Ship of Destiny is the concluding volume in Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders Trilogy. Here Hobb brings together the disparate storylines she has been weaving together in the previous two volumes. Three generations of Vestrit women are at the center of this novel. Ronica Vestrit, the matriarch of the family, remains in Bingtown after the town has been ravaged by the betrayal of the New Traders and the Chalcedeans and she is working with the other Trader Families to rebuild something of Bingtown and keep something of the legacy of the city. Her goal is to bring her family back together and to restore Bingtown, and to avoid ruin for all. She is a proud woman. This may seem to be a large section of the novel which is left to political wrangling, and in a sense it is, but Hobb writes this all so well that I feel that the world is enriched rather than this political wrangling slowing down the novel. Hobb's pace has always been slow, but it is also always steady.
Althea Vestrit, Ronica's daughter, is now aboard the Liveship Paragon with Brashen Trell and is still seeking to reclaim her family's Liveship Vivacia. Althea and Brashen have to deal with their feelings for each other while maintaining discipline on the ship and they also strive to survive on Paragon, a Liveship with only a tenuous grasp of sanity. The Vivacia is now happily in the service of the pirate Kennit, but Wintrow Haven (son of Kyle Havan and Keffira Vestrit) is on the ship also willingly serving Kennit. Things are not as simple as they once appeared in Ship of Magic. Kennit is managing to make himself respectable.
Malta Vestrit, the daughter of Keffira and niece of Althea, is lost somewhere in the Rain Wilds with the Satrap of Jamailla. The Satrap is, ultimately, the distant ruler of Bingtown and it is his disappearance that has caused much of the problems now plaguing Bingtown, that and the fact that the Satrap is an ineffectual ruler. In Mad Ship Malta had released a dragon from its cocoon and thus began a major changing force into the world.
Three storylines, plus the Kennit/Wintrow/Vivacia storyline, plus a side storyline or two, plus the ever present passages regarding the sea serpents comprise Ship of Destiny. The novel is far richer than I have been able to get across. Nearly every character in the novel has developed in some way far beyond who they were when we first met them. Hobb has performed an outstanding job of character development. The villains are no longer so clear and the heroes are much changed. Even some minor characters whom have been developed. The novel is not all simple development, however. Robin Hobb has written some exciting action sequences here and some high tension sea battles. Ship of Destiny moves along at a faster pace than her previous two Liveship novels.
My only quibble with this novel is how pat Hobb ends the trilogy. I understand that a conclusion has to conclude and wrap up the storylines, so I appreciate that. My quibble is that the ending is excessively upbeat despite all the changes the characters go through (is that vague enough?). Even the negatives for the characters are tempered by a greater positive. Back to what I really like: Robin Hobb is absolutely brutal with her characters. I know I just complained about too much positive in the ending, but to get to that ending some of the characters have to go through a form of personal hell, each one different. There is always a lingering question on whether the characters will make it out of a given situation and if they do, if they will make it out intact (physically, emotionally, and mentally).
The final report: Mad Ship may be the strongest entry in this trilogy, but collectively the Liveship Traders is superior to the very fine Farseer Trilogy and Ship of Destiny greatly enriches the Realm of the Elderlings and changes much of what we know and understand about the world and what might possibly come next in the Tawny Man. Highly recommended.