Cover Illustration: Jackie Morris
THE DRAGON KEEPER
BOOK ONE OF THE RAIN WILD CHRONICLES
ISBN: 978 - 0 - 00 - 727374 - 4
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publishing date: 25 June 2009
On the cover:
17 Damaged Dragons, 13 Misfits, 1 Impossible Quest.
Guided by the great blue dragon Tintaglia, they came from the sea: a Tangle of serpents fighting their way up the Rain Wild River: the first to make the perilous journey to the cocooning grounds in generations. Many have died along the way. With its acid waters and noxious airs, it is a hard place for anyone to survive.
People are changed by the Rain Wilds, subtly or otherwise. One such is Thymara. Born with black claws and other abhorrences, she should have been exposed at birth. But her father saved her and her mother has never forgiven him. Like everyone else, Thymara is fascinated by the return of the dragons: it is as if they symbolise the return of hope to their war-torn world. Leftrin, captain of the liveship Tarman, also has an interest in the hatching; as does Bingtown newlywed, Alise Finbok, who has made it her life's work to study all there is to know about dragons.
But the creatures which emerge from the cocoons are a travesty of the powerful, shining dragons of old. Stunted and deformed, they cannot fly. Some do not even have wings; others seem witless and bestial. Soon they are seen as a danger and a burden: something must be done. Far upriver, so far it is shown on no map, lies the legendary Elderling city of Kelsingra - or so it is believed. Perhaps there the dragons will find their true home. But they cannot get there on their own: a band of dragon keepers, hunters and chroniclers must attend them.
To be a dragon keeper is a dangerous job: their charges are vicious and unpredictable. and there are many unknown perils: none are expected to return, or even survive...
Robin Hobb is one of my favourite fantasy authors, and in my opinion her trilogy "The Liveship Traders" is one of the best Fantasy series ever written. So obviously I was excited to hear about this book, and could not wait to get my hands on it and read it, something I did when it came out. I actually re-read it for this review.
The Dragon Keeper's starts out with a retelling of some of the events of Hobb's "The Liveship Traders" from a different perspective. And it continues with events happening at the same time as "The Tawny Man" trilogy, and an event in that trilogy is mentioned.
Despite all that, this book is not a direct follow-up to any of these two trilogies, it is however a continuation of events from "The Liveship Traders". I feel it is more a independent companion volume to that trilogy, and you do not have to read the 2500 pages of "The Liveship Traders" to read this book. In fact if you're unfamiliar with Robin Hobb's work, you can safely start here.
If you have read and like me enjoyed "The Liveship Traders" however this book is essential reading.
The story of The Dragon Keeper is about two thing, both of which are helpfully mentioned in the full title, Dragons and the Rain Wilds.
The Rain Wilds of Robin Hobb's world remains a rather mysterious place despite appearing in "The Liveship Traders", but here most of that veil of mystery is lifted. Many of the things that have previously only been hinted at are talked about openly here. This demystification does not make the Rain Wilds a less interesting place. To me it lends depth, character and believability to the place.
The story of the Rain Wilds society is mostly told through the eyes of the teenager Thymara. Her deformities make her an outcast, and through her we see the darker side of the harsh life along the Rain Wild River.
The dragons in this book in many ways mirror the inhabitants of the Rain Wilders. They are flawed creatures, and do not resemble the god-like noble beasts that dragons usually are portrayed as in fantasy. This is both refreshing and necessary to give credence to the relationship between the dragon sand their keepers. It is through this relationship that the reader, at the same time as the keepers discovers the nature of Hobb's dragons.
Not only do the dragons of this book differ from the kind you usually find in Epic/Medieval fantasy, so does the story. You will not find any dark lord that has to be defeated, no orphaned boy has to rise to save the world and there's a distinct lack of wizards lurking in the background.
There is a quest, but it takes backstage to the development of the characters and it only starts towards the end of the book.
Robin Hobb's writing has never been the most action-filled fantasy. "The Farseer Trilogy", her fastest paced so far, is slow compared to most other fantasy in a secondary world setting. And this is unquestionably the slowest paced Hobb has ever been. Not to say nothing happens, it does.
When I had finished this book I felt satisfied with the journey Hobb had taken me on. The detailed character development was both refreshing and relaxing. It was good reading fantasy that allowed me to really get to know the characters, and if that sounds interesting you should try this out..
I would also recommend this to anyone interested in dragons and their interactions with humans. And finally, this is definitely an essential read for anyone who wants to gain more insight into the world of the Farseers and the Cursed Shores.
That said the ending of the book is rather sudden, there is no great cliffhanger, and it doesn't feel like a natural ending. This should be no problem for anyone reading it now, the follow-up "Dragon Haven" is out now. And I review it here.