Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders
trilogy is set in the same world as her earlier Farseer
books, well south of that series' Six Duchies, in the port city of Bingtown. Bingtown is separated from its northern neighbor, the Chalced States, by the Rain River and the region known as "the Rain Wilds." Much further south is the empire of Jamaillia, of which Bingtown is an outpost, and in between is a stretch of straits and islands that are home to pirates and small encampments of escaped slaves.
All this geography is significant, because over the course of the three Liveship Traders
books, the action ranges over the entire coastline, from the Rain River all the way down to Jamaillia. Bingtown's connection to the empire is tenuous at best, those who settled the city and the Rain Wilds having been younger siblings of the noble houses with no hope of inheritance, and others whose prospects in Jamaillia were less than promising. In return for their exclusive land grants in the forbidding region known as the Cursed Shores, the original settlers of Bingtown and the Rain Wilds pay a substantial portion of their income to the empire, but otherwise are largely left to fend for and rule themselves.
But the strange and magical goods that come out of the Rain Wilds, highly coveted from Jamaillia to the Six Duchies, more than make up for Bingtown's somewhat-rustic existence. The Rain Wilds are so hostile an environment that only a small number of families live there, and in partnership with the Bingtown Traders they control the flow of those wares. The waters of the Rain River themselves limit access, as an ordinary ship's hull would quickly be eaten away; the only craft that can withstand the river's toxic flow are the Liveships of Bingtown's trading families. Made of wizardwood, another of the Rain Wilds' mysteries, Traders mortgage their families' fortunes for generations to pay for a single Liveship. These ships, with their detailed figureheads, "quicken" and become self-aware after three family members have died onboard and their memories absorbed. A quickened Liveship becomes an active participant in the family's trading voyages, cooperating with its crew in sailing, scouting for danger, and undertaking risky but lucrative trips up the Rain.
In Ship of Magic
, younger daughter Althea Vestrit anxiously awaits the day when she will inherit the captaincy of Vivacia
, her family's liveship-to-be. When her father unexpectedly dies, she is also deprived of that role, as her Chalcedan brother-in-law is given the helm of the Vivacia
. Althea is not even given the opportunity to continue to serve on the newly-awakened liveship, which requires a blood member of the family on board; Vivacia
's new captain, Kyle, forces his son Wintrow, Althea's nephew, to leave the monastery where he has been studying to be a priest of Sa and become part of crew. Althea and Wintrow, both stunned by these reversals of fortune, are left to sort out their drastically-changed futures and try to regain what they have lost.
In the remaining two volumes of the Liveship Traders
, Althea's and Wintrow's pursuit of their sabotaged dreams continues, we learn more about the nature of liveships, the Rain Wilds, and the pirates who prowl the straits south of Bingtown, and connections are made to the tales told in the Farseer trilogy.