The Liveship traders of Bingtown operate to the south of Six Duchies – the land we visited with Hobb for her Farseer novels. However, don’t expect the same characters to pop-up or a continuation of the raids from the Red Ships. This is a very different story, and although the lands and novels are intrinsically linked, you need no knowledge of the Farseer novels before you embark on this series. We meet a new cast of well-crafted characters and a set of books that possibly represent Hobb’s most accomplished work.
The story revolves around the Bingtown traders, a group of families who prosper on the Cursed Shore – a land where life is made difficult by the acidic waters of the Rain Wild River that runs from far inland into the sea near their town. The secret of their prosperity is their Liveships. They are crafted from Wizardwood that comes from a secret source far up the Rain Wild River and give their ships a great advantage over their competitors, not least because only ships made from this wondrous wood can reliably navigate the treacherous acid waters of the Rain Wilds.
After three generations of trading on their great ships, the Wizardwood has another startling advantage. On the death of their third captain, the ship will quicken and literally become alive, formed from the bled personalities of its former captains. The carved human figurehead will begin to talk and converse with their crew and their accumulated knowledge from the former captains make them masterful rulers of the sea, far outstripping the sailing vessels of the other nations – and in particular those of the Chalced States, a neighbouring slave-owning country that eyes Bingtown’s prosperity enviously.
What ranks this series of novels so highly, is the descriptive power of the writing. Hobb lays out and explains every aspect of this strange land beautifully. The incredibly detailed passages of these books will make you realise that this was a real labour of love for the author, as her writing goes into a level of sophistication rarely found other than by masters of their craft. Hobb doesn’t rush you through the story at breakneck speed, instead it is slowly unfolded as the secret behind Bingtown’s Liveships gradually comes to light.
The Liveship traders novels are an amazing achievement and she rightly received high literary praise for her work. An epic tale told by a master author at the top of her game.
You can buy the first in the series, ‘Ship of Magic’ on Amazon here.