A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 169: Mad Ship, Chapter 31

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


The following chapter, “The Calm,” opens with Keffria confronting Malta and musing on her own thwarted expectations for Malta’s first formal event as an acknowledged woman. The two confer, Keffria remarking on what appears to be a bruise on the back of Malta’s neck, Malta considering questions of identity. Keffria attempts to set her concerns aside in favor of the larger events facing Bingtown with the Satrap’s presence. After conversation on that point, the two resume their preparations to attend the coming formal ball.

For some perspective…
Robin Hobb Map by Crooty on DeviantArt, used for commentary.

Serilla stews as her machinations with Cosgo are undone by events. She also muses on the strange status of Bingtown, the sole known surviving settlement on the Cursed Shores. The Rain Wilds receive some attention from her as she plots to relocate permanently to Bingtown, and Serilla continues to muse on the political situation in place in the region. Steadying herself against the recollection of her traumas, she makes ready to join the day’s festivities.

Reyn and Grag, veiled, confer. They are informed of the present situation–Grag is still wanted, with a price on his head–and make their own preparations for the ball.

At length, the Vestrit women and Selden make their way to the ball, the scene for which is described in detail. As matters get underway, Malta confers with her childhood friend, Delo, and the two take a turn about the venue, gossiping almost idly as they do. Meanwhile, Restart considers his situation and his plans to see Malta engaged to Cosgo; he offers what he thinks are kind words toward Serilla, offering insult that is returned with more aplomb.

It is clear from the structure of the chapter that the Summer Ball will be a major turning point in the narrative–perhaps the climax in Freytag’s pyramidal narrative structure or the vertex in Frye’s parabolic narrative structure. With such focus accorded to the lead-up to the Ball, it has to be important. Has to. And given the usual trilogy structure in which the Liveship Traders novels operate, the turning point is likely to be the primary such point for the series as a whole.

The chapter, too, serves as another commentary on gender norms. Keffira and Malta, Serilla, and even Reyn and Grag all act in ways that highlight the disparities in “traditional” gender roles–those present in Bingtown and its contexts as well as in the Anglophone world that is the clear primary audience for the books. (I am aware that translations exist, and that many of them are well considered, thank you. But.) The women, capable as they are and are becoming, are constrained by expectations placed upon them; the men, however admirable in some ways, act with blithe disdain of the women in their lives–because they have been allowed to learn to do so. There are lessons therein that might well be applied by a great many readers–but that likely will not be by many of those who most need to learn them.

My daughter’s birthday is coming up; send her a present?

2 thoughts on “A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 169: Mad Ship, Chapter 31

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