A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 128: Ship of Magic, Chapter 27

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

The succeeding chapter, “Prisoners,” starts with Wintrow incarcerated and facing being sold off as a slave, days after he has been taken. The absence of the priesthood from civil life and aid is noted to him, and Wintrow considers his straitened circumstances ruefully, musing with horror on the dehumanization awaiting him.

Old Gaol - Nantucket Historical Association
Not the kindest kind of view
Image taken from the Nantucket Historical Association, used for commentary; it seemed to fit a sailing novel…

Torg, looking over potential slave purchases, sees Wintrow and delights in the chance to earn a reward. He ensures that Wintrow hears what awaits him, and he leaves him in his incarceration. Wintrow considers his errors in the past days, but hindsight is no comfort.

Aboard the Marietta, Kennit rages as Etta as she attempts to tend to his wound. She leaves his cabin, leaving him to consider his amputation alone–save for his wizardwood charm, which rebukes him for his folly. He summons Sorcor, receiving a report of events after his maiming; the rest of the capture of the slaveship went well. Kennit’s injuries start to tell on him, and Sorcor and Etta make to tend him.

Kennit begins swiftly to work towards returning to active captaincy, and he continues to receive reports from Etta. She notes to him news of two liveships, one of which is the Vivacia. His actions seem to renew his crew’s confidence in his abilities and spirit, and Kennit continues to plot as well as he can amid his injuries.

Wintrow, at last, realizes his errors, and he remains a child even by his own reckoning (which is rare for an adolescent boy and a sharp contrast from his younger sister, Malta, who professes herself ready for adulthood). Hindsight is never a comfort, however, and his horror at what awaits him elicits no small sympathy.

It is tempting, almost, to feel sympathy for Kennit in his present circumstances; Hobb’s descriptions tend toward that end, certainly, and his reactions are understandable, at least. But the same things are true of Kennit that are true of other figures about which I’ve written (for example, here); he is a bad person who has done many bad things, and he is not working to atone for those errors. Sympathy for him would be false, somehow, and even fiction should do better.

What better way to end a month than to send some support along?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 127: Ship of Magic, Chapter 26

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

The following chapter, “Gifts,” begins with Amber sitting on the beach outside Bingtown, conversing with the Paragon. She gifts him a necklace of carved wooden figures–they are too large to be called beads–and their conversation ranges into uncomfortable places for them both.

Robin Hobb: Amber and Paragon
This seems to fit, at first.
Source in image, used for commentary.

In the Vestrit home, Ronica and Keffria confer about staffing and finances. The former is trimmed almost to nothing; the latter are strained, and payments are coming due, though the Vivacia is expected again soon, which will help matters. Talk turns to politics and the threat of war with Jamaillia, as well as to the arrangements with the Rain Wild Traders. The possibility of Malta marrying into the Rain Wilds is noted and discussed, as well, and Keffria questions her late father’s decision not to trade in Rain Wild goods. Ronica offers some answers–some she knows, and some she has reasoned out over time and with attention.

Their conversation is interrupted by a sudden, strange noise. They find Malta awake, despite the late hour; she claims to have been restless and up to make chamomile tea. The three venture into the Vestrit kitchen, where a strange box addressed to Malta has appeared. They take the box–a magical item sent as a courting gift–in for consideration of how to refuse it, despite Malta’s protestations. They also begin to puzzle out how the item, which requires keying to an individual, could have become so; Malta weeps at being pressed.

Her weeping is ultimately insincere; Malta pilfers the item from her mother’s safekeeping a scant few hours later. Opening the box, she finds herself pulled into a strange and intimate dream with its sender. Their courtship has begun.

Of note as I reread the chapter is the comparison between the possible marriage of Malta to the Rain Wild Traders and chattel slavery. I can understand the comparison being made; it is an issue of a person being used as a unit of economic exchange, making that person a commodity more than an individual. Given the marriage of Keffria, who makes the comparison, the idea that Malta marrying out would be one of sending her into a subordinate position is one that makes sense; it strengthens the comparison. So, too, does Ronica’s stated distaste for such arrangements, and it is not a mark in her favor that she supports them even so.

