THE DRAGON KEEPER by Robin Hobb
“Alise was astonished. She had expected the Elderling to declare her undying devotion to dragons and to beg Alise to do all she could to protect them. Instead, she continued, ‘Don’t trust them. Don’t think of them as especially noble or of a higher morality than humans. They aren’t. They are just like us, except they are larger and stronger, with potent memories of always having their own way. So, be careful. And whatever you learn of them, whether you find Kelsingra or not, you must record and bring back to us. Because sooner or later, humanity is going to have to coexist with a substantial population of dragons. We have forgotten all we ever knew about dealings with dragons. But they have forgotten nothing about humans.’”
Review by Jana L. Perskie (FEB 14, 2010)
A “tangle” of sea serpents, (as in a pod of whales, or a litter of puppies or kittens), made their way from the sea, fighting to move up the Rain Wilds River in the perilous journey to their ancient cocooning grounds. These sickly serpents, the first of their kind in generations, were led by the dragon queen Tintaglia, in the hopes of preventing the race of dragons from dying out. The serpents were too weak to make it to their intended destination and stopped, out of necessity, in the Rain Wilds, where the river’s acid waters and thick, impenetrable forests is a hard place for any to survive, let alone hibernate and hatch into healthy “dragonlings.” It was in this unhealthy environment that they spun their wizardwood cocoons and went into hibernation. Unfortunately, when the newly hatched dragons emerge they are stunted, malformed, weak, and unable to hunt for themselves. Not one of them can fly.
Tintaglia made a deal with the Traders of Bingtown and the Rain Wild people to protect them from their enemies, the Chalcedeans, in return for their help in assisting the serpents migrate upriver, keep them safe and care for them when they hatched. But Tintaglia has disappeared. She has miraculously found a mate in a world where she believed she was the only one left of her kind. With the dragon queen gone, the deformed hatchlings become too difficult for the population to care for. Their behavior can be vicious and unpredictable. Titaglia is no longer present to enforce the pact, and the people are weary of the work and expense of tending their useless and every demanding charges. It is finally decided that the dragons should move even farther up the treacherous river to Kelsingra, their ancient, mythical homeland, the legendary city from the extinct Elderling civilization, where the dragons and magical Elderlings co-existed. But no one, especially not the dragons, are sure where this place is or if it even exists. The location is locked deep within the dragons’ ancestral memories, which are far from clear.
The Traders and the people of the Rain Wilds select an unlikely group of young people to serve as escorts and caregivers for the dragons on the voyage. All these youths are damaged or deformed in some way themselves. They are expendable. And one in particular, Thymara, (a major character in the novel), is only sixteen years-old. She was to have been exposed at birth because of her “deformities,” but was rescued by her father to live a solitary life. Her mother has never taken to her, and refuses to forgive her husband for saving the infant – not a happy home. But Thymara has an instinctual ability to communicate with the not-so-mythical beasts and is captivated by their beauty, deformed as they are.
Another major character is Alise Kincarron, daughter of a Bingtown Trader. She was a spinster and is the foremost theoretical expert on dragons and their former world. She married for convenience, and soon discovered that her situation with her husband is almost unbearable. As part of the marriage contract her husband must allow her to go upriver to the Rain Wilds to study the dragons, their habits and actions. Once she arrives, she chooses to accompany the motley group of caregivers to Kelsingra, or to wherever their adventure may lead them…even to death. There is no certainty that anyone will arrive at their destination or return home alive.
The author, as always develops her characters extremely well. Amongst the secondary folk who people her novel and play significant roles are: Sedric Meldar, who is Alise’s husband’s secretary and Alise’s unwilling chaperone on the trip. He has a secret itinerary of his own; Leftrin, the uncouth but kind captain of the Liveship Tarman who has his own interest in the hatchlings; the diverse group of young people who are the dragon keepers, including Tats, Greft, and Rapsca – all with their own motives, goals and secrets; the young dragon Sintara, perhaps the strongest and wisest of her tangle. She seems to have the clearest dreams and in this unconscious state remembers many things about the dragons’ past; and then there is the Chalced ruler, the Satrap of Jamaillia. His health is failing and only dragon parts – their scales, blood, teeth and flesh – can be made into elixirs to cure him.
I am a huge fan of Robin Hobb, and along with my mother and sister, have Â read her three trilogies: “The Farseer Trilogy,” “The Live Ship Traders Trilogy,” and “The Tawney Man Trilogy,” back to back!! That’s nine books where we all lived in Ms. Hobb original, creative worlds with some of the most well developed creatures imaginable. I cannot remember a boring moment throughout. So I was thrilled when I discovered that the author had come out with a new duology – “The Rain Wilds Chronicles.” Dragon Keeper is the first of two books. And like the other Hobb novels, I found myself immersed in the storyline almost immediately. Once again I met many beloved characters from prior novels along with new exciting ones. There is, however, one major downside — Â it finishes with a huge and very abrupt cliffhanger.
Apparently, Ms. Hobb intended this book to be a single volume but the first draft was considered too lengthy. Thus a decision was made to split the book. Therefore, in Dragon Keeper we only get half the tale and a rushed ending – there is no logical stopping point. There are people and events that make little sense in book one, although the reader suspects that their purpose will be explained in book two. An example of this are the small chapters, in italics, interspersed between the primary chapters. They reveal the text of messages sent between bird keepers. These sketches/chapters may provide a third, objective view of some events, but overall, I don’t know who the bird keepers are or why their part in the novel is important.
Dragon Keeper is 533 pages long, and I guess that it would have been an enormous undertaking to publish the entire manuscript as one book. On the other hand, I did love Gone With the Wind,”and that weighed in at 1472 pages. So, if I had my druthers, I would have preferred one VERY long book, or 2 books published at the same time. I really do not want to wait months for the swecond book, well after the flavor and suspense of the first have worn off to some degree. Â The second book will be out in May, thus my advice is to wait closer to that time to read the first book.
Meanwhile, I cannot wait to read the conclusion.
IMPORTANT for first time Hobb readers: Although Dragon Keeper is related to the three trilogies I mention in the first paragraph, especially to the “Liveship Traders Trilogy,” this is a stand alone novel and can be read easily by newbies to Ms. Hobb’s work.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 277 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Eos; 1 edition (January 26, 2010)|
|REVIEWER:||Jana L. Perksie|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Robin Hobb|
|EXTRAS:||Reading Guide and Excerpt|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Read our review of:|
THE REALM OF THE ELDERLINGS
The Liveship Traders Trilogy:
Tawny Man Trilogy:
Rain Wilds Chronicles:
Soldier Son Trilogy:
- The Inheritance and Other Stories Â (2011)