I gave this book 2 stars on Goodreads (out of 5 stars), but please don't let that rating stop you giving it a try. If you like fantasy, you'll probably love it: Ship of Magic is well written, the characters are detailed and three-dimensional, and it lays the groundwork for a very popular trilogy. However, the only reason I read it was because I wanted to try something outside my usual field, and DD recommended it to me. I'm a stranger to this genre, so my views reflect this.
As a slow reader with limited opportunities to pick up a book, at first I found this one a real trial. The characters are all very realistic, but not necessarily in a good way. Although I warmed slightly to Kennit and Wintrow right from the start, and was really cheering for them both at the end (despite the fact they're on opposing sides!) I found most of the characters (especially Kyle and Malta) actively unlikeable. In fact, I wanted to give some of them a good shake (Keffria for example, and the liveships at their most childish). I haven't felt so annoyed by any fictional characters since meeting Lydia Bennet (Pride and Prejudice) and Dora Spenlow (David Copperfield), but I hope Robin Hobb can take that as a compliment. Malta's deceit about the dress and her awful come-uppance were glorious, and I loved the scenes on board ship, especially the great chase at the end.
The only thing that stopped me giving this book three stars is because my difficulties with reading made me want to give up on it, at least to begin with. I need a book to grab me fast, and never let me go. Ship of Magic didn't really do that for me until page 822, but I have to say that once I got to that point I read the remaining pages in one fell swoop, and asked DD if I could read the next in the trilogy.