Robin Hobb returns to the sea with Mad Ship, the second book in a projected trilogy set in the same world as her famed Farseer series. Many unresolved questions from Ship of Magic are answered in this tale of sea serpents and dragons; living ships made of wizardwood; the Bingtown Trader families who sail the ships; and their disfigured cousins, the Rain Wild Traders, who build them.
I’m finding this review somewhat tricky to write. It’s not so much a problem with the actual process of writing, but more that I don’t know what tone to take when talking about this review. The first three quarters of this book were slow at times, dragged on and to be honest, was some of my least favorite Robin Hobb I’ve read thus far. However, the last quarter of the book, 250 pages or so, was phenomenal. Because of this contrast between the beginning and very end of the book, my feelings are pretty mixed. My Goodreads rating also reflects my confusion. While reading, I was ready to give The Mad Ship a two-star rating. That was until I made it to the closing chapters of the book, which I wanted to give a four-star rating. So I’ve settled in between the two scores and have given The Mad Ship a three-star rating. I still feel a bit guilty here, as I believe this is the lowest I’ve rated a Robin Hobb book before (except for maybe *Renegade’s Magic) despite having a few moments towards the end that made me want to give it four or five stars. Enough of this tomfoolery, let’s review!
As expected, The Mad Ship is very well written with multiple POVs that are quite reminiscent of ASOIAF. All the characters continue to develop throughout the book and we are also introduced to some new characters as well, namely those of the Khuprus family. As far as likability goes, I would say most characters are definitely easy to like though not always the most interesting people. Compared to other Hobb books I have read, it seems like there isn’t a ton of backstory for many characters except for a select few protagonists. However, not every character and I got along too well. I really, really could not stand Malta for most of the book. I think this was Hobb’s goal with Malta though because as the book progresses we see her transition from a spoiled child to a young adult.
Let’s move on to what I loved about The Mad Ship. Firstly, links to the Farseer Trilogy start to become more apparent. Reading those books first will allow you to get more out of this trilogy. I won’t go into specific examples because of spoilers. I will note that Hobb does an excellent job here and still gives the reader the ability to discover the connections between the two trilogies on their own. I also liked that Hobb has very strong female protagonists, like Athea, taking on jobs normally filled by men and having to face difficult obstacles in order to achieve their goals.
In summary, it’s a great book that is probably a bit too lengthy. I think at least a hundred pages could have been cut out of the book. But, as I said at the beginning of this review, the end of the book is quite spectacular and leaves you really wanting more. I’m greatly looking forward to reading the final book in the trilogy.