That things are similar does not mean they equate, however, even if Malta herself has ideas about courtship that tend towards the idea of the courted as property (as well as calling to mind romance novels once again). That said, it is something to consider, both within the novel and outside it.

Your continued support is greatly appreciated; so is your initial support.


I often make the cliché comment that “I’ve mellowed out in my old age.” It usually provokes laughter, given that I’m not exactly an old man as I write this (even if I sometimes feel like it, what with sciatica and a whitening beard and all) and that most of the folks I interact with on a day-to-day basis see me only in my professional contexts. In them, I am usually cool and composed, happy to help, blandly inoffensive; it’s not the kind of thing that gives the impression of having needed to mellow much.

1981. Hot Wheels Hot Ones, Hot Wheels reclaims title of fastest non powered metal car.
It was one of these, I’m almost sure.
Image taken from the Hot Wheels website, used for commentary.

I’ve only arrived at such restraint after some time of being the angry young man of story and song, far more like certain execrable groups than I am entirely comfortable recalling, but unlike them in feeling myself bound by law and rules, always more risk-averse than reward-seeking. There are ways in which it is a failure, of course, even if there are others in which the tendency has worked to my advantage–and setting aside that tendency has had the opposite effect. Or so I remember, if perhaps dimly.

Before I started school, I was often in a daycare facility–and how not, with both my parents working to make ends meet, and family living away and still working, themselves? And like many children at that age, I had trouble sharing. (It’s something my wife and I have worked with our daughter on, as well; she was better at it than I was at the same age, in which I take some pride.) I was most important and best, of course. I had to be; my mom and dad said so, lived so. Why, therefore, should I share?

The “why” was supplied by the daycare worker’s command; she was in charge, and she said to do it, so I had damned well better do it, right? Or so I imagine my young mind parsed it, possibly with the mild oath in place. (It’s not like I never heard the word in the world–or used it, as stories from my parents attest.) I don’t remember, of course; I have enough trouble remembering what I’ve thought today, let alone what I thought thirty-something years ago. But I do remember that I obeyed–in a technical sense, at least.

What I am sure had been meant when the worker said “Give him the car, please,” was something like “walk over and gently put it in his hand.” What happened was not that–although it was a certain kind of giving, to be sure, as I side-armed the die-cast metal car I’d been playing with at the other child. The little metal toy shot straight across to him, taking him squarely in the forehead. I think one of the wheels or something dug in enough to break the skin; again, I don’t recall all of the details, but I do remember that he started crying, and I got in trouble both at the day care and at home.

Of course I did. I was a little shit, and I deserved it. Now, I’ve put that kind of thing behind me. I’m a big shit, after all…

If you’d like to overshare, I’m willing to overhelp…

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 126: Ship of Magic, Chapter 25

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

The next chapter, “Candletown,” opens with Althea reflecting on the titular port town and her life on the Vivacia as the Reaper sits in her slip. Brashen confers with her briefly before sending her on to meet with the ship’s captain, who has summoned her.

I didn't think this through -   Misc
Memes to the rescue; image from QuickMeme.com, used for commentary

When she reports to the captain, Althea muses briefly on his sloppy quarters before standing for what begins as a fine review. The captain offers to hire Althea on for another cruise, but Althea demurs, requesting her ship’s ticket so she can force Kyle to surrender the Vivacia to her; the captain vociferously, vehemently refuses, and has her put off the ship with prejudice.

Meanwhile, Brashen finds himself a room in a pointedly tidy inn ashore and considers his situation. He waits for Althea, who takes her time finding her way about the town. At length, she finds him, and the two confer again; Brashen has made himself unwelcome aboard the Reaper, as well, and the rest of the conversation is unhappy. They part less than amicably, and Brashen returns to his inn to find himself turned out of it, too.

