Book Review 2010 #13: Dragon Keeper

Next up, Robin Hobb…

In Dragon Keeper, Robin Hobb started a duology of novels set in her “Farseer” universe. After the events which allowed the Traders to become independent (as chronicled
in the Liveship novels), a group of dragon eggs, entrusted to the inhabitants of the dense and deadly Rain Wilds rainforest, have hatched into pale imitations of the dragon
Tintaglia, who laid them. A misfit group of keepers, hunters and dracophiles banded together to take the young proto-dragons deep into the Wilds in search of an ancient dragon
Dragon Haven completes and concludes the story of those keepers, their dragons, and those with them, as the physical challenges of the deadly Rain Wilds, dissension amongst the
crew of the Tarman, and doubts about whether the mysterious dragon city of Kelsingra even exists anymore threaten the health and well being of not only the expedition, but all
of those associated with it.
Robin Hobb is one of the most acclaimed writers of “low fantasy” (fantasy without tremendous amounts of magic), and the conclusion to the Rain Wilds series, Dragon Haven, shows us why.
First, its all about the characters, especially female characters. Well drawn, complex, conflicted and most importantly, capable of change and growing, Hobbs characters continue the development they started in the first volume, and grow to meet the challenges they meet. Not only the young adults, Thymara, Tats, Rapskal and the other keepers. Not only the adults, too, Alise, Captain Leftrin, Sedric and the other adults. No, Hobb’s deft hand extends to the dragons, as well. While dragons with personalities is not new in fantasy fiction, Hobb’s still-growing dragons evolve and change over the course of the two novels, and more especially this one.
Second, the milieu of the Rain Wilds is vividly described and invoked in her writing. The Rain Wilds, with significant (and frightening) changes resembles the temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest that Ms. Hobb makes her home in, and that mise en scene, that sense of place, is wonderfully set before the reader. The Rain Wilds are a character as much as the human or dragon characters are. Unintentionally, perhaps, but the book has only reinforced my desire to see the area of the country that inspired the Rain Wilds.
Thirdly, the plot. Although the first book ended in medias res, and clearly as the first book of a duology, we receive a solid resolution to the plots of the first book. Even the keepers of the messenger birds, Erek and Detozi, whose messages have served as a window to the world beyond the Tarman, have a subtle and small plot of their own that resolves nicely. Although part of the resolution seems to come a bit out of the blue, I realized at the end that I had, indeed, missed a Chekhov’s Gun Ms. Hobb had subtly placed earlier in the series.
Lastly, the inventiveness of Ms. Hobb’s writing. Let me give you one example, her Dragons. Dragons are not quite as common as werewolves and vampires in novels these days, but a glance in the local F/SF section of the bookstore shows that Dragons have always been a big part of the Duchy of Fantasy. Hobb does not tread new ground; her dragons are new, and different, given their weaknesses, deformities and deficiencies that the dragons have been cursed with, and must overcome in order to become true dragons. I can’t help but wonder what the young life of other fantasy dragons were like, now that Hobb has so expertly thought out and shown us the birth and development of young dragons in her world.
You couldn’t and shouldn’t read this book before reading Dragon Keeper. Fans of Hobb will have already bought this book, of course, and their loyalty to her writing is rewarded. Start with Dragon Keeper, and continue on with Dragon Haven, and I would bet good money that you will become a fan of Hobb’s writing, too.
Highly Recommended.