Science fiction and fantasy                                            



Dragon Haven

by Robin Hobb

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Book two of The Rain Wild Chronicles continues the quest of a group of dragons and their outcast keepers in search of a better life at the lost city of Kelsingra. These flightless, stunted beasts and their people face a long trek along a seemingly endless acid river banked by inhospitable swamp. They don't know if the city they remember from their vague racial memories still exists, or if it was buried or destroyed after a great cataclysm that wiped out most of the dragons.

The keepers and the crew of the liveship Tarman are a seething mass of rivalries, bitterness and secrets. Some amongst them are planning to steal dragon parts and escape with them to Chalced, where there is a fat profit to be made thanks to an ailing and desperate ruler who will pay any price for dragon goods. Some may even be tempted to try to kill one of the sicklier dragons. Sedric, Alise Finbok's assistant and friend, is eaten up by guilt about the secrets he has kept from her, and he's despondent about his abandoned and impoverished situation. This is made worse because he thinks he's poisoned himself. Alise has guilt of her own to contend with: she's fallen in love, even though she's trapped in an icy marriage and honour demands that she must not break her wedding vows.

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

Book Details

Year: 2010

Categories: Books

  Fantasy
 
  Cheerful

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Robin Hobb

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