The great news for Robin Hobb fans is that The Dragon Keeper is revisiting the world of the Liveship traders – one of my all-time favourite fantasy worlds…
The Tangle of serpents fought their way up the Rain Wild river, guided by the great blue dragon Tintaglia. Many died along the way. With its acid waters and noxious airs, it is a hard place for anyone to survive. People are changed by the Rain Wilds, subtly or otherwise. One such is Thymara. Born with black claws and other abnormalities, she should have been exposed at birth. But her father saved her and her mother has never forgiven him. Like everyone else, Thymara is fascinated by the dragons’ return. It is as if they symbolise the return of hope to their war-torn world. Leftrin, captain of the Liveship Tarman, also has an interest in the hatching, as does Bingtown newlywed, Alise Finbok, who has made it her life’s work to study all there is to know of dragons.
But the creatures who emerge from the cocoons are a travesty of the powerful, shining dragons of old. Stunted and deformed, they cannot fly. Some do not even have wings; others seem witless and bestial. Soon they are seen as a danger and a burden; something must be done. Far upriver, so far it is shown on no map, lies the legendary Elderling city of Kelsingra – or so the dragons believe. In their dreams, they see visions of their lives there and long to return. But they cannot get there on their own; a band of dragon keepers, hunters and chroniclers must attend them.
To be a dragon keeper is a dangerous job; their charges are vicious and unpredictable, and there are many unknown perils. Not only are they not expected to return – no one wants them back…
I, for one, was delighted when I realised that this book would pick up the adventures of the tangle of serpents as I’d found the whole storyline surrounding them and the liveships a really satisfying tale. So I started The Dragon Keeper with high expectations – and it did not disappoint.
The characters in Hobb’s stories are always strong and in this story we have several protagonists, all in third person viewpoint. The two that stand out for me are Alise and Thymara – but the whole cast are entertaining and once more, Hobbs gradually unwraps her plot with the deft skill we’ve all come to expect. Her world building is pitch perfect as the inhospitable Rain Wilds take its toll on man and beast alike – in contrast to the stifling confines of Bingtown’s society.
The main theme of rejection – one of Hobb’s recurring issues in her work – winds throughout the storyline. The party accompanying the dragons are all unacceptable in one way or another and each one of them has been shaped by being an outcast. As the journey gets under way, their differences in attitudes are thrown into sharp relief – and promise to create yet more narrative tension in the second book in the series now due out. This is Hobb at the top of her game and I’ve just got hold of the sequel, ‘Dragon Haven’. Yipee!