CBR13 Bingo (in order) – Travel, The Wilds, Cityscape, Home
I’ve read the other books in Robin Hobbs interlinked series many times, and the Farseer Trilogy is one of my favourite alltime reads. But for some reason I’d passed over the Rain Wild Chronicles until now. Maybe I’d heard it was a weaker link in the chain? If so, I heard right. The characters lack the depth and humanity I expect from Hobb, and were too neatly paired off by the series end. Nothing really surprised or shocked me, and the lost dragon city lacked the sense of awe and wonder.
But not living up to Robin Hobb’s usual standards doesn’t mean these books weren’t worth the read, at least to fill a gap in a very compelling larger story.
** Spoilers for The Liveship Traders and Tawny Man series, and for the general plot direction of the series
The Dragon Keeper picks up where The Liveship Traders left off. The disrupted lifecycle of dragons is being restored, with the first dragon eggs for centuries hatching on the banks of the Rain Wild River. But these are not the dragons of the past. They entered their cocoons too weak and too late in the season, and lacking mature dragons to share memories and watch over them they are stunted, pitiful creatures, unable to feed or groom themselves.
The pragmatic Rain Wild Traders want them gone. They have kept their bargain with the dragon Tintaglia to watch over the hatchlings in return for her help in the war against Chalced, but Tintaglia has disappeared. If she’s not living up to her end of the deal, why should they? Maybe they could send the dragons away, for their own good, to somewhere more suitable.
Maybe they could send some unwanted teenagers away with them as their keepers. Young ones who have been too heavily changed by the Rain Wilds, their bodies marked with scales, or claws or other deviations in the direction of the lost Elderlings, but without their grace or beauty. These young people would not be allowed to marry or bear children here in the tree cities of the Rain Wild Traders. Some of them should not have been allowed to live. It would be a kindness to pay them to be dragon keepers, to accompany the hatchlings on their journey to anywhere else but here. And if they died without claiming the second half of their payment, would it be any real loss?
And so the journey begins.
Thymara is keen to leave the city of Cassarick where she has no future. Saved from infanticide by her loving father, and resented ever since by her mother, she has been fascinated by the dragons since she witnessed their hatching. Her skills as a hunter and forager aren’t enough to earn here a place in Rain Wilds society, but are just what are needed. And her best friend Tats, part of the new freed slave minority, is coming too.
Leftrin is captain of Tarman, one of the oldest liveships, built before the practice of giving the sentient ships a human figurehead to communicate through. He will accompany the dragons, their keepers, and a few hunters on their trip up the river. Tarman knows the river better than any other ship, and is best equipped to travel further up the river than anyone has gone for centuries.
Alise Kincarron Finbok is coming too, driven by her passion to learn more about dragons and the lost Elderlings. Also driven by her anger at her handsome, charming husband Hest and their sham marriage. Hest has sent his secretary Sedric to keep Alise in line, as punishment for criticising him, and to make some space for a potential new paramour.
Sintara is angry. Angry at her own weakness. Angry to be so dependent on pathetic humans who don’t worship her as she deserves. Angry at Mercor, who seems to think he’s in charge of the dragons. The dragons who half remember in their dreams a city called Kelsingra.
Dragon Haven continues the journey up the river. The keepers bond closely with each other, with the uneven gender divide and other power struggles causing friction. Thymara still feels like an outsider, less willing than her fellow keepers to throw off the rules of Rain Wilds society, and lacking the skills to dodge the manipulations of those who want to be on top of the new social order.
Several members of the party are carrying the guilt of association with Chalcedans, who see dragons as the source of blood and flesh to heal their Duke, riches and status. The trip up the river has not been the escape they hoped, and their shameful secrets threaten new relationships with dragons and dragonlovers.
A disaster tightens the bonds of the ragtag band, and strips them of most of their supplies, making their push up the river more desperate. The dragons’ memories of Kelsingra drive them, but has the river changed too much for them to be able to find the lost city? Tarman remembers too, and shows them they way, but the raging river and collapsed docks of the city leave them stranded on the far shore.
In City of Dragons we start to explore the city of Kelsingra, and learn something of the lost civilisation of dragons and Elderlings. Freed of the confines of the heavily forested river banks, with game to spare, and a touch of magical warmth on the last stages of their journey up the river, the dragons are growing larger, stronger and more self assured. Heeby, formerly a maligned runt, returns with her keeper Rapskal after being thought dead, able to fly. Heeby’s example and tales of the city’s wonders motivate the keepers and dragons to take to the air to finish their journey.
Claiming the city is the central conflict of this book. Should Kelsingra be preserved as a museum of a lost culture, plundered for its riches, or claimed as a home for dragons and those they have chosen to make into the new Elderlings. Will the Rain Wild Traders agree to claims based on contracts they never thought would be fulfilled? Can the dragons and their keepers stop others from claiming Kelsingra for themselves?
In Blood of Dragons this conflict heats up and spills out of the city through the Rain Wilds and on to Chalced. Humans need to be reminded that dragons are no longer the stunted pitiful creatures that struggled to survive on the banks of the Rain Wild River.
The dragons have claimed the city as their home. It won’t be easily taken from them. They have claimed their keepers as the new Elderlings, to share their home and bring it back to life. As the story ends, we are only starting see how the city will change this ragtag bands of misfits into something glorious.