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A liveship is a ship made of Wizardwood, a mystical substance from up the Rain Wild River. When three generations of a ship's owners die on board, a liveship "quickens", becoming a sentient being with a personality, the memories of the dead ancestors, and a psychic connection to living family members. Only a liveship is capable of crossing the perilous Rain Wild River to trade with the Rain Wilders, who have valuable goods plundered from an ancient Elderling ruin. Vivacia is the ship bought by the Vestrit family, who are still in debt to the Rain Wilder for the price of the Wizardwood.

The Vestrits live in Bingtown, which borders the sea, Jamaillia, Chalced, and the Rain Wilds. Their charter comes from Jamaillia; however, the Satrap, the current leader of Jamaillia, has ignored the promises his ancestors made with Bingtown. Chalced's influence and customs are spreading throughout the world. In Bingtown, the culture is increasingly patriarchal and the practice of slavery puts a financial strain on many Trader families.


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