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The Rain Wilds Chronicles by Robin Hobb (Spoiler Free Review)

The Rain Wilds Chronicles by Robin Hobb (Spoiler Free Review)
Book Name: Dragon Keeper, Dragon Haven, City of Dragons, and Blood of Dragons
Author: Robin Hobb
Publisher(s): Harper Voyager
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: January 26, 2010 (US) June 25, 2009 (UK); May 11, 2010 (US) March 4 2010 (UK); February 7, 2012 (US) February 7, 2012 (UK); April 9, 2013 (US) March 14, 2013 (UK)

Spoilers follow for Hobb’s first, second and third trilogies. No spoilers for the Rain Wilds Chronicles.

After the impressive Tawny Man trilogy, Robin Hobb once again switches the action back to Bingtown and the Rain Wilds, the vivid, dangerous southern regions home to the nautical dramas of the Liveship Traders. A continuation of those events, with many allusions to the Farseers, it’s another string in Hobb’s richly woven word tapestry.

The Dragon Keeper (cover)The opening of the first instalment, Dragon Keeper, acts as a reminder of the closing events of the Liveship Traders. Maulkin’s tangle of lost serpents have made their way up the Rain Wild River and are building their cocoons under the dragon Tintaglia and Selden Vestrit’s supervision. Hobb’s command of colourful and vibrant language is impressive, the writing flows far better than her previous foray into third-person. The hatching of the dragons is witnessed through the eyes of a reptilian Rain Wilder named Thymara. Born ‘marked’ by the magic of the region, society deemed that she be exposed at birth. Her father’s refusal to accept these traditions is the first link in Hobb’s major theme, that traditions can be broken to entertain a new, perhaps better way of life. The hatching is a sad affair, the dragons born stunted. They are grotesque imitations of what dragons should be and are shunned by most. The scene poses enough questions to hook the reader: will the dragons survive to full strength? Will any fly like the glorious beasts of old? When it becomes clear that the dragons must be moved from their hatching grounds, plot threads twist and characters come together in interesting ways.

There are less point-of-view characters than the Liveship books. Alise Finbok, a Bingtown bachelorette, initially offers the weakest of the perspectives, her introduction a passively written rumination on all the things wrong in her life, besides a bunch of exposition that, after the harrowing experiences of the young dragons, is difficult to engage with. Despite her middling years, she is offered a marriage of convenience with Hest Finbok, a handsome trader with a secret. His secretary, Sedric Meldar, is the most interesting of the characters. Torn between his long-time friendship to Alise and his devotion to his master, his motives are often unclear, giving the character an unpredictable air. Hobb introduces a character, and when they are settled into the reader’s expectations, she twists them to keep us engaged. Hooked.

Leftrin, a Liveship captain, is another interesting character, caught between his attraction to Alise and a Chalcedean merchant’s threat that his own secret will be divulged. Tintaglia and Sintara, a dragon hatchling, finish the varied roster of perspectives. Less perspectives mean Hobb really has time to develop her characters over the course of the four books. There isn’t a single main character that hasn’t grown by the very end. It’s brilliant.

Dragon Haven (cover)Dragon Keeper takes flight half-way through when the Keepers, a meeting of Rain Wild misfits, finally begin their journey to discover Kelsingra, the fabled city of the Elderlings. It’s a joy to watch Hobb mirror the dragons and their keepers. Both are shunned for being different from what society expects of them, an initial spark in their long and difficult relationships. An expected twist in the party is the arrival of Alise and Sedric. The latter is forced to deal with a more difficult lifestyle, cramped conditions, coarse sailor’s manners and bad food, while Alise must deal with her attraction to Captain Leftrin, who despite his background, presents a new, free way of living her life.

