A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 139: Mad Ship, Chapter 1

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

There is discussion of suicide in what follows.

The first chapter, “The Mad Ship,” begins with the titular ship, the Paragon, sitting sullenly on the beach where he has been left over the past decades, trying to stonewall Amber as she cooks and tries to converse with him. She pleads with him for help, relating her endeavors to save him and the stern response she got from his owner, Amis Ludluck. Amber also notes that the Ludlucks appear to be ready to have the ship towed away and dismantled.

Mad Ship, the - PlentyWiki
The cover of the edition I’m reading
Image taken from ThePlenty.net,
used for commentary

The Paragon‘s resolve breaks at the comments, and he finds himself asking Amber if she will visit him when he is taken away. He then asks her to help him die in flame rather than face a dismemberment that may well leave him alive, voicing suicidal ideation that shocks Amber. She asks him what the likely plan to take him would be, and he answers. Both of them pine for friends not present, and the ship seems to prepare for an imminent end.

The Ludluck name is repeated in the chapter–it has occurred before, but it seems to be something of a focus in the present selection. Knowing that Hobb has a penchant for emblematic names in the Liveship Traders novels (as witness here, here, and here, among others that can be found), it seems fit to look for something in a repeated name. The “luck” part of “Ludluck” is clear enough; the “lud” part, however, bears a bit of inquiry. Collins reports it as being either an informal rendering of “lord” in judicial proceedings or, previously, “an exclamation of dismay or surprise.” Taken together, the components render the family name as “bad fortune” or “unexpected fortune.”

The former seems to be the more pertinent in the present chapter. There is much about which to feel dismay for Amber and for the Paragon, knowing that an unpleasant end may well be coming at the hands of those who should protect the ship, and considering whether being hacked apart or burned away is better is hardly the happiest discussion.

That discussion does point towards something worth considering, both in the present work and in the genre more generally: logical conclusions. The differences between the narrative milieu and the readerly have their immediate, observed effects, to be certain–but there would necessarily be other effects that are not necessarily evident. How magic might shape social structures differently than they appear in the “real” world is one example of them. Another, touched on by the discussion between woodcarver and ship, is the different effects of violence on different types of thinking things. The preceding novel makes clear that a liveship absorbs the emotions and thoughts of its surroundings (something treated also in Fitz, here and here), and the present discussion suggests that there are yet darker things involved in the lives of the liveships.

It is something to watch for as the novels continue.

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A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 138: Mad Ship, Prologue

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

The prologue of the novel, “A Recollection of Wings,” opens not long after the end of Ship of Magic. Several serpents–Maulkin, Shreever, Sessurea, and others–linger near “the silvery provider.” Shreever considers their situation; Maulkin muses aloud over his uncertainty. A fight over food ensues, and Mauklin realizes that the other serpents have forgotten themselves and their intelligence, despairing that they will succeed in their quest. He, Shreever, and Sessurea share memories of a different life, and they recommit to moving forward as more food presents itself.

Looks about right.
Maulkin’s Tangle by Sandara on ThePlenty.net, used for commentary.

Brief as the prologue is–only some six pages in the edition I’m using to do the reread–it serves two useful purposes. For one, it re-grounds readers in the narrative milieu, serving as a powerful reminder that there is a non-human intelligence very much at work in the story. For another, proceeding as swiftly from and in the same kind as the end of Ship of Magic as it does, it reinforces the continuity between the two novels. While marketing alone makes clear that Mad Ship is the direct sequel to Ship of Magic, and while trilogy setups tend to promote the notion that stories continue through them, having so smooth a transition between novels is rare and serves almost to make the two books one in multiple volumes rather than separate works.

As the novel gets more fully underway, moving into chapters from the prefatory material, I expect I will have more to say. For now, though I am once again delighted to be pressing ahead with this project, and I hope you, dear reader, will continue along with me.

I’d love to have your help to help me keep this going!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 137: Ship of Magic, Chapter 36

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

The brief final chapter of the novel, “She Who Remembers,” opens with the serpent Maulkin expressing confusion at the seeming-but-not-actual serpent he had scented and followed. Conferring with other serpents, he notes their previous cyclical existence and their slow degradation. They determine to find and follow the titular She Who Remembers before they become nothing more than beasts, themselves.

