Liveship Traders is a trilogy about a family of Bingtown merchants who possesses a Liveship, a sentient ship that can access the Rain Wild and their legendary wares. It’s the second series of the Realm of the Elderlings (after the Farseer and before Tawny Man, Rain Wild Chronicles and Fitz and the Fool).
Robin Hobb is mostly known for her stories about Fitzchivalry Farseer, a royal bastard used as a last-resort diplomatic tool (read: assassin) by his family. Fans all over the world have followed these stories with enthusiasm, and dare I say, a tiny bit of masochism. Staring in three trilogies (Farseer, Tawny Man and Fitz and The Fool), Fitz is obviously a central character in the Realm of the Elderlings series. Which sometimes leads a few readers to miss out on the two other subseries of the universe, Liveship Traders and Rain Wild Chronicles. Neither of the two should be skipped, but I’m mostly here to gush about Liveship Traders and convince you to read it. For three simple reasons:
1) It’s the perfect palace cleanser after the Farseer Trilogy
It’s not unusual to need a breather after the Farseer trilogy. Fitz’ storyline was an intense rollercoaster, and diving into a different series before tackling Tawny Man can provide a welcome change of pace. Different setting, different characters, larger scope, multiple points of view, and a feel of adventure: everything to provide a breath of fresh, salty air.
2) The series is an important part of the Realm of the Elderlings saga
The story is a central piece in the Realm of Elderlings puzzle. An important thread in the tapestry. Whichever metaphor we’re going with. The events that transpire in the trilogy trigger a chain of reactions, felt either directly or more subtly in the rest of the series. While Fitz and Fool, the latest trilogy, is a natural follow-up to Farseer and Tawny Man, it’s also one for Liveship Traders and the Rainwild Chronicles. The Realm of the Elderlings series became so intertwined that not reading Liveship Traders would be missing out on hints and Easter eggs at first, and on key plot elements later.
3) It’s the best series in the Realm of the Elderlings
Put down the pitchforks, Fitz fans, it’s a personal opinion. While I too feel the almost Stockholm Syndrome-y love for our favourite royal bastard, Liveship is, for me, Robin Hobb at her best. The multiple pov format allows for her trademark character creation skills to really shine, by exploring a larger range of flawed, all-too-real personalities with a higher degree of nuance and complexity. The books also provide the best characters developments I’ve ever seen in the genre. A larger scope gives the series a definite “epic” feel, where the personal stories, tragedies and challenges are set in a more ambitious background with higher stakes. And with Hobb’s exquisite writing, it’s as George R. R. Martin would say (and probably did say), “fantasy as it ought to be written”.