The Dragon Keeper – Robin Hobb

“They had come so far, yet now that she was here, the years of journeying were already fading in her mind, giving way to the desperate needs of the present.”

Ask me what my favourite (fantasy) series of all time is, and odds on I’ll go with Robin Hobb’s Farseer (or Assassin) trilogy. I can’t remember a book that so caught me up, that even on a re-read I was walking along that odd black stone path towards such revelations, and the ending hitting me right in the gut even a second time. Thankfully, there are two further series with Fitz (The Tawny Man and Fitz and the Fool trilogies), but between each, Hobb explores a different part of the world she has created.

To be honest, I found it hard to appreciate the Liveship Traders trilogy after falling so in love with the first books. It’s always a wrench when things are different, I suppose – although other readers apparently have exactly the opposite preference between the two strands! Still, as well as doing my usual spreading out of the books I most want to read, I was also not as keen to dive into the Rain Wild Chronicles, knowing they went back to the world of the Liveships and Rain Wilds. And, as much as I appreciate the wider picture of the ‘Realms of the Elderlings’, I’m not sure this was the book to sway me.

Before you read on, know that mentioning anything about the plot of this is likely to spoil some of the twists in the first (Liveship) series – you have been warned!

Dragons have returned to the world, following the events of the Liveship Traders, but for spoiler-heavy reasons, the first of the new clutch are not the majestic creatures they should be. Deformed physically and mentally, neither of the broods’ initial carers – the dragon Tintaglia, and the Traders she struck a bargain with – have much of a continued interest in looking after these weaklings. Seeing possibilities of discovering one of the Elderlings lost cities, plus ridding themselves of the least desirable, most-disfigured (as Rain Wilders are from their toxic environment) youngsters of their small society, the Traders send a party to accompany the dragons as they try to find a better, freer life for themselves in fabled Kelsingra.

The bulk of the initial story only half-deals with setting up the above, rather more concerning itself with the life of a Trader’s daughter, Alise. Hers is not a happy lot, and to be honest I was for grinding my teeth reading some of the casual sexism of her young life – I know, it’s fiction, but generally I’d like to read to escape from this kind of nonsense! So, from the get-go, I wasn’t wholly warming to this side of the story.

As things progress, the rather glacial pace of the whole thing becomes rather apparent. Part of the appeal of Hobb’s writing is, I suppose, the detail and how much she draws you into the lives of the characters. Still, that nothing much actually really happens is just a little bit of a draw back. I was forced to abandon reading this for quite some time due to external events, and picking it back up again I was at no point left struggling to remember what had happened – because nothing really had. Eeep!

Still, the whole thing is rather gorgeously written. I adore the world building, and while the story itself is slow, there is no sense that the rich, immersive descriptions are what’s holding things up – they’re a plus, not a negative, all the way.

There are another three books and 1500 pages in this series, which is plenty of room for more to happen – so, onwards!

Paperback: 553 pages / 17 chapters
First published: 2009
Series: Rain Wild Chronicles book 1 (of 4) / Realms of the Elderlings book 10 (of 16)
Read from 6th August – 22nd October 2017 (with a massive gap in the middle cos life)

My rating: 7/10 –  love Hobb’s writing, but story-wise this is just a bit too slight and slow

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