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City of Dragons by Robin Hobb

City of Dragons by Robin Hobb
Book Name: City of Dragons
Author: Robin Hobb
Publisher(s): Harper Voyager
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: February 7, 2012 (US) / April 23, 2012 (UK)

It felt somewhat appropriate to review City of Dragons for Fantasy-Faction in answer to my review of the first book of this series that went live on the site in March. Although I’m skipping from volume one to volume three of the Rain Wilds Chronicles, it is perhaps apt to illustrate the marked difference in reader perception as the saga has progressed, and this book unlike its earlier counterpart scored five stars and rightly deserves them.

City of Dragons begins with a snapshot of the long missing dragon Tintaglia and her mate Icefyre, and straight away I was filled with happy memories of the stories of Fitz and the Fool that I so love from Hobb’s earlier career. These echoes of the Assassin, Liveship and Tawny Man trilogies, and all that has gone on in this world before, are really one of the great strengths of Hobb’s writing; that she is able to keep alive, years later, characters that we have left far behind us in time and telling. This is the mark of work that will live on for generations, I suspect.

Thymara, Tats, Rapskal and the other dragon keepers have finally found the legendary city of Kelsingra, although it is not all they thought it would be. In the patchy ancestral memories of the dragons, it was a city filled with life, where Elderlings would tend to the dragons in all their glory and the two races lived side by side in opulent splendour.

Instead, we have weak and flightless dragons that are trapped outside of the city by an uncrossable span of the Rain Wild river. With the river only traversable by flight, and the dragons underfed and malformed, the keepers and dragons are failing now, and so disappointingly close to their goal. Hunting is limited and takes too much time, supplies are running low, emotions are running too high, and keepers and dragons alike are beginning to despair at their collective situation.

Captain Leftrin has left his beloved Alise at Kelsingra and returned to Cassarick to collect supplies and the keepers’ pay, but the politics and corruption of the Trader’s Council greet him and he realises the plot to slay dragons for the supposed healing properties of their bodies may go deeper than he first thought. Treachery haunts him yet again and Chalced’s reach is closer than he thought.

Other characters that have a part to play in this book are the Elderlings, Malta and Reyn Khuprus, whom we find in Cassarick awaiting the birth of their child. All know it is difficult to bring a child to full term in the rain wilds and Malta, heavily swollen with pregnancy, can only hope that this child will not be stillborn.

Meanwhile Selden Vestrit, the Elderling boy, is missing, Sedric struggles to come to terms with his new life away from the riches and comfort of Bingtown, Thymara still isn’t sure how to deal with the competing male attention from her fellow keepers, Alise feels lonely without her new mate, and unbeknownst to all, her husband, the domineering Trader Hest, has returned to Bingtown to discover Alise and Sedric still missing. Time has come for him to take matters into his own hands.

City of Dragons continues the story of each character as they work towards their various, and often conflicting, goals. With each chapter focusing on different groups to fill in the whole story across the different cities of the Cursed Shores, at any point we have a high-level view of everything that is taking place in this part of the world and can start to see what effect each plot development will have on the rest.

For me, this book triumphs in a way that Dragon Keeper didn’t quite manage. Whereas I felt the first book in the saga was very much a beginning, a steady manoeuvring of the players into their respective places if you like, City of Dragons feels very much more like one of Hobb’s earlier novels. The tension and pace is present right from the start and the first few chapters rocketed along offering no place where I consciously wanted to stop reading. I digested the whole book in less than two days.

By this book, the characters have really come into their own. I find them intriguing and feel very connected to them at this point. The dragons have reaped changes on the young keepers through the close proximity they have shared during the journey to Kelsingra, and the way Hobb depicts how each character reacts to their changes and moves towards accepting them, is a fascinating study of human development.

The third instalment of the saga has also introduced some darker elements in the form of new and as yet mostly undisclosed antagonists. Danger is now more rife than it has felt up to this point and I think the final part of the series, Blood of Dragons, due out next year, will be an explosive conclusion to the story, and finally we will get to see just how the world will accept dragons back onto its shores and into its skies.

I don’t want to say anymore and spoil things for those who haven’t yet read City of Dragons. Suffice it to say, that the gut deep excitement I feel whenever I revisit Hobb’s earlier work is present in this book; it has every ingredient and ignited every feeling that I look for in fantasy. She is still my favourite author and I know I will be re-reading this series as often as I do her other Six Duchies/Cursed Shores books. A definite pleasure to read. The only downside is I now have a year to wait for the conclusion.



  1. Avatar Foua says:

    I am a big fan, love all the novels, except I had been waiting for this series of the Rain Wilds Chronicle, just to be disapointed. The story seems to be standing still and not moving at all. I guess it is all part of the excitement, to be left waiting anticipating on what would happen next, but this series should’ve taken it a little further than it did. Otherwise, it was good.

  2. Avatar Vorkosigrrl says:

    I agree that the third book ramps up the stakes a great deal, with much more complexity, different points of view and range of light vs. dark than was present in the first two volumes. For me, the spectrum of light vs. dark was most important element, as it sets into motion much of the complexity of the plot.

    The pure evil of the Duke of Chalced creates most of the subplots of the book: the attack on Tintaglia and Icefyre, creating a separation between dragons and humans; the violent attack on Hest; the corruption of the Trader’s Council and the bird keepers; Leftrin’s fear of discovery, etc.

    We also see the strange indifference of Icefyre even to the life of his own mate; we find that Hest, although dangerous in his own way, is more selfishly petty than truly evil (and no great intellect besides), especially as contrasted with the assassin who haunts him. And these evil elements are compared to the scholarly purity of Alise, the desire of the keepers to find new, happier lives for themselves, and the dragons’ need to overcome their disabilities and reclaim their place as lords of the three realms.

    I agree, a very good read, and very reminiscent of her earlier works.

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