The patriarchal superstitious fear of menstruation attracting misfortune emerges again in the chapter, as should be no surprise. Transphobia does, as well, which is unfortunately not surprising, either. Given Hobb’s stated affection for sailors–she married one, after all, and in several commentaries she makes happy reference to some of them–it is not to be wondered at that she would focus her attention on them, but it would be something of a surprise for her to go out of her way to depict them unflatteringly, as in the case of the Reaper‘s captain–or of Kyle Haven. Perhaps it is best to read the character as a motion towards Hobb’s efforts at verisimilitude; the profession is not romanticized, nor are most of its people, but presented as flawed, sometimes substantially so, amid the good things they are and do.

I can still use your support; can you help?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 125: Ship of Magic, Chapter 24

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

The following chapter, “Rain Wild Traders,” opens with Ronica in a foul mood and Keffria attempting to negotiate it as Malta looks on and plots her own affairs, rehearsing what she knows of upcoming events. A major Trader social function is in the offering, and Malta seeks to impress at it; her family’s situation hinders her prospects of doing so.

Malta meets Reyn
This would seem to be the focus of the chapter.
Malta meets Reyn by ThereseOfTheNorth on DeviantArt, used for commentary

The three ride to the event with Davad Restart, who muses on the benefits of slavery as they ride along together. Malta notes mentally and with some aspersion Ronica’s handling of the conversation, and she acts something of an ass as the Vestrits enter the darkened venue for the event. Malta muses on the reasons for the darkening as she, Keffria, and Ronica make to enter. While they wait to be announced, Malta is introduced to the Rain Wild Trader Jani Khuprus. She makes a slight faux pas with her, though the older woman takes it in stride.

When the Vestrits are seated, Malta continues to muse aspersively on their surroundings and the event as it gets underway. It is something of a legal convocation, and Trader Khuprus addresses the assembled Bingtown Traders on behalf of the Rain Wild group, calling for their intercession with the Satrap in Jamaillia, to whom they owe nominal allegiance and from whom they claim exclusive legal privileges that are being infringed upon.

A tumult arises in the wake of Khuprus’s plea, the Traders present growing fractious and argumentative. Khuprus calls for unity, and discussion continues as Malta excuses herself. Along the way, she encounters another Rain Wild Trader, with whom she converses for some minutes before realizing that he is not what he seems and that there is potential for scandal. She gives him her name before she makes her way back to her family.

Elsewhere, a group of serpents proceeds northward, if uncertainly. They press forward, striving towards something of which they are unsure.

I forget if I have noted another one of Hobb’s meaningful names: Davad Restart. The surname seems a fairly obvious bit of foreshadowing, promising to be the source of a renewal in the book–and it can be argued that he does, in his approval of chattel slavery and alliance with the New Traders whose landed presence violates the promises of Bingtown’s founding, look towards a new beginning for his home. That does not mean it is a pleasant or desirable one, however, for many or most who would be affected by it.

I note also that the focus on Malta offers insight into her still-childish character, and it is also not a pleasant or desirable one. Frankly, the girl is spoiled. She has been allowed to be, which is not her fault, but not all of her unpleasantness is a result of easy circumstances. There is this to consider, however; her character is not alone in being thus unpleasant, and there is room for her to grow from where she is in the present chapter…

The editor’s changed; send some support so I can bring you a better experience?

A House-Guest Briefly Stayed

I believe I’ve mentioned before that I live outside of town in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, a place where we occasionally get to critters of one kind or another up close and personal. Often times, there’s one cat or another sitting like a loaf of bread under the spreading oak tree that shades a good portion or the yard or curled up and sleeping under the rickety wooden steps that lead up to the kitchen door where my wife and daughter and I go into and come out of the place where we live. There’s been a possum in the house or on the porch, too, despite the presence and best efforts of our own cat and dog. And, of course, there are any number of bugs that find their way in, none of which are welcome–and bugs attract other little visitors from time to time.

