Science fiction and fantasy
by Robin Hobb
All of the characters are changed by their voyage, but especially the dragon keepers. They look more and more like dragons each day as the Rain Wilds and the presence of dragons works its magic on them, for good or ill. But can their fledgling society survive the tensions between them? They're divided over what to do about the rules that used to govern them on marriage, and over what to do about the scarcity of females amongst them.
As well as all this the group have to deal with everything the river throws at them, from predators to natural disasters and hunger. Even though it has plenty of adventure and romantic tensions Dragon Haven is a little more linear than The Dragon Keeper. By this point we're familiar with the main characters' motivations, and I felt the novel was somewhat repetitive in its descriptions of how they all felt. There's a lot of recapping, which isn't too bad if there's a gap between the time you read the first book and the second, but it's noticeable otherwise and it slows the story.
Dragon Haven is brim full of revelations as people and dragons finally get to the truth about themselves. When it came to the antagonists I didn't have much sympathy for them by the end, because they were often painted too black. However the dragons seemed to gain some empathy, although at heart they're still the kind of haughty, fearsome carnivores you wouldn't invite over for tea without writing a will. Robin Hobb has steered a careful path between making her dragons cute horse substitutes and raging, ravenous lizards, and the result is more interesting than either extreme. We're never sure whether they'll turn on the humans or help them out.
There are several relationships that emerge and alter over the course of the book, and quite a strong element of romance. However characters have an off-putting tendency to go hoarse or deep-voiced with alarming regularity when they're feeling lustful, and this throws cold water on some of the romantic moments. These are often sensitive rather than intensely passionate affairs, and the foundations for them are laid out well in advance. It's the sort of story that's to be savoured for its anticipation more than for its surprises. In spite of taking a slightly slower pace than The Dragon Keeper it's very enjoyable, and it has lots of melt-in-your-mouth gooey moments, and offers the satisfaction of a definitive ending.
7th November 2011
Review © Ros Jackson
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