Friday, August 20, 2010

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb

Dragon Keeper (Rain Wilds Chronicles, Vol. 1)
Robin Hobb's novels tend to be a little difficult for me to read; in fact, I never did finish her Liveship Traders trilogy, just kept getting bogged down in depression halfway through The Mad Ship. The characters in her books just get totally run through the wringer, physically and emotionally. I did really enjoy her first trilogy, which begins with Assassin's Apprentice, but struggled with the rest.

Dragon Keeper, first in the Rain Wilds Chronicles, takes up, evidently, shortly after the Liveship Traders, and the characters from those books play cameo roles in this one. The dragons are finally hatching from their cocoons, but they turn out mostly to be stunted, deformed or mentally subpar, and the citizens of the Rain Wilds are bound by their agreement with the dragon, Tintaglia, to care for and feed them. This gets old pretty quickly for them, and they scheme to find a way to be rid of them without violating the letter of the contract.

Meanwhile, back in Bingtown, we get to know Alise, a rather plain young woman from a minor Trader family. She hasn't been fortunate in the looks department, and lacks for suitors until a wealthy young Trader approaches her about a marriage of convenience. If she will marry him and get his family to quit badgering him about producing an heir, she can live a life of ease, and have the funds she wants to acquire scrolls and other materials to further her studies of dragons and Elderlings.

While she seems to be clueless about it, it's fairly obvious to the reader that her new husband, Hest, a cold and manipulative fellow, prefers men for his sexual dalliances. In fact, his main lover is one of her childhood friends, Sedric, and when she demands to be allowed to travel to the Rain Wilds to study the newly hatched dragons, Hest sends Sedric to accompany and chaperone her.

Another major character in the book is Thymara, another girl with poor marriage prospects. She, like many of the Rain Wilds folk, had some major mutations at birth, and should have been left to die from exposure. Her father loved her too deeply to let her go, however, so she has grown up without status in the community and will never be allowed to marry and have children. When the Rain Wilds Council offers her a position helping the dragons to make their way to the fabled city of Kelsingra, which the dragons remember as a place of plenty, she jumps at the chance to make something useful of her life.

There are lots of different agendas and intrigues afoot in this book, and though it did take me a while to finish it, it doesn't seem as much of a downer as Hobb's earlier books. I'm definitely intrigued to know what the dragons will find when they reach Kelsingra, and wonder how Alise and Thymara will turn out when they've grown up.


redhead said...

I'm half way through The Farseer trilogy now, and loving it. I like that Hobb has finished trilogies, but that there are crossovers into other trilogies.

are her trilogies in somewhat chronological order, would you say? can I skip from the Assassin's book to Dragon keeper, or should I slog through Liveship Traders first?

Jon said...

Hobb's trilogies are, indeed, in chronological order. Assasin, Farseer, Liveship Traders, Rain Wilds. Soldier Son is a stand-alone, at this point. The connection between Farseer and Liveship is tenuous, though it feels like the same world, different era.