Mediterranean geckos, Hemidactylus turcicus, range in size from one to five inches.  To some they are pests, to others welcome guests because of their appetite for insects. Photo E. Brown.
Such as this kind of character, in fact.
Image from Michael Merchant and Elizabeth Brown’s “House Geckos” on the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension website, used for commentary

Now, like I’ve noted, I’ve lived in the Hill Country more years than not since 1988, and I’ve gotten more or less used to living here again after more than a decade away from it. I’ve seen no few lizards and even tried to keep one or two as pets. (The attempts did not last long.) So when my daughter started yelling as she went to get into her shower one recent morning, and I saw a little lizard–a couple of inches long, at most, and spotted pink–in the bathtub, I thought nothing of it except some annoyance that I got called away from making breakfast to redirect the critter outside. Nor yet did I think much of it when another such–or maybe the same one; I didn’t look close enough to be able to tell–appeared in the kitchen as I was putting dishes away a day or two later.

A little bit of looking since has told me that the kind of lizard I dealt with is most likely an invasive species, the Mediterranean house gecko, and I understand that there’re some problems with that. Then again, I’m an invasive species by some reckonings–I wasn’t born in Texas, after all, and I’ve taken up a lot of attitudes and beliefs that are at odds with where I live–and even a transplanted gecko eats a damned lot of the bugs that I’d prefer not to have about the house. So when I went to corral it with an empty sour cream container, I did so thinking to redirect it back outside. I did not mean to bring the lip of the container down on its little neck, not at all.

Whether I meant to do it or not, though, I did it. Intention’s not much against effect, really, though I still feel badly about blundering and bumbling the way I did. I’m not going to flagellate myself or anything, but I do have to wonder, if I screwed up trying to do something decent, what’s going to happen when I’m not trying to be nice?

Help fund me so I can do better?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 124: Ship of Magic, Chapter 23

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

The next chapter is titled “Jamaillia Slavers,” and it begins with Wintrow exulting in his freedom from the ship and service, walking along the streets of Jamaillia City. He considers his present circumstances, how to return to his monastery, and the ship he has left, and it nags at him no less than the clear signs of corruption in the city that is supposed to be the heart of civilization.

katrindraws. Photo by Katrin on June 19, 2020.
Quite a mouthful.
Image taken from @katrindraws on PictoSee, used for commentary

The Vivacia stands sullenly as her officers query her about Wintrow’s departure. At length, she rebukes them openly and violently, striking Kyle and damning him. Gantry persuades Kyle to go out and look for the boy and to put out word of a reward for his safe return. Gantry tries to ease the ship, showing respect to her, but she stiffly rebuffs him, weeping at her current circumstances.

Elsewhere, Kennit and Sorcor make ready to take another slaver. Sorcor tries to spare Etta the sight of it, but she refuses, and the plan to take the slaver begins. Kennit makes to lead the boarding party, and as the Marietta draws close to the slaver, the slaver begins tossing slaves overboard, threatening to send more screaming into the sea if they are accosted. Kennit presses the attack anyway, and into the fracas presses a serpent that had been following the slaver and feeding upon the dead. The serpent takes Kennit’s leg, even as Etta saves his life.

Wintrow finds himself among the slave markets in Jamaillia City, stunned by the squalor and suffering he finds there. He responds to one of the enslaved who asks for pity and mercy–not for himself, but for a woman suffering from a botched abortion. Wintrow initially seeks to find an ordained priest to help, but the idea is laughed at; with some reluctance, he offers a terminal last rite to the woman. The slavemonger takes exception to the mercy, however, and challenges Wintrow for the lost revenue. When he cannot tender it, he is taken, himself.

As I read the chapter again, I find the juxtaposition of events curious. I am aware that yoking them together is supposed to tell readers that they are roughly contemporaneous, and that comes across fairly clearly, but I also know that the events are under their author’s control; they are made to be contemporaneous. And so readers are led to understand them as somehow linked other than by time–fallaciously, perhaps, but readers who will seek such fantasy as Hobb writes are not necessarily reading to make a predominantly logical argument.

