Liveship Traders Trilogy

Liveship Traders Trilogy
Liveship Traders.jpg
UK edition

Author Robin Hobb
Cover artist Jackie Morris
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Fantasy
Publisher Voyager (UK), Spectra (US)
Published 1998–2000
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Preceded by The Farseer Trilogy
Followed by The Tawny Man Trilogy

The Liveship Traders Trilogy is a series of fantasy novels by American author Robin Hobb. A nautical fantasy series, the Liveship Traders is the second trilogy set in The Realm of the Elderlings and features pirates, sea serpents, a family of traders and their living ships.

Plot overview

The Liveship Trader's Trilogy takes place in Jamaillia, Bingtown and the Pirate Isles, on the coast far to the south of the Six Duchies. The war in the north has interrupted the trade that is the lifeblood of Bingtown, and the Liveship Traders have fallen on hard times despite their magic sentient ships. At one time, possession of a Liveship, constructed of magical wizard wood, guaranteed a Trader's family prosperity. Only a Liveship can brave the dangers of the Rain Wild River and trade with the legendary Rain Wild Traders and their mysterious magical goods, plundered from the enigmatic Elderling ruins. Althea Vestrit expects her families to adhere to tradition, and pass the family Liveship on to her when it quickens at the death of her father. Instead, the Vivacia goes to her sister Keffria and her scheming Chalcedean husband Kyle. The proud Liveship becomes a transport vessel for the despised but highly profitable slave trade.

Althea, cast out on her own, resolves to make her own way in the world and somehow regain control of her family's living ship. Her old shipmate Brashen Trell, the enigmatic woodcarver Amber and the Paragon, the notorious mad Liveship are the only allies she can rally to her cause. Pirates, a slave rebellion, migrating sea serpents and a newly hatched dragon are but a few of the obstacles she must face on her way to discovering that Liveships are not, perhaps, what they seem to be, and may have dreams of their own to follow.


Literary allusions to the works of Robert Louis Stevenson and R. M. Ballantyne have been identified in the Liveship Traders series. Academics Ralph Crane and Lisa Fletcher describe the trilogy as an immersive portrayal of a world that is water-centric, aided by unique perspectives such as a serpent's-eye view of the ocean: for instance, the serpents view the sea as "the Plenty", while the air above is termed "the Lack".[1] Hobb's writing in the Liveship Traders novels has sometimes been compared to fellow author George R. R. Martin's works, with both their best-known works published during the late 1990s.[2] While their series are considered more realistic than most epic fantasy, they differ in how they depict said realism.[3] According to scholar Sylvia Borowska-Szerszun, Martin's work focuses on the brutality and violence of its realism, while Hobb's narrative focuses more on the psychological aspects of trauma, including that arising from violence and rape.[4]


Hobb's depiction of gender in the Liveship Traders has been a subject of scholarly study. The series features three generations of women in a patriarchal society, and portrays their lives in the midst of a socio-political upheaval in said society.[5] The women of the series often defy stereotypical expectations of their femininity: the rebellious sailor Althea Vestrit, who dresses as a man to work on a ship, re-kindles her sensitive side; the submissive housewife Keffria discovers her independence; and the conservative, traditional matriarch Ronica adapts to social change.[6][7]

The character known as Amber is revealed through her actions in Ship of Destiny, when she carves a liveship's figurehead in the likeness of FitzChivalry Farseer, as the Fool from the Farseer trilogy.[8][9] An enigmatic character whose gender identity shifts through the Elderlings series, Amber presents herself as a woman in some books and as a man in others. Scholars have described this portrayal of gender as subversive, and as challenging notions of rigid boundaries between genders.[6][9]


Remarking on the "striking portraits of three generations of women" in the Liveship Traders, the New Statesman wrote that Hobb's novels did not ignore womens' stories. It praised the series for exploration of complex themes including slavery, political upheaval and gender equality, and stated that though Hobb's works had a medieval setting, her themes resonated in the modern world.[2] The magazine Strange Horizons also praised Hobb's construction and development of female characters, and described the series as "revolutionary nautical fantasy".[7]


  1. ^ Crane & Fletcher (2017), p. 168-169.
  2. ^ a b Bock, Pauline (July 27, 2018). "Robin Hobb on changing cultures, writing about violence, and the anonymity of living on a farm". New Statesman.
  3. ^ Borowska-Szerszun (2019), p. 1.
  4. ^ Borowska-Szerszun (2019), p. 17.
  5. ^ Borowska-Szerszun (2019), p. 11.
  6. ^ a b Borowska-Szerszun (2019), p. 12.
  7. ^ a b Dray, Stephanie (November 5, 2001). "Revolutionary Nautical Fantasy: Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders Series". Strange Horizons.
  8. ^ Melville (2018), p. 292.
  9. ^ a b Prater (2016), p. 29.


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