Searching for the One, Who Remembers
Something like this seems to fit…
Searching for the One, Who Remembers, by DraconianArtLine on DeviantArt,
used for commentary

The chapter functions as something of an epilogue, pointing forward more emphatically than the previous chapter (which makes clear that how Kennit works on Wintrow and the Vivacia will be a focus) by giving an explicit indication of what is to come. Too, it serves as a reminder that the world in which Hobb writes is not only a human one; there are other forces, other thinking creatures at work in it. (Some will contend that the same is true in the world Hobb inhabits, but that discussion is outside the scope of what I can even pretend to be qualified or competent to address.)

Ship of Magic is one of the few Elderlings novels I do not have in hardcover. The next volume in the series, Mad Ship, is not one, although I will be reading from my paperback copy to continue this reread; it travels easier than the hardback I was fortunate to be able to find. And I might discuss the differences, for me, in reading each. Maybe. Another time.

Care to help with celebrating Leifr Eiriksonns Dagr and Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 135: Ship of Magic, Chapter 34

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

The next chapter, Restorations,” begins aboard the liveship Ophelia, with Grag Tenira rousing Althea, still in disguise as Athel, with a summons from the captain, his father. She fears she has been uncovered, but she reports as ordered. The captain confronts her about her true identity, and, after she admits to her ruse, he orders her put ashore–so that he and his crew can take her aboard formally and properly, under her own name. She will also have the opportunity to act as the ship’s mate, as Grag will feign illness to allow it to her.

The Drunken Sailor
What to do with him? What to do…
The Drunken Sailor by BeSea on Pxleyes, used for commentary

As the principals involved agree and make arrangements, the senior Tenira notes the increasing political tensions in Bingtown. Grag sees her off, and they make arrangements to meet the next day, both recalling earlier, happy encounters previously.

Elsewhere, aboard the Springeve, Brashen has an encounter with one of the sailors under his command. The sailor, one Tarlock, voices recognizing Brashen from earlier voyages. Brashen reviews his situation and present condition, including some unsavory dealings with pirates in trade, and attempts to steer conversation away from his own past. Succeeding, he leaves the passed-out Tarlock behind and returns to the Springeve with cindin in his lip and a spring in his step, happy to have evaded identification.

I note with some satisfaction another bit of support for my notion that the milieu of the Elderlings novels is more North America than medieval/ist Europe. In the present chapter, Brashen and Tarlock drink together for a time, with Brashen calling for rum in his attempt to get Tarlock drunk enough to pass out. While that liquor has origins in southern Asia–there are early attestations in India and Persia–it is indelibly associated with the Caribbean and with the Americas through the horrors of the slave trade (with which topic the present novel also grapples), as well as with the pirates that continue to feature in the text and which, themselves, are a traditionally New World phenomenon.

I note also the ease with which the Teniras handle the revelation of Althea’s ruse. Perhaps it is because they are Traders with a liveship of their own, to whom (which?) they listen, that they are able to adjust so readily to the deception, annoyed only at being taken in instead of at the presence of a woman working aboard ship. Whatever the reason, in or out of the milieu, they do mark a pointed contrast to how others have viewed things, perhaps indicating that there is something of value in Bingtown society, after all.

Care to help me start this month off right?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 134: Ship of Magic, Chapter 33

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

A chapter titled “Day of Reckoning” follows. It opens with Wintrow engaging in more philosophical musing as he and Sa’Adar continue the work of unchaining the slaves aboard the Vivacia and the slaves rise in revolt at their captors. Wintrow struggles to reach out to the ship and only becomes aware of her in her fear at being out of control with nobody at the helm. He takes the wheel and strives to right the ship against the storm, pleading with the warring slaves and crew as he does.

a Ship In a Storm
Not ideal sailing conditions, no.
Ship in a Storm by ShockHit on DeviantArt, used for commentary

They begin to make progress when Torg arrives, having brokered a deal with the other slaves. He upbraids Wintrow and, when Wintrow says he is not trustworthy, Torg finds himself pitched overboard, to Wintrow’s shock. The captain is brought up next, and Wintrow asks for his aid; there is some argument, but Haven gives in.

In Bingtown, Malta rails against the arrangement that has been made regarding Reyn’s courtship. Ronica pointedly puts down her objections, noting, among others, that she had invited the attentions upon herself.

Aboard the Vivacia, Haven asks if he will be allowed to live. The Marietta begins to close in on the liveship. Kennit has his ship drawn up alongside the Vivacia and makes ready to board her, if with some difficulty; Sorcor and Etta seem to recognize that he is failing, and Sorcor prevails upon Etta to let his captain take the liveship himself.

