as a slaveship, which sickens Wintrow. Mild makes clear that Wintrow has to regard Kyle as captain and not father while aboard, and their conversation leaves him somewhat eased.

The Reaper pulls in to her first port for work, and “Athel” is tasked with assisting the skinners, whose numbers are down due to infighting. It is more a harvest than a hunt, and the bloody, gory work sweeps “Athel” up in it as it happens again and again over successive days. Brashen warns her against calling attention to herself. She also starts at a strange rock formation that looks like a dragon mired in stone; the flight of the Six Duchies dragons is mentioned in passing.

Aboard the Vivacia, Wintrow confers with the ship. She shows him Ephron Vestrit’s memories of their present port of call, and he shows her an appreciation for beauty and a joy in it that she had not understood from his forebears. When he goes ashore in his sailor’s getup, he finds himself in trouble with locals and chivvied back to where visitors are expected to be. When he is returned thence, shirtless, he finds himself facing a rigged game; he refuses to participate in it, prompting Mild to step up in his place. Mild is injured, and Wintrow is held to blame.

A few things come to mind regarding the present chapter. The first is Althea’s disguise. I put the assumed name in quotations because it is a guise, one that has to be performed continuously but one that remains still an assumed identity rather than an embodied one; Althea is not a trans man but an actress in a male role. If I am offending in the discussion, it is through ignorance; I will amend it if needed, but I think the distinction is one that needs to be made. And, irrespective of punctuation practices, I do mark that the assumed name reads as “noble” or “prince” for all that it is held by a putatively humble ship’s boy.

Wintrow’s abortive softening into sailing life is another thing that stands out. In the present chapter, he draws closer to being part of the Vivacia‘s crew in fact, not only in name. But he cannot leave behind a part of his life that is increasingly behind him, and it gets him into trouble. Part of me looks at the circumstance as a warning against recreation; had Wintrow stayed aboard ship or close to it, even to read, he would have been in better shape. He did not, though–and perhaps could not, in the event and if I allow myself to think of a character as a person. I ought not, though, as I well know.

Finally, at least for the present, the link back to the Six Duchies was not unwelcome. It is no secret, of course, that the Farseer and Liveship Traders novels exist in the same milieu; the Farseer books mention Bingtown, and there has been mention of the Duchies and the Red-Ship War in the present novel previously. But it is good to see the more explicit joining of the two in the present chapter; the comments made near the stone dragon help to fix the order of events and relative time between the series. And while it does not necessarily help address some things I’ve commented on before, it does, at least point towards a connection that could run deeper than then anticipated.

Reader, can you spare a dime?


3 thoughts on “A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 117: Ship of Magic, Chapter 16

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