The Keepers must find Kelsingra with only the ancestral memories of the dragons to guide them. The relationships between the Keepers are interesting to watch develop. Though as the series progresses, Hobb perhaps spends too much time dwelling on which Keepers are mating as opposed to actual journeying up the river, or learning about the dragons’ vibrant histories, but there’s enough balance to maintain a consistent and pleasant reading.

Dragon Haven was originally the second part of Keeper, but was split due to length. The novel really sets up as the Rain Wilds as the villains. There’s the hostile landscape: the acid-tinged river, the dangerous gallators, the lack of open land, the flood. There’s the awful social traditions of the people that Greft, self-elected leader of the Keepers, is so keen to rise above despite Thymara’s lack of faith. Greft champions an opportunity to create a civilisation free of the necessary evils of the Rain Wilders. Thymara struggles to imagine anything else besides what she has been brought up to believe. Freedom is another major theme. The dragons strive for a life free of reliance on humanity. Alise wants to be free of her self-doubt and reliance on her Bingtown life. Sedric wants to be free of Hest still in Bingtown, reeling from the disappearance of his wife and secretary.

City of Dragons (cover)The real enemy of Haven is profit. Many of the characters are tempted by the promise of rich reward when they realise just how profitable dragon flesh and blood can be. Some fall prey to the temptation, leading to interesting twists and character development. The importance of dragon blood is a driving force in the plot, ardently desired by the ailing Duke of Chalced and responsible for physical changes in the Keepers as they continue their way to Kelsingra.

The novel is rich and emotive, the characters once again the highlight. Hobb’s natural writing keeps the characters moving and growing in unpredictable, always entertaining ways.

In City of Dragons, Hobb proves her place as a master of the fantastic. Her attention to detail as the characters adapt to the changing situation on their journey is brilliant. The realities of hunting, surviving, foraging, is a business that Hobb has researched in overwhelming detail. The intelligence of her writing shines even in the slower plot moments when the characters are sitting around. There’s a couple of familiar faces returning to the story, tying in the Liveship story-arcs, expanding the scale into a lush, albeit somewhat scrambled narrative. Malta Vestrit’s narrative is a particular highlight, the character having evolved from the spoilt child of the Liveship series.

Blood of Dragons (cover)Blood of Dragons, perhaps the most difficult book to review in a non-spoiler review, witnesses the end of series. It’s a good end, with most of the characters closing off with a sense of completion. There’s enough plot left for a whole series of books, and it’s a shame that Hobb spent too much time dwelling on interrelationships when Kelsingra could have been an opportunity for drama, intense action, and the ground-shaking developments Hobb is usually adept at. The conclusion is predictable, and just a little too easy, but her themes of freedom, vengeance, profit, survival and evolution find a logical, meaningful dénouement.

But for length, the four novels would have functioned better as a single tale. Not Hobb’s fault, of course. Still, she has constructed another wild and wonderful story packed with original ideas, rich characterisation and a world that grows deeper and more magical every time she picks up the pen. If you’re tired of the same old dragon stories, try Hobb’s. They’ll grab you by the throat and you’ll love it.

Star Ratings

Dragon Keeper: 7/10
Dragon Haven: 8/10
City of Dragons: 8/10
Blood of Dragons: 7/10
Overall: 8/10


One Comment

  1. Avatar Sean Haskett says:

    I really liked your review, it’s hard to write spoiler free reviews, but I think you’d be hard pressed to review the Rainwild Chronicles and not mention Hobb’s exploration of Abuse and how it affects it’s victims. Every one of the perspective characters were trapped and manipulated by abusive people in their life, and that fundamentally colors every interaction they have.

    I think a lot of the relationship drama was compelling because of this, for example when Thymara has doubts and feels the allure of Greft, I felt incredibly worried for her. She had only just escaped her abusive mother and the society that enabled her, I was invested in her freedom, but many victims of abuse are drawn to other abusive people (that’s the ugliness of what abuse does to people) so when she wonders about Greft, an incredibly manipulative person and classic abuser, every moment that involves him is filled with tension

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