The Mad Ship by Robin Hobb

The Mad Ship (The Liveship Traders #2) by Robin Hobb
Published 1999 (first) by Harper Voyager.

Links: Goodreads. Amazon.

Source: purchased (paperback).

Genre: high fantasy.

My rating:

The Vestrit family’s liveship, Vivacia, has been taken by Kennit, an ambitious pirate. Captain Haven is a prisoner; his son Wintrow, who bears the Vestritt blood, finds himself competing with Kennit for Vivacia’s love as she becomes a pirate ship. Althea Vestrit, in training to become Vivacia’s captain, arrives home to discover her beloved ship lost. Brashen Trell, her old friend and shipmate, proposes that they sail to Vivacia’s rescue in the liveship Paragon, who has lost two previous crews and is believed mad. Malta, Althea’s niece, seeks help from her suitor, the Rain Wild Trader Reyn, whose family is the Vestritt’s major creditor. Meanwhile, the sea serpents who follow sailing ships struggle to remember their history and return to their place of transformation.


Whew! So I finally, FINALLY chewed my way through this massive book. I started reading it more than one year ago, before I even started blogging. I don’t know why it took me so long but once I put it on my “will get to it someday” shelf, it languished there for months before I decided I need to finish more series that I’ve already started before starting any new ones.

Given this is the second book in the series, it will probably contain some spoilers for Ship of Magic. You have been warned.


With so many points of view, it’s hard to really remember where the first book left off and where this one started, especially considering how long it took me to read it. All this griping about the time it demanded isn’t the book’s fault, please don’t misunderstand me, it’s me being distracted by shiny new books all the time

As with Hobb’s Farseer trilogy, which you should definitely read first, The Liveship Traders trilogy features amazingly well-portrayed characters. They are the power behind this story, and though there’s a lot of action (Piracy! Battle! Dragons!), it’s their colourful personalities that really drew me in. How could I not root for Althea, meditate with Wintrow, plot with Kennit and be annoyed with Malta?

But there are some changes afoot in their stories – and I was so glad to see that as much as these characters are true to themselves (and consistent and all), they are also changing over the course of the narrative, they’re learning things, growing up and becoming different people (I wanted to write “better people” but that might not be the case with some of them, we’ll see).

Most of all, I loved the change in Malta, the young Trader daughter who was a spoiled rich brat for most of the story (I seriously cringed for her and/or wanted to slap her most of the time) but is now learning about responsibility and realizing how petty some of her worries were. She reminds me a bit of Sansa Stark without being the wilting flower type of a girl (I love Sansa and her transformation but she was a bit of a pushover in the beginning but hey, she was 12 at the time, so she’s totally forgiven.).

Ooh but let me tell you about the liveships! I hate boats of all sizes (I get dizzy and I don’t trust them) but I’d brave my fears for a trip with one of these beauties! They are practically worth their weight in gold and let me say right now that the secret to their magic is magical, indeed.

For all of the first book – and a good part of the second – Hobb was teasing us with hints and little snippets of information that finally start making sense here! After I crested that hill, things started moving much quicker in the story and now I’m really curious about the final part of the trilogy.


Have you read The Liveship Traders? How about other books by Robin Hobb?

Would you travel by a ship that has a living, breathing, talking figurehead up front? 

And do sea serpents freak you out at all? o_O

I’d love to hear from you! :)

  • Ah, the Liveship Traders trilogy is high on my list to read. I really enjoyed Hobb’s Rain Wilds Chronicles (the one about dragons/sea serpents) and the liveships in that series are sooo fascinating. Figured if I want to know more, these books are the way to go.


    • My husband is currently reading Rain Wilds Chronicles, I think he’s one book in and seems to be liking it a lot. YES the liveships are amazing but in this series, you don’t know what the deal is with their magic right up until the last part of this second book so I was pretty confused for a while, especially since those serpents were just rolling around, eating people, not really DOING anything. But now that their origin is revealed: WOW. <3

      But if you haven't read anything else by Hobb, I'd really, REALLY recommend the Farseer trilogy.

      • I’ve read books 1 and 2 of Farseer but stalled out after that, I’m afraid. I felt the second book was a bit of a slog which is why I jumped to Rain Wilds instead after that. But I have plans to finish with the third book one of these days!

        • Ahh, “one of these days”? :D That’s when I mean to finish all of the series I’ve started! I sometimes get really worried about the amount of books I want to read and the number of years I have left to accomplish this task…

  • Not sure if I could read single novel over a whole year, while stopping to read other novels in between. I’d probably forget all the details, and have to start over again.

    A talking figurehead up front would be so cool to travel with! Unless they were rude. In which case, there may be some upcoming renovations to the ship’s design :P

    • Yeah it was a supremely bad idea, the pause in the middle of the book. I often put a book away and read something else in between (my attention is lured away by new and shiny things) but this pause was extra-long… I took me a while to get back into the story but I’m very glad I did.

      Um some of the figureheads are VERY rude, there’s the Paragon who’s mad (hence the title of this part) and has drowned his entire crew TWICE – but people still somehow think that sailing him is a good idea. o_O Also, the Wizardwood is really hard to work, practically impossible to carve, so you’d have a problem with that! :)

  • Maraia

    Oh god, Malta. How many times did I want to strangle her in the first two books? I was so relieved when she finally started to grow up. Speaking of wanting to strangle people…both of Malta’s parents were so infuriating at times, especially her dad.

    I can’t believe you took so long to read this. I know Robin Hobb’s books always drag in the middle, but there was still lots of crazy stuff happening! :P

    I love how interconnected all of her books are, and reading the series out of order has made it even more fun. There’s one character in this series who reappears later, but I can’t even talk about it, because it will completely ruin things. But I freaked out a bit when I made the connection. :D

    • Ugh, yes, Malta’s parents were AWFUL. What were they thinking, making her mom the Trader for the family? And that Kyle person was just such a cretin, I couldn’t believe he’d use Vivacia as a slaver.

      Well, I got distracted by other shiny stuff so I put the book away and forgot all about it. It was only my personal pledge to finish more series that made me dig it out again! And I’m really glad I did.

      • Maraia

        Hahaha “that Kyle person.” Vivacia’s whole story makes me so sad. I honestly have NO IDEA how it’s all going to work out, and I’m scared. I really want my ship to sail! I really can’t judge you for taking so long with Mad Ship. I started Ship of Destiny on my Kindle last weekend when I was out of town, but now that I’m back home, I have to read my physical library books first. I don’t know when I’ll get back to it. =/

        • Ah, taking a break, are you? :D It’s pretty easy to drop a book that’s 900 pages long in order to read other, shorter books in between.

          Honestly, if Brashen and Althea don’t end up together I’m flipping some tables. Those two have to make it!

          • Maraia

            Oh, just a little one. ;)

            I KNOW. Robin Hobb can’t be that cruel. Right? Please?

  • As you know, I have yet to read Robin Hobb but she’s on the list! As far as reading massive books goes, I have issues with it. Putting aside the book for long periods of time – even when you’re enjoying it – is something that I fall prey to a lot, unfortunately. Case in point: The Lies of Locke Lamora. I’m reading it now and have been for months!! Why can’t I just finish it? I’m loving it, but idk…the length gets to me. I’m planning to finish it this week though.

    • This is what I’ve been saying to A. when he was complaining how long it took me to finish the damn book. HELLO, how can you write 900-page books in this world where there are just SO MANY books (and shows and music and everything) competing for our attention? I have to REALLY like an author to dig into something this massive – and this goes for series with 3+ parts, too. I’d LOVE to start Temeraire, for example, but I just can’t make myself go into another behemoth of a series again.