The implication of the previous chapter is borne out as Kennit’s ship draws up alongside the Vivacia, and, given circumstances, it appears certain that Kennit will take the liveship for himself. Sa’Adar recognized the flag the Marietta flies, after all, and the reputation he must surely have among slaves and slavers speaks for itself. And that is aside from the arrangement Kennit and Sorcor have regarding liveships and slaveships.

Thinking on it now, as I reread the chapter again, I am struck by the recognition of a theme that comes up in the Liveship Traders novels. Full explication of that theme depends on later events in the series, so I will not treat it now; I am not worried about spoilers for novels twenty years old, but I prefer to establish materials before working with them. I will note, though, that the seeming duality of liveships and slaveships–the latter being floating charnel houses or abbatoirs–is not quite as dual as might be thought. But that much is likely obvious even without a rereading…

The end of the month is coming; help me make it into the next one?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 133: Ship of Magic, Chapter 32

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

The chapter that follows, “Storm,” starts with Wintrow tending to those chained in the holds of the Vivacia as heavy weather approaches. His ministrations are not always appreciated, and Wintrow muses on the changes in his situation before talk of his old monastery attracts his attention. The talk leads him to one who claims to be a priest of Sa; the putative priest implores Wintrow for some metal implement to use against the chains that bind those in the hold. Wintrow agrees to do what he can for those enslaved alongside him.

Ship Water GIF - Ship Water Sea GIFs
Might be something like this.
Image from
Tenor.com, used for commentary

Above deck, Gantry and the Vivacia confer. The ship reports being able to understand one of the trailing serpents in some strange way; Gantry is confused, and he does not heed the sense of apprehension the ship feels. He also balks at Wintrow’s request to have one of they dying enslaved brought out onto the deck to die, though Wintrow is, with the ship’s help, able to persuade him to take a look at conditions below deck. When he does so, the putative priest, Sa’Adar, takes the opportunity to disable Gantry and begin to rise up against their captors. Wintrow falls into analysis paralysis as Sa’Adar works on the takeover.

Aboard the Marietta, Kennit orders pursuit of a liveship in the storm. He considers Sorcor and Etta as they move to his command, the lingering pain of his amputation vexing him as the Marietta bears down on the liveship. Pursuit is joined, and Kennit coaches Etta as she steers the ship towards her intended prey. She exults in his attention.

It is not directly stated in the present chapter, though it is heavily implied, that the liveship the Marietta has in sight is, in fact, the Vivacia, the pursuit of which is a (contrived, though everything in a novel necessarily is) coincidence of Kennit’s desires and Sorcor’s. The Vivacia does not seem to be living up to her name, for the most part, understandably in the circumstances, and I find myself once again reading the book in a frame of mind reminding me of a romance novel. I am not as versed in that genre as I am some others, I admit, and perhaps that is a failing on my part, but I have to wonder if Hobb is working towards some critique of the genre in the Liveship Traders series.

It is certainly an interesting possibility.

Care to support what I do here?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 132: Ship of Magic, Chapter 31

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

The following chapter, “Ships and Serpents,” begins with Wintrow and the Vivacia conferring about their respective perspectives. The ship notes that, in the absence of Wintrow, she had begun to become aware of something she cannot put into words, some sense of identity other than that of herself as a liveship awakened by the blood of Wintrow’s kin. They are disturbed by the captain’s approach to the foredeck.

Wintrow _1
An image of the boy…
Wintrow_1 by MartAiConan on DeviantArt, used for commentary

Said captain rails against a crew that struggles to maintain order and good form while the ship they sail is unwilling to cooperate. Mentally, he rails against his son for not meeting his expectations, as well as against his wife and her family for the same. The ship and the trailing serpent also attract his ire, and he assaults Wintrow, making to pitch his still-fettered son overboard to the waiting sea-creature.

The serpents themselves are confused by the Vivacia as they follow her out of Jamaillia Bay and on her northward journey. One follows her as a food source; Maulkin and others follow her as a sort of echo of a pivotal figure. But they do so with hesitation, uncertainty.

Aboard the ship, a fracas ensues as Gantry answers the ship’s summons and tries to calm matters. Gantry works to put matters to rights as the captain considers what he had been about to do and the ship herself tries to puzzle out what she felt when she slapped at one of the trailing serpents. The captain looks on with patriarchal disgust as the mate tries to restore some semblance of calm and order to the ship, and he rails at the lot of them before stalking back to his cabin.

After, Wintrow considers matters as the ship makes what progress she can, given her cargo and crew. He and the ship fall into an angry existential argument, from which they emerge suddenly into an uneasy self-questioning and contemplation.

Aboard the Ophelia, Althea finds herself confronted by the liveship; her disguise is of no avail to her. The ship plays with her regarding her secret, winning far more than she gives up, and Althea learns something of the liveships’ community. She muses on what she has lost from not having asked for aid, and the ship presses on.

If there is a central theme to the chapter, it is encapsulated in the passage aboard the Ophelia, and it is the theme spoken to by the old adages of carpe diem and memento mori. It is the reminder that the present is of value, that being present is of value. Things are lost by absence, never to be reclaimed, even if the absence is needful or helpful–and especially when it is not, and not asking for aid often makes for absences that are not needed or helpful. As someone who has been away, perhaps too much, I find the reminder…uncomfortable, but I also know that being made uncomfortable is a good thing every now and again. Reactions to it are not always so, as the world shows far more often than could be hoped. But perhaps such discomforts can lead to better ends.


I always appreciate whatever you can send along.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 131: Ship of Magic, Chapter 30

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

The next chapter , “Defiance and Alliance,” opens with an account of the beginnings of trouble aboard the new slaveship Vivacia. As slaves are being loaded onto her, one opts to die quickly, jumping overboard and drowning as the chains about him pull him under. Serpents rouse to eat the flesh, and Torg lashes the slaves together in anger. Wintrow sorrows with the others’ dehumanizing sorrows, which the ship causes him to feel more keenly, and most of the crew begins to chafe at the change to their work.

#jani khuprus from Katrin Sapranova
The fateful meeting…
Image by Katrin Sapranova on Tumblr, used for commentary

The Vivacia considers her captain and his jealous ire at Wintrow. She has the captain bring the boy to her as she considers her changed relationship to him more closely. His attempt to leave has hurt her, but she makes herself something of a nuisance until he is brought to her.

In Bingtown, Keffria and Ronica make ready to receive the Rain Wild Festrew Traders; their preparations are noted. What she knows of the Festrews, as well as of the situation with Malta’s dream-box, is rehearsed, as are her continuing annoyances with Ronica, and she longs for her husband to take over running things. At length, the Rain Wild Traders arrive–but it is not only a Festrew, but Jani Khuprus, as well, whom the Vestrit women greet.

After pleasantries are exchanged, the reason for the Khuprus visit is made clear: the dream-box. Khuprus, through her son, Reyn, is aware that the box has been opened and the contained dream shared. More, the debt for the Vivacia that had been owed to the Festrews has been transferred to the Khuprus Trader Family; the debt would have been forgiven as a marriage gift. With Malta not yet eligible for marriage, however, the arrangement is in substantial peril, and tensions suddenly rise sharply. Caolwn Festrew brokers a compromise, however, to which Keffria agrees.

For all the problems inherent in making marriage an economic contract, the present chapter does present an interesting conundrum in the interaction between economics and amorousness. Admittedly, the amorousness in question is itself problematic, evoking the doomed and hormone-driven inanity of Romeo & Juliet in a twenty-year-old becoming infatuated with a girl barely into adolescence (Caolwn Festrew’s comment about being married at fifteen notwithstanding). Even so, it highlights the fundamental irrationality of finance–namely that people, even people as ostensibly money-savvy as a group that defines itself via its mercantilism, are not rational actors.

It also brings up an interesting bit of anachronism. While the Six Duchies, existing in the same narrative universe, appears to operate at a nebulously medieval European level of technology, the Traders and Jamaillia operate at what seems for the most part to be the Age of Sail, some centuries later. (The lack of gunpowder weaponry continues to be an interesting quirk, to be sure.) The disparity can be explained in some of the same ways that the technological disparities between the Mediterranean region and northern Europe during the traditional later medieval period can, of course, but neither of the periods was noted for encouraging romantic marriage among its upper classes–which the Traders are. I find myself again strangely in mind of a romance novel as I reread the chapter, and I have to wonder at some of the genre boundaries that seem still to linger for me.

I don’t suppose I could get a little help?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 130: Ship of Magic, Chapter 29

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

The chapter that follows, “Dreams and Reality,” starts with Keffria and Ronica confronting Malta regarding the dream-box that had been sent to her and that has been marked as missing. Keffria is satisfied by Malta’s responses, but Ronica is not and tries to impress upon her granddaughter the seriousness of their situation. Their confrontation causes Ronica to reassess Malta and lay bare more of the Vestrits’ knowledge to her. The exchange continues, and Ronica leaves the room; Malta exults in her perceived victory and lashes out at the servant, Rache.

Actor Profile: Tim Curry
There are worse renditions of such a figure than this one that comes to mind.
Image from Muppet Treasure Island, used for commentary.

Amber confers with the Paragon, asking the ship after itself in some detail. The ship grows upset at the notion of being sold away from the Ludluck Traders, and Amber relates something of the prevailing straitened circumstances–for them and their peers. The Paragon makes mention of the Rain Wild Traders, about whom few outside Bingtown know, and Amber voices a fantasy that the ship pointedly rejects.

Away, aboard the Marietta, Etta tries to minister to Kennit’s injury; he rebuffs her forcefully. Sorcor, when he answers his captain’s summons, agrees with Etta that the amputation needs to be re-made, more of the leg cut away to allow the rest of him to heal, but he also stops such talk when bidden and makes his report on the state of affairs about his crew. Kennit resumes his plans to seize a liveship; Sorcor begins to object until Kennit manipulates him into compliance. Kennit’s wizardwood charm chides the captain after the mate leaves in a paroxysm of loyalty.

Kennit being on a crutch calls up one of the tropes associated with pirates of the age of sail–not unjustly. Any work with heavy moving objects has the potential to cause injury; work with heavy moving objects and minimal safety equipment carries the risk of grievous injury, yet the work must still be done. And Kennit, being an amputee and leaning on a crutch, calls to mind two literary forebears, in particular: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Long John Silver and Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab.

Thinking on the matter from the perspective of having read the Liveships novels before, as well as Moby-Dick (somehow, Treasure Island has escaped me to this point, though a copy is on one of my bookshelves at home), I think there’s something to be said for how Kennit refigures the character types of the earlier works. I’m not at all sure I have the notes that would let me work through that idea well, though; they might have been culled. But then, they might not have…

Someday, I hope to have the leisure to pursue such ideas again. Someday.

Your continued support is greatly appreciated.

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 129: Ship of Magic, Chapter 28

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

The next chapter, “Vicissitudes,” opens with Wintrow being taken to be tattooed as one of the Satrap’s slaves. Thus marked, he is returned to the pens where the slavers keep people imprisoned, smarting from the pain of the tattooing and from not being redeemed by his father. He rebukes himself for having had hope of rescue.

“Wintrow Vestrit”
Not really sure if the Vivacia tat’s supposed to be the whole ship or just the figure head. Decided on the figure head.
It’s a good image of the young man.
Image from emmitys on Tumblr, here, and used for commentary

At anchor in Jamaillia Bay, the Vivacia mulls over her separation from the Vestrits. Gantry, the first mate, tries to console the ship, to no avail. She presages doom to him, but he does not take the warning.

Elsewhere, Althea–posing again as Athel–attempts to sign onto the crew of the Tenira liveship, the Ophelia. She manages to talk her way into a berth among the crew, and is told to report to the mate, Grag Tenira. Happy at her success, she makes to retrieve her kit, noting to herself that she will not see Brashen again.

Brashen, meanwhile, seeks a berth on the coastal trader Springeve. He suspects it of trafficking with pirates and is reluctant to engage, but financial straits and a dearth of his preferred stimulant, cindin, motivate him. Through bravado, he manages to secure a solid berth at the ship’s mate, and he makes to report to his new ship, thinking a bit of Althea and wondering if he will still be known in the Pirate Isles.

Wintrow wakes, still a captive, and learns more of his situation from another held with him. He is soon herded off and assessed, as if so much livestock, and soon is put up for auction. Kyle sees him and offers an insultingly low initial bid; it does not pass. At length, he is sold, Torg taking him in hand and hustling him off to be tattooed again, marked as slave to the Vivacia, herself.

In the Farseer novels, Hobb positions her protagonist as distinctly other than the typical fantasy hero. I’ve argued the point, so I’ll not rehash it–but I will note that Wintrow seems to be in much the same mold, made even more so in the present chapter than he had been by the earlier parts of the novel. By being made a slave, and one not even claimed by his father, he is placed into a particularly abject position, one even more tenuous and precarious than his predecessor, Fitz. It marks him as perhaps the focal character of the Liveship Traders novels, as well as reinforcing just how execrable Kyle Haven and the institutions in which he participates are.

Given continuing events surrounding the composition of this little piece, I have to think that more people need to be reminded more forcefully of that execration and its lingering effects.

I’ll be holding off for next week’s commemorations, Monday and Friday. I could use a little help in the meantime…