I’m not sure where else I can go with that line of thought, though. Perhaps it is simply me reading badly once again. I tend to think not, though; I’m supposed to be trained to read analytically and critically, and if there is such a yoking in place, such a construction of a contemporaneity of events, there has to be something going on in it, right?

School’s starting soon; help me defray expenses?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 123: Ship of Magic, Chapter 22

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

A chapter titled “Plots and Perils” follows, opening with Kennit fuming at a failure to take a liveship he pursued. The wizardwood charm he wears chides him in advance of Etta approaching; the changes in her carriage and clothing are noted as she offers an idea of how to capture such a ship. Outwardly, he rejects the idea and reasserts his mastery.

In the Arms of a Pirate (A Sam Steele Romance Book 2) - Kindle ...
Somehow, reading the first passage, I can’t help but see something like this…
It’s the cover of In the Arms of a Pirate, as shown on Amazon.com, used for commentary

Just outside Bingtown, Mingsley brings another prospective buyer to survey the Paragon. The ship warns the buyer about Mingsley’s machinations even as the broker notes that a liveship is needed to sail the destructive waters of the Rain Wild River–the source of Bingtown’s riches. The Paragon rages futilely against the idea.

Aboard the Reaper, Althea sights a serpent, musing about Brashen and about serpents as the beast attacks halfheartedly. As her watch ends, she continues fretting and finds herself talking with Brashen again until the attack is rejoined with greater vigor. The ship’s captain opts against a more dedicated pursuit, deciding to flee back to home port with the full cargo rather than take the risk; the Reaper escapes, but only at cost.

In Jamaillia, Wintrow approaches the Vivacia and tells the ship his intention to depart. The ship quails, but he does not relent, and she mourns his flight as she hopes for his return.

In the morning after, Etta revels in Kennit’s attention, and the wizardwood charm smiles.

As I note in captioning this entry’s image, I am put in mind of trashy romance novels by the first passage in the chapter, the kind of thing I remember my grandmother reading in those long-ago days when I could spend my summers with my nose in a new book every day, and she was the only one who read as much as I did. My own reading was just as trashy, I know; a lot of popular science fiction and fantasy novels are, and they were most of what I read, then. Anymore, I do not read nearly as much or as broadly as I ought to do, particularly since I have a small person watching me not read so much when I ask her to read more than she currently does. It is a thing I must correct.

I’ve only skimmed such books, and that, not often; what I recall from them is far afield from what it seems to me Hobb does in her work. I have to wonder if there is some sort of backhanded joke at work with it; I do tend to look for such things, and not always in expected places, so it should not be a surprise that I have such a thought, though I will admit that I may be apt to see such where none exist. It’s not the only thing I find when I make to look, after all…

School’s starting soon; help me defray expenses?

A Rumination on an Exercise Class

I have never been in what most folks would consider “good shape.” Yes, while I was in graduate school, I did judo–competitively. Yes, while I lived in New York City, I studied aikido at the New York Aikikai. Yes, I did reasonably well in both. Yes, I miss them both. But, yes, I had a flabby belly the whole while, and, yes, it has been some time since I did either of those things. I stopped judo in 2009, and I stopped aikido in 2013, and I have spent a damned lot of time sitting on my ass since.

No, I don’t make it look this good.
Image taken from Giphy.com, used for commentary.

I’ll not go into the litany of health and related issues my not exercising has promoted in me. Instead, I’ll note that I recently saw an advertisement at the dance school my daughter attends (yes, she’s still going, and she’s doing well, so far as I understand it), one promising low-cost exercise classes. I figured that the school’s head wouldn’t allow the ad to be posted if the class weren’t worth the time, so I told my wife about it, and we started attending; we’re still going.

I’ll not pretend it’s been easy. As I noted, I’ve been largely sedentary since 2013; I made a few attempts at getting to the gym and classes while I was teaching at Oklahoma State University, but trying to recover from the financial shock of the move, addressing the culture shock of moving from New York City to Stillwater, and becoming a father combined to quash those efforts entirely. (Not that I was particularly earnest in the attempts, admittedly.) Years of not moving nearly as much as I ought to have been left me rusty, and I can’t exactly put WD-40 into my elbows and knees.

Too, the class does a lot of dance–not ballroom dancing, with which I have some small experience, but the kind featured in no small number of exercise videos. I feel, well, silly when I attempt many of the moves the instructor–who is good, really, and who does a lot to work with those of us in the class who are inexpert in such things–has the class do. Many of them ask me to move in ways I find difficult to do, to exhibit flexibility that I do not have and have not trained. No few are suggestive, and I am generally the only man in the class; there is a fine line between paying attention to the instructor and my surroundings and not coming across as a leering creep. That I attend the class with my wife helps with that a bit, but I am still aware of being in a predominantly feminine space, and I try to be respectful, though I worry I am not successful.

For all that, though, I feel like I am getting something out of it. The exercises are becoming easier for me to do, and some of the complaints I have had about my body are less emphatic. (I’m not getting rid of sciatica anytime soon, but it does bother me less, for example.) Too, even though I flail about ineptly through the classes, I enjoy them; I appreciate being able to do them, not least because I do so with my wife and it makes her happy. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Help fund my further training?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 122: Ship of Magic, Chapter 21

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

The succeeding chapter, “Visitors,” begins with Ronica receiving Cerwin and Delo Trell, with the former thinking to call on Malta. Ronica sends for Keffria amid the faux pas; her daughter meets her en route. When they greet their guests, Keffria seeks to stifle Cerwin’s interest in Malta with subtlety and tact, Malta’s entrance spoiling the effort to some extent. Keffria presses on for control of the situation, however, handling it adroitly, and Ronica reassesses her grandchildren in the light of the changes she marks in Malta.

Art ID: 6206
Perhaps it’s something like this for Wintrow?
High Fantasy Castle by Robert D. Brown on ArtAbyss, used for commentary

She moves on to mull over changes in Bingtown, generally, including the increasing divide between servant and served, spurred by increasing acceptance of slavery in the area. After Keffria, Malta, and her guests depart, Ronica confers with Rache about Malta and what has happened leading up to the day.

Elsewhere, the Vivacia approaches port in Jamailla, and the ship wakes Wintrow to show him the city they approach. The overall geography and some of the history of the city are glossed, and Wintrow finds himself bitter. He and the ship confer about ponerology, and the Vivacia warns him to caution. He is smitten by her, and he cannot place why, though he moves towards philosophical acceptance. The results of the affair with the bear are also noted. And when Wintrow is called away to work, the ship considers what she knows of the city and its lurking foulnesses.

Back in Bingtown, Ronica and Keffria confer. Keffria lays bare that she has ever felt neglected by Ronica in favor of Althea. Ronica accepts the rebuke, as well as Keffria’s insistence upon taking back her authority over her daughter and her inheritance. Ronica does note the arrangement with the Festrews, however, and Malta’s possible liability for paying the family’s debt as soon as she is formally recognized as a woman grown.

I delight, of course, in the opportunity to use the word ponerology (I clearly like words, else I’d not’ve sought and earned three degrees in English). It’s not something I often get, so I take the chance when I can, even if the philosophical motions are not as deft as might be hoped. Then again, there is something to be said about the faith Wintrow follows, and it may also be that there is some more commentary to be made. For Jamaillia is something of a shining city on a hill, one evoking London in being rebuilt in stone after a fire in centuries past, as well as one evoking Rome in being made the center of a theocracy. But the Realm of the Elderlings is far more the New World than the old, and it is hard to ignore in such days as these that, however glimmering the promise of the United States may be, there is an awful lot of corruption and filth at its roots, and hungry serpents nurtured on the lives of the enslaved waiting to take another meal.

